Hans Rosling speaks on sex and babies

Inspirations at TEDx Singapore (6 – 7 Nov 2015)

The TEDx Singapore conference was held this weekend (Friday to Saturday). It was the largest TEDx event organised in Singapore to date, with 30 speakers covering a variety of topics from building smart cities to live looping and philantrophy. The atmosphere was great, with more than 1000 people turning up at the NTU auditorium. Kudos to the TEDx Singapore team – the sessions were inspirational and thought provoking!

The theme was ‘An Undiscovered Country’, and was laser-focused on Singapore. Several of the talks were about unique, lesser-known aspects of Singapore, or people doing interesting work – rather than huge life-changing ideas we’ve all come to know TED for.  It was split into 5 intensive sessions over 2 days, each with 6 – 7 speakers.

Here are some of my takeways and thoughts:

Day 1

Inch Chua – She has a fantastic voice, and looked splendid on stage in that white angelic dress.


TEDxSingapore Mark Nair

Marc Nair – I loved his theatrical recital of poetry. In particular the poem about the Church of Kopimism – an official religion in Sweden that promotes open file sharing and regards Ctrl-C and Ctrl-V as its sacred symbols.  My favourite talk of Day 1.

“..as long as one fiber of me remains, I shall never be offline..” How warped.  I’m still looking for that poem somewhere.


Day 2

Hans Rosling – He did not disappoint one bit, despite the high expectations – I highly recommend giving it a watch.  His talk was about sex and babies, and how the world demographics will be like in the near future.  As usual, he took out his long stick to point at the screen, his signature move.

Hans Rosling TEDxSingapore
Hans Rosling talks about sex and babies.

He argues that Europe and the US are on the decline, based on demographics. As the world transitions into the next century, Africa and Asia will outnumber Europe and the US (the ‘old west’) by 6:1 just by population size alone. That changes the dynamics of the world.  Asia and Africa will no longer have to defer to the ‘old west’

He also shows the projected differences in population between Singapore and Sweden in the near future.  Singapore’s population tree would be unstable, with a narrow base (Children) and wider top (elderly).  Whereas Sweden’s population tree would be more evenly distributed.

The first main reason for this is the differences in fertility rate – 1.2 for Singapore and 1.9 for Sweden And one of the key reasons for this is different family policies in the countries. For example, Sweden accommodates the family with 18 months of maternity/paternity leave, compared to a paltry 4 months in Singapore.

The next reason is the empowerment of women. In Sweden, public acceptance of divorce makes people more willing to get into a marriage. The stigma of being a single mother is no longer there – in fact, in their society is often hailed as courageous and admirable of the mother to bring up a child on her own.

TEDx Singapore Tara Hirebet
Tara Hirebet on Brasilia and smart cities.

Tara Hirebet – She made the case that a fully data-driven and organised smart city may not be the right answer to our woes. Tara gave the example of Brasilia (the capital of Brazil) – as lovely as the city is in design, government officials would head down to messy Rio de Janeiro to party during the weekend.

When you start to pack in many more people in the same space in the city, people are going to start to do things outside of their boundaries. The people flocking to the cities are creative, entrepreneurial, and are super focused on achieving their own goals.  Multiple that by several million people, who all doing what they need to do in order to get ahead in life-  and you have a very chaotic scribble that characterises cities like Bangkok, Jakarta and Bangalore.

Rather than being fully planned and controlled, which makes its populace feel cold and watched, our next-generation cities should be collaborative. This means making the data and controls open-source, giving people the opportunities to use it in their own ways, which fosters creativity and innovation. That’s important for attracting designers, artists and other creatives which we all agree are an essential part of the city.


Kuik Shiao-Yin – This was one of my favourite talks of the conference, which was about whether we should “follow your passions”.  Shiao-Yin represents The Thought Collective, which is a group of social enterprises which aims to build up empathy in our society.  She premises that all of us have a gap between 2 stories we tell ourselves – “way things should be” and the “way things are today“.  And the wider the gap between these 2 narratives, the greater the tension and the greater the suffering we go through.

Some of us try to relieve the tensions by bringing our expectations down to reality (pragmatism leading to apathy, inertia and cynicism).  Others aim to bring ourselves up to the expectations (idealism leading to anger, resentment and contempt).

The best people, doing the best work, who experienced joy were those who chose to live in this gap without resorting to either extremes. These people who are willing to be authentic about their passions and about their pain/vulnerabilities allow other people to say “Me too” to us – and that turns passion into compassion.

Your passions will cost you.

But when you connect them to the pains and passions of the world, you create new possibilities that you were never able to predict. Master them, mature them into compassions and forge them into opportunities.


Very profound indeed.

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