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Bina Venkataraman

Author of The Optimist's Telescope

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  • About Bina Venkataraman

    A former journalist and Senior Advisor for Climate Change Innovation in the Obama White House, Bina Venkataraman helped communities and businesses prepare for climate change, discovering firsthand why people resist thinking ahead—and how to change it. The Optimist’s Telescope: Thinking Ahead in a Reckless Age is Venkataraman’s trailblazing exploration of how to invest in the future in our lives, our communities, and society. With examples from ancient Pompeii to modern-day Fukushima, she dispels the myth that human nature is inherently reckless, highlighting surprising practices each of us can adopt and guiding readers through the greatest decisions confronting our society. The result is a book brimming with ideas and insights for forging a better future.

    Venkataraman has built a reputation for life-changing talks, delivering a rousing call to reclaim our innate power to shape the future. She argues for practical optimism in an age defined by recklessness and despair and advocates a new approach called heirloom thinking to replace legacy building. Venkataraman shares wisdom from leaders around the world who exercise great foresight, and guides audiences through an exploration of the research and tools that can help improve their ability to make long-term decisions. She offers insights to support individual change, community collaboration, and political transformation.

    Currently, Venkataraman teaches in the program on science, technology, and society at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and serves as the Director of Global Policy Initiatives at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard.  She is also a fellow at New America and a former journalist for The New York Times and The Boston Globe. Venkataraman served as Senior Climate Change Innovation Advisor in the Obama White House, where she forged partnerships among communities, companies, and governments to help prepare for climate disasters. She also advised the President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology in responding to the Ebola epidemic, promoting patient access to cancer therapies, and reforming public school science education.

    Venkataraman is an alumna of Brown University and Harvard’s Kennedy School.  She is the recipient of a Fulbright, a Princeton in Asia fellowship, a Metcalf fellowship, and a James Reston fellowship. She serves on the Brown University President’s Leadership Council, the advisory council of the Institute at Brown for the Environment and Society, and the advisory board of the Metcalf Institute. She was named a 2015 Global Young Leader by the French-American Foundation. She lives in greater Boston, where she works as an Opinion Editor for The Boston Globe. 

  • Speaking Topics

    The Optimist’s Telescope

    Reading the headlines, it’s easy to despair about the future – and to feel powerless to shape it. The result is that people today – and our society – are failing to envision the future and turning our backs on our greatest long-run challenges. As individuals, communities, and societies, we need ways to imagine what lies ahead and to invest in making the future better. Author, MIT professor, and policy expert Bina Venkataraman delivers a rousing call for us to reclaim our innate power to shape the future, revealing the choice we have to think ahead and the myths that have held us back from this urgent task. She advocates practical optimism and shares the tools and insights that we can use in our lives, our businesses, and in society to be practical optimists in this reckless age – and to become better ancestors to future generations.

    Leadership for the Long Term

    We live in an era of immediacy and instant gratification. It’s difficult for leaders, even if they have good intentions, to scan the horizon for threats and opportunities that lie ahead. Warning signs of disaster go unheeded and positive trends are not seized. The downside of our increasingly data-rich world is that we tend to measure what’s in front of us—whether it’s our daily steps or quarterly profits—and pay less attention to what truly matters and creates value for us, our businesses, and our communities over time. In this keynote, Bina Venkataraman imparts the lessons of leaders around the world who exercise great foresight, and shares the practices that will secure a better future. She argues against leaving legacies and instead for heirloom thinking – a new approach to leadership in life, business, community and society.

    Climate Change and the Future of Humanity

    The signs of a changing planet are everywhere: melting glaciers, deadly storms and wildfires, record-breaking heat waves. But even as sea levels are rising, so are movements of young people trying to persuade world leaders and governments to take bold action on climate change. In this talk, former Obama White House climate adviser Bina Venkataraman tells us how we can protect the Earth’s resources across generations and sheds light on how we can secure the future of humanity on the planet. She makes the case against choosing either hope or despair when it comes to the climate.

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  • Praise for Bina Venkataraman

    Praise for The Optimist’s Telescope

    The Optimist’s Telescope will help you think about the biggest decisions you face in your life and that humanity faces in this historical moment. Everyone should read this book.

    Gary Knell, chairman of National Geographic Partners

    Chinese peasants once got paid by the piece to find dinosaur bones; soon they took to smashing the bones into tiny pieces to boost their income. This book is a sobering compendium of the many ways in which ill-conceived short-term incentives undermine valuable long-term goals. The stakes go way beyond busted fossils: think rising sea waters, treatment-resistant pathogens, collapsing infrastructure, disappearing topsoil . . . A grim list and grounds for pessimism unless, that is, it gets read in the context of this book, for Bina Venkataraman has assembled a remarkable repair kit, full of tested tools for harmonizing the lure of present reward with the foresight we need if we are to build a durable future.

    Lewis Hyde

    We live in an age marked by problems of enormous scope and complexity–climate change, income inequality, food security–and yet we are still relying on tools and solutions that have failed us repeatedly in the past. In The Optimist’s Telescope, Bina Venkataraman marshals a wide-ranging collection of astounding and provocative examples of our myopia and offers insightful practices for short-circuiting our short-sightedness to address the huge challenges we face as citizens of Earth.

    Joi Ito, Director of the MIT Media Lab

    A thought-provoking and eminently readable debut…Venkataraman’s thoughtful and clear-eyed assessment of how to teach oneself to make more carefully considered decisions should prove a valuable tool for anyone wishing to think less in the short term and more toward the future.

    Publishers Weekly

    A timely reminder that time is not on our side without long-term thinking.

    Kirkus Reviews

    The Optimist’s Telescope is a noble and important book. Through stories of people who have made a difference and an acute awareness of how things can be made better, Bina Venkataraman shows how we can effect change and make the world a better place. She is the good parent this planet so desperately needs.

    Errol Morris, Oscar-winning filmmaker and author of Believing Is Seeing

    Bina Venkataraman illuminates how we can make better decisions for ourselves, our communities, and Earth itself. She introduces us to an array of colorful and unexpected characters, from ancient philosophers to tech entrepreneurs, all while distilling the science of foresight into practical advice we can all use. A timely and valuable book.

    Anne-Marie Slaughter, author of Unfinished Business

    Most of us only see the future after it becomes the past. The Optimist’s Telescope is here to change that. It’s a rare read that’s as fascinating as it is important. In it, Bina Venkataraman brings together powerful narrative, cutting-edge behavioral science, and the rich experience of a high-impact career.

    Adam Grant, author of Originals
  • Books by Bina Venkataraman

  • Media About Bina Venkataraman

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and Availability

  • 212 572-2013
  • Bina Venkataraman travels from Massachusetts

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