Rebel Media Productions

Stories of Impact

Templeton World Charity


The goal of this unique video project is to highlight the human stories and critical perspectives that bring to life the main mission of the Templeton World Charity Foundation: funding breakthroughs concerning the “Big Questions” of life. These stories exemplify one of Sir John Templeton’s core values: to positively impact individual lives around the world. They also communicate a grander view of flourishing -- where meaning, purpose, and truth are central tenets, not peripheral, to human progress. In addition, these stories portray both individual and societal impact -- driven by rigorous and innovative research. By sharing these personal narratives and observations, Templeton seeks to illuminate Sir John’s profound sense of optimism and hope that ‘spiritual progress is possible.’


Since 2010, the TWCF has given over 200 grants to projects in more than 40 countries across a broad range of areas. “Stories of Impact” focuses on high profile projects funded by TWCF around the globe, as well as a “Conversation” with Andrew Serazin, the President of TWCF.


South Africa: Youth Radio Dialogues on Ubuntu, South AfricA  

A project supported by the Children’s Radio Foundation in South Africa seeks to approach the problem of social development through the lens of "Ubuntu." Ubuntu is a traditional African relational virtue which means ‘I exist because of you.’ Ubuntu celebrates connectedness, generosity, responsibility, and optimism. This unique project engages radio reporting, storytelling, broadcasts, and two national competitions to ignite dialogues about the themes of Ubuntu among South African youth. The initiative trains youth to bring out powerful local stories, and to create an array of radio programs that highlight the diversity and interdependence within local communities. It encourages young reporters to identify themes of Ubuntu as actualized in the lives of others, and through this process, to uncover new ideas, self-understanding, and ways of working together to improve their own communities.


Citizenship in a Networked Age

What does "good" citizenship mean in the 21st century -- an era dominated by ever increasing artificial intelligence. What are the ideals of citizenