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  • I've actually been waiting by the phone

  • for a call from TED for years.

  • And in fact, in 2000, I was ready to talk about eBay, but no call.

  • In 2003, I was ready to do a talk

  • about the Skoll Foundation and social entrepreneurship. No call.

  • In 2004, I started Participant Productions

  • and we had a really good first year, and no call.

  • And finally, I get a call last year,

  • and then I have to go up after J.J. Abrams.

  • (Laughter)

  • You've got a cruel sense of humor, TED.

  • (Laughter)

  • When I first moved to Hollywood from Silicon Valley,

  • I had some misgivings.

  • But I found that there were some advantages to being in Hollywood.

  • (Laughter)

  • And, in fact, some advantages to owning your own media company.

  • And I also found that Hollywood and Silicon Valley

  • have a lot more in common than I would have dreamed.

  • Hollywood has its sex symbols, and the Valley has its sex symbols.

  • (Laughter)

  • Hollywood has its rivalries, and the Valley has its rivalries.

  • Hollywood gathers around power tables,

  • and the Valley gathers around power tables.

  • So it turned out there was a lot more in common

  • than I would have dreamed.

  • But I'm actually here today to tell a story.

  • And part of it is a personal story. When Chris invited me to speak,

  • he said, people think of you as a bit of an enigma,

  • and they want to know what drives you a bit.

  • And what really drives me is a vision of the future

  • that I think we all share.

  • It's a world of peace and prosperity and sustainability.

  • And when we heard a lot of the presentations

  • over the last couple of days,

  • Ed Wilson and the pictures of James Nachtwey,

  • I think we all realized how far we have to go

  • to get to this new version of humanity

  • that I like to call "Humanity 2.0."

  • And it's also something that resides in each of us,

  • to close what I think

  • are the two big calamities in the world today.

  • One is the gap in opportunity --

  • this gap that President Clinton last night

  • called uneven, unfair and unsustainable --

  • and, out of that, comes poverty and illiteracy and disease

  • and all these evils that we see around us.

  • But perhaps the other, bigger gap is what we call the hope gap.

  • And someone, at some point, came up with this very bad idea

  • that an ordinary individual couldn't make a difference in the world.

  • And I think that's just a horrible thing.

  • And so chapter one really begins today, with all of us,

  • because within each of us is the power to

  • equal those opportunity gaps and to close the hope gaps.

  • And if the men and women of TED

  • can't make a difference in the world, I don't know who can.

  • And for me, a lot of this started when I was younger

  • and my family used to go camping in upstate New York.

  • And there really wasn't much to do there for the summer,

  • except get beaten up by my sister or read books.

  • And so I used to read authors like James Michener

  • and James Clavell and Ayn Rand.

  • And their stories made the world seem a very small

  • and interconnected place.

  • And it struck me that if I could write stories

  • that were about this world as being small and interconnected,

  • that maybe I could get people interested in the issues

  • that affected us all, and maybe engage them to make a difference.

  • I didn't think that was necessarily the best way to make a living,

  • so I decided to go on a path to become financially independent,

  • so I could write these stories as quickly as I could.

  • I then had a bit of a wake-up call when I was 14.

  • And my dad came home one day

  • and announced that he had cancer, and it looked pretty bad.

  • And what he said was, he wasn't so much afraid that he might die,

  • but that he hadn't done the things that he wanted to with his life.

  • And knock on wood, he's still alive today, many years later.

  • But for a young man that made a real impression on me,

  • that one never knows how much time one really has.

  • So I set out in a hurry. I studied engineering.

  • I started a couple of businesses

  • that I thought would be the ticket to financial freedom.

  • One of those businesses was a computer rental business

  • called Micros on the Move,

  • which is very well named,

  • because people kept stealing the computers.

  • (Laughter)

  • So I figured I needed to learn a little bit more about business,

  • so I went to Stanford Business School and studied there.

  • And while I was there, I made friends with a fellow

  • named Pierre Omidyar, who is here today. And Pierre, I apologize

  • for this. This is a photo from the old days.

  • And just after I'd graduated, Pierre came to me

  • with this idea to help people

  • buy and sell things online with each other.

  • And with the wisdom of my Stanford degree,

  • I said, "Pierre, what a stupid idea."

  • (Laughter)

  • And needless to say, I was right.

  • (Laughter)

  • But right after that, Pierre -- in '96, Pierre and I left our full-time jobs

  • to build eBay as a company. And the rest of that story, you know.

  • The company went public two years later

  • and is today one of the best known companies in the world.

  • Hundreds of millions of people use it in hundreds of countries, and so on.

  • But for me, personally, it was a real change.

  • I went from living in a house with five guys in Palo Alto

  • and living off their leftovers,

  • to all of a sudden having all kinds of resources.

  • And I wanted to figure out how I could

  • take the blessing of these resources and share it with the world.

  • And around that time, I met John Gardner,

  • who is a remarkable man.

  • He was the architect of the Great Society programs

  • under Lyndon Johnson in the 1960s.

  • And I asked him what he felt was the best thing I could do,

  • or anyone could do, to make a difference

  • in the long-term issues facing humanity.

  • And John said, "Bet on good people doing good things.

  • Bet on good people doing good things."

  • And that really resonated with me.

  • I started a foundation

  • to bet on these good people doing good things.

