International recording artist will.i.am amplified his philanthropic side at TRANS4M, a forward-looking conference held Thursday, February 9, 2012 at the UCLA School of Theater, Film and Television.
The Black Eyed Peas performer co-hosted the first-time, invite-only conference he founded. Urging 250 attendees from various walks of life “to find smart ways to team up,” will.i.am and Brian David Johnson, who served as conference curator, presented an eclectic slate of speakers that ranged from a particle physicist and ethnographer to the CEO of Burberry and co-founder of the Compton Cricket Club.
“TRANS4M is about finding intersections between what you do and what we can do together,” will.i.am said. “Here in the room are brands, businesses, innovators, community organizations, educators and scientists. Sitting next to you are donors, philanthropists, scientists, technology leaders and people who understand how to talk to youth.”
will.i.am said the motivation for bringing so many different fields and points of view together was an urgent need for fresh thoughts around “big, chronic problems” along with a call to action for diverse approaches to transform and sustain communities. This conference is part of will.i.am’s larger mission to drive positive transformation in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles where he grew up.
The inaugural event was a partnership between will.i.am and Intel Corporation, for which he serves as director of creative innovation.
“A little nerdy and a little cool,” is how event curator and Intel futurist Johnson described TRANS4M. “This is what happens when you put will.i.am and a futurist together to make an event. Neither of us is naive enough to think that one event will change the world. This is a kickoff, a start.”
Threaded by the notion that “a mix of art and science gives mankind a vision for a future we want to live in,” according to Johnson, guests shared experiences that transformed them positively.
Johnson said one of the most radical life moments he recalls is when someone called him an optimist only because he’s a futurist.
“I am, but I also believe how we think of the future is wrong,” he said. “The future is not set, it is not a fixed point on the horizon that we are hurdling toward, powerless to make a change. The future is made each day by the actions of people – all people. We have to have an opinion, a vision of the future and then work to build it.”
Robert Appleby, a particle physicist at the European Organization for Nuclear Research, known as CERN, discussed life at the sub-atomic level. “The universe and life as we know it is both simple and symmetrical,” Appleby said, noting that this way of thinking has given him a unique perspective on the world.
Moving from particle physics to fashion, Burberry CEO Angela Ahrendts talked about her company transformed from a supplier of coats for explorers to a “young, old company” that needs to find ways to remain relevant.
Andrew Hessel, co-chairman of Singularity University’s Biotechnology Department, told his story of how he transformed himself, starting in the pharmaceutical industry and now advocating for the field of synthetic biology.
Sharing his “life-changing,” first-hand experience with American troops in Afghanistan last year, Simon Sinek, an ethnographer and author of “Start with Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action,” said the dangerous conditions, isolation from family and what he saw the military endure made him realize the power of “human connection.”
Instrumental in “bringing cricket to the streets,” Katy Haber, M.B.E., co-founder of the Compton Cricket Club and co-producer of such movies as “Blade Runner” and “The Getaway,” said her experience introducing the underserved to the sport and her work with the homeless was most rewarding because the causes enabled others to transform themselves.
Rounding out the day’s other speakers were Alex McDowell, production designer and creative director of 5D Institute; Dhaval Chandra, social entrepreneur and founding partner of Cria; Jessica O. Matthews, inventor and co-founder of Uncharted Play; Terry McAuliffe, chairman of Green Tech Automotive; Jeff Seabright, The Coca-Cola Company vice president of environment and water resources.
Sessions that focused on various aspects of transformation across life, self and community were blended with performances by the dance troupe iLuminate and poet Marshall Jones.
As for the creator and host, will.i.am’s most recent philanthropic venture is i.am boyle heights, a partnership of the i.am Angel Foundation he founded and serves as president, College Track and The California Endowment. Dedicated to transforming the Boyle Heights community of East Los Angeles, the effort is a key reason the full name of the day’s event was will.i.am+Intel Present TRANS4M: Boyle Heights Conference.
Among the ways TRANS4M participants were encouraged to make a difference is through Intel’s Progress Thru Processors program on Facebook. Through volunteer computing, Progress Thru Processors allows people to share a portion of their processor’s idle computer power and apply it toward life-changing research such as finding cures for cancer and AIDS and combating global warming and world hunger.