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Meet the New 'TEDx' of Social Action

Meet the New 'TEDx' of Social Action
Image credit: TOM GLOBAL | Facebook

TEDx spreads ideas and knowledge throughout individual communities. Tikkun Olam is the Jewish idea of "repairing the world." Now, a new project aims to blend the two concepts to solve social issues.

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TOM (Tikkun Olam Makers) is a 72-hour event that brings coders, developers, engineers and doctors together with individuals with disabilities. The mission is to solve the everyday issues that the latter group faces, using new assistive technologies. In just three days, 10 to 20 projects are completed by 150 people, as this video demonstrates.

The events are made possible through their unique collaborative nature: Volunteers work with individuals facing challenges to create the best solutions possible.

Here’s a look at how TOM events work and why they matter:

How it works

TOM has held hold a total of seven events in the past year -- one each in Tel Aviv, San Francisco, the Bay Area, and Calgary; two in northern Israel and two in São Paulo.

How do these global events happen? Much like the way TEDx events are organized, TOM relies on the power of local communities. "We don’t want to run the events -- we want the local communities to do it,” says Sefi Attias, co-founder of TOM. “We provide the methodology, the process, the branding, the online portal and access to our growing network of global sponsors. We give them the framework.”

Events in each location partner with local organizations to provide the cutting-edge technology needed to build the innovative solutions. Tools like 3D, laser cutters and raw materials are available to the participants at each event, thanks to global and local partners.

Each event is run by local volunteers. Designers, engineers, scientists, care professionals, entrepreneurs and others come together to plan, produce and execute the event.

Sapir Caduri, an engineer at Google who has participated in four TOM makeathons, said, "I have been to other hackathons, but TOM is not the same. TOM is not just about being a cool geek, it's about developing something for and with people with a real need. It gives you the feeling you got way more than you gave."

The process starts with a "call for challenge" and a "call for talent" in the local community. Then invites to both individuals and organizations are sent, and applications are curated and filtered, by volunteer professionals, to ensure technological feasibility and social benefit. Once filtered, a pre-TOM event takes place and allows "need knowers" to meet with selected talents to form teams and transition from challenges to projects.

The teams research and work, online and off, before the event and are encouraged to arrive at the event with an understanding of the tools, technology and materials they expect to need, to tackle the challenge.

The leaders behind TOM are less focused on facilitating each individual event than investing more in the research and collaboration side to keep the organization growing and events occurring worldwide.

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Why it’s important

TOM brings together people facing real-life challenges with the talent that can solve those problems. The event allows individuals with specific disabilities to form a relationship with the people behind their solutions, which leads to personalized tools and technology. “We’re allowing people to use a simple system to solve unsolved needs,” says Attias.

Those needs remain largely unsolved because large, for-profit companies typically invest only in projects with a large customer base; that leaves little-to-no room to solve the unique needs of those with specific intellectual and developmental disabilities. TOM events, in contrast, allow the creation of innovative solutions to be customized for individuals. Under typical circumstances, those solutions would require a lot of time and money.

"For people with disabilities, here at TOM, one can imagine a solution to their challenge, and it's like a dream on one hand and a gift on the other," said Eran Tamir, father of participant Guy, who has a disability.

The future of TOM

The mission of TOM has been focused, but its founders are looking toward expanding the events in the future. “Now we're focused on assistive technology, but we'll do other things down the line,” says Attias. “We’re less focused on producing events and more interested in scaling.

“TOM was grown out of a leading societal think-tank, the Reut Institute, and due to those roots, we are always challenged to think of areas in which there is an overlap between government failure and market failure," Attias adds. "At our last event, we tested our methodology on the needs of the elderly, and we feel our human centered approach has relevance in many other fields."

Reut Institute president Gidi Grinstein says, "TOM's uniqueness is its ability to connect innovative technology and social goals, and that's a critical function for bettering humanity." 

By 2017, the organization aims to host 100 events. The demand for the events is there -- five people with disabilities apply for each open spot, Attias says.

Some of the upcoming locations for the beginning of 2016 include Australia, Argentina and Washington, DC, where calls for talent and challenges are open.

In addition to expanding, the founders are  looking at changing the model of TOM from a nonprofit to a self-sustained model that will allow rapid growth. As the organization grows, it promises to address more solutions to other, unaddressed problems.

What organizations are using tech to change your community? Let us know in the comments!

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