  • These leading, innovative, nonprofit folks,

  • who are using business skills in a very leveraged way

  • to solve social problems.

  • People today we call social entrepreneurs.

  • And to put a face on it, people like Muhammad Yunus,

  • who started the Grameen Bank,

  • has lifted 100 million people plus out of poverty around the world,

  • won the Nobel Peace Prize.

  • But there's also a lot of people that you don't know.

  • Folks like Ann Cotton, who started a group called CAMFED in Africa,

  • because she felt girls' education was lagging.

  • And she started it about 10 years ago,

  • and today, she educates over a quarter million African girls.

  • And somebody like Dr. Victoria Hale,

  • who started the world's first nonprofit pharmaceutical company,

  • and whose first drug will be fighting visceral leishmaniasis,

  • also known as black fever.

  • And by 2010, she hopes to eliminate this disease,

  • which is really a scourge in the developing world.

  • And so this is one way to bet

  • on good people doing good things.

  • And a lot of this comes together in a philosophy of change

  • that I find really is powerful.

  • It's what we call, "Invest, connect and celebrate."

  • And invest: if you see good people doing good things,

  • invest in them. Invest in their organizations,

  • or in business. Invest in these folks.

  • Connecting them together through conferences --

  • like a TED -- brings so many powerful connections,

  • or through the World Forum on Social Entrepreneurship

  • that my foundation does at Oxford every year.

  • And celebrate them: tell their stories,

  • because not only are there good people doing good work,

  • but their stories can help close these gaps of hope.

  • And it was this last part of the mission, the celebrate part,

  • that really got me back to thinking when I was a kid

  • and wanted to tell stories to get people involved

  • in the issues that affect us all.

  • And a light bulb went off,

  • which was, first, that I didn't actually have to do the writing myself, I could find writers.

  • And then the next light bulb was, better than just writing,

  • what about film and TV, to get out to people in a big way?

  • And I thought about the films that inspired me,

  • films like "Gandhi" and "Schindler's List."

  • And I wondered who was doing these kinds of films today.

  • And there really wasn't a specific company

  • that was focused on the public interest.

  • So, in 2003, I started to make my way around Los Angeles

  • to talk about the idea of a pro-social media company

  • and I was met with a lot of encouragement.

  • One of the lines of encouragement

  • that I heard over and over was,

  • "The streets of Hollywood are littered with the carcasses of people like you,

  • who think you're going to come to this town and make movies."

  • And then of course, there was the other adage.

  • "The surest way to become a millionaire

  • is to start by being a billionaire and go into the movie business."

  • (Laughter)

  • Undeterred, in January of 2004, I started Participant Productions

  • with the vision to be a global media company

  • focused on the public interest.

  • And our mission is to produce entertainment

  • that creates and inspires social change.

  • And we don't just want people to see our movies

  • and say, that was fun, and forget about it.

  • We want them to actually get involved in the issues.

  • In 2005, we launched our first slate of films,

  • "Murder Ball," "North Country," "Syriana"

  • and "Good Night and Good Luck."

  • And much to my surprise, they were noticed.

  • We ended up with 11 Oscar nominations for these films.

  • And it turned out to be a pretty good year for this guy.

  • Perhaps more importantly,

  • tens of thousands of people joined the advocacy programs

  • and the activism programs

  • that we created to go around the movies.

  • And we had an online component of that,

  • our community sect called Participate.net.

  • But with our social sector partners, like the ACLU and PBS and the

  • Sierra Club and the NRDC, once people saw the film,

  • there was actually something they could do to make a difference.

  • One of these films in particular, called "North Country," was actually

  • kind of a box office disaster.

  • But it was a film that starred Charlize Theron

  • and it was about women's rights, women's empowerment,

  • domestic violence and so on.

  • And we released the film at the same time that

  • the Congress was debating the renewal of the Violence Against Women Act.

  • And with screenings on the Hill, and discussions,

  • and with our social sector partners,

  • like the National Organization of Women,

  • the film was widely credited

  • with influencing the successful renewal of the act.

  • And that to me, spoke volumes, because it's --

  • the film started about a true-life story

  • about a woman who was harassed, sued her employer,

  • led to a landmark case that led to the Equal Opportunity Act,

  • and the Violence Against Women Act and others.

  • And then the movie about this person doing these things,

  • then led to this greater renewal.

  • And so again,

  • it goes back to betting on good people doing good things.

  • Speaking of which, our fellow TEDster, Al --

  • I first saw Al do his slide show presentation

  • on global warming in May of 2005.

  • At that point, I thought I knew something about global warming.

  • I thought it was a 30 to 50 year problem.

  • And after we saw his slide show,

  • it became clear that it was much more urgent.

  • And so right afterwards, I met backstage with Al, and

  • with Lawrence Bender, who was there, and Laurie David,

  • and Davis Guggenheim,

  • who was running documentaries for Participant at the time.

  • And with Al's blessing, we decided on the spot to turn it into a film,

  • because we felt that we could get the message out there

  • far more quickly than having Al go around the world,

  • speaking to audiences of 100 or 200 at a time.

  • And you know, there's another adage in Hollywood,

  • that nobody knows nothing about anything.

  • And I really thought this was going to be

  • a straight-to-PBS charitable initiative.