The Power of Ideas

We shine a light on Boston’s new power class: the visionaries, idealists, and thinkers among us whose insights are transforming the way we live, work, learn, and play.

The Fixers

power of ideas 5 joseph betancourt

Photograph by Jeff Brown. Styling by Maryelle O’Rourke/Team.


Joseph Betancourt
Director, the Disparities Solutions Center at Mass General

Betancourt realized early in his career that all the medical advances in the world mean nothing when racial and ethnic inequality plagues our healthcare system. So in 2004, Betancourt petitioned Massachusetts General Hospital to create the Disparities Solutions Center, which then launched the following year to address the barriers that were keeping his patients from getting adequate care.

Since then, he’s persuaded MGH to install a “disparities dashboard,” which tracks how the hospital treats patients of varied cultural backgrounds. Betancourt also teaches cross-cultural medicine at Harvard Medical School, heads the department of multicultural education at MGH, and cofounded Quality Interactions, an e-learning company that, so far, has trained more than 130,000 physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and other stakeholders. He’s leading the healthcare industry in creating cross-cultural competence. —Marcela Garcia



Mark Levin, Kevin Starr, and Bob Tepper
Third Rock Ventures

This Boston-based venture firm doesn’t just fund biotech and medical innovation, it creates it—finding the world’s top scientific talent and building companies around their ideas. Since launching in 2007, it has raised $1.3 billion and helped create 31 companies that are now working on life-changing cures for ALS, cancer, and various orphan diseases. In the process, it’s energizing the city’s biotech pipeline.

power of ideas 4 carolyn peter lynch

Illustration by Joel Kimmel


Carolyn and Peter Lynch
The Lynch Foundation

Fixing Boston’s public school system has become a fixation for the Lynches, who donated $2.5 million last year to help create a new leadership model. The Aspiring Principal Program is a residency that will partner outstanding classroom teachers with successful principals for intense on-site training. Together they’re building a new educational infrastructure.


power of ideas 5 ernest moniz

Illustration by Joel Kimmel


Ernest Moniz
U.S. Secretary of Energy

I first met Ernie 10 years ago when we were on a National Academy of Sciences panel discussing the transportation of nuclear waste to Yucca Mountain, and I last saw him at Cardullo’s, in Harvard Square, where he tried to convince me that fracking was a “proven” technology that mitigates climate change. He’s a Fall River native, MIT professor, and nuclear physicist with an unfaltering faith that technology will deliver a clean-energy future. Serving as the U.S. secretary of energy since May 2013, he’s been a keen proponent of both fracking and nuclear power, but critics point out his close ties with the oil and gas industries, particularly in relation to their funding of the MIT Energy Initiative. As such, he’s been dubbed “the man in the middle,” having to balance the Obama administration’s increasingly strong stance on climate change with the needs of a strident energy industry. In truth, Ernie’s positions on the environment matter to us all. —Julian Agyeman, professor of Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning, Tufts



Caitria and Morgan O’Neill

In 2011, armed with little more than liberal arts degrees and empathy, the O’Neill sisters responded to a tornado in their hometown of Monson, Massachusetts, by spearheading donation and volunteer coordination out of a local church. The experience inspired them to create Recovers, a website where people can find instant updates, track local volunteer hours, and manage spontaneous donations. Since its 2012 launch, the “Twister Sisters” have helped 28 disaster-relief efforts and proved critical during Hurricane Sandy, enabling four New York City neighborhoods to coordinate 20,000 volunteers and donors.



Barbara Lee
Barbara Lee Foundation

If America elects a woman to be its next president, she’ll have Lee to thank. Since 1999, Lee has been obsessed with engaging the next generation of female leaders in elective politics. You may have heard of some of her protégées—Elizabeth Warren, Wendy Davis, Martha Coakley. Lee has always been focused on building the long-term ladder to the political peak, and that work has kept growing. Her foundation’s research guidebook, Keys to Elected Office: The Essential Guide for Women, will be released in June.


power of ideas 6 sara hendren

Photograph by Jeff Brown. Styling by Maryelle O’Rourke/Team.


Sara Hendren
Artist, the Accessible Icon Project

When Hendren looked at the ubiquitous wheelchair symbol, designed in the late 1960s, she saw a static, passive figure seemingly trapped in its chair. So in 2011, the Cambridge artist and writer, along with collaborator Brian Glenney, started placing translucent stickers that depicted a person in motion—arms back, head and upper body thrust forward—over existing handicap signs. Their guerilla art efforts developed into the Accessible Icon Project, and has since been adopted by the Bronx Zoo, the Jacksonville Jaguars, and the University of Arizona, and inducted into the Museum of Modern Art’s permanent collection. Hendren says the graphic sparks conversations: “It’s a provocation—an invitation to think, ‘What are my preconceived notions about people with disabilities?’”



Tim Love
Founder, Utile Architecture + Planning

The president-elect of the Boston Society of Architects has set his sights on revamping the entire design industry. Instead of waiting for commissions, Love is actively imagining what Boston should look like—and developing public-private partnerships to bring innovative urban ideas to fruition. It’s a radical shift away from how development has been done in Boston for the past 20 years…but it’s working. From rethinking Chinatown’s development approach to finding creative ways to save Fort Point’s historical buildings, Love’s architectural ambitions know no bounds. Next on his agenda? Redesigning City Hall Plaza.


power of ideas 7 betsy nabel

Photograph by Jeff Brown. Styling by Maryelle O’Rourke/Team.


Betsy Nabel
President, Brigham and Women’s Hospital

You’ll never find Nabel on an elevator; the cardiologist was a resident at the Brigham long before she became its president, and her heart-healthy habit is to always take the stairs. Today, Nabel’s taking steps to shape how the academic hospital will look and function by overseeing the design of the Brigham Building for the Future. In the planned 11-story, LEED Gold–certified structure, clinical research and patient care will occur side by side, fostering what Nabel calls “collisions of collaborations.” Having researchers, clinicians, and educators in close proximity will not only allow the hospital to better use its resources, she argues, it will also transform healthcare. “The future of medicine starts here,” she says.



TEDxBoston curator Danielle Duplin has been spotting trends in business and technology since the local spinoff of the speaking series first launched in 2009. Here, she recalls five of her favorite ideas from the past five years.

Lab on a Stamp

Harvard chemist George Whitesides’s medical diagnostics lab is the size of a postage stamp and can cheaply and effectively detect common ailments for people in resource-limited settings.

Watch the TED talk.

Open-Source Drug Development

Cancer researcher Jay Bradner “gave away” the formula for his JQ1 molecule that reprograms cancer cells in hopes that an open-source drug discovery model will get treatments to market faster than the current pharma methods.

Watch the TED talk.

NeoNurture Infant Incubator

Timothy Prestero, the CEO of Design That Matters, repurposed discarded car parts to build an infant incubator for people in the developing world. His award-winning invention has treated more than 1,000 babies in Vietnam, Myanmar, and Ghana.

Watch the TED talk.

Urban Housing

The brilliantly imagined responsive homes and folding cars from MIT’s Kent Larson will be able to fit more people comfortably into ever-growing urban areas—a wonderful application of technology in the service of humanity.

Watch the TED talk.

Organs on Chips

By demonstrating how drug testing on human organs can be simulated on microchips, Harvard scientist Geraldine Hamilton explores the not-too-distant future of personalized medicine and drug research.

Watch the TED talk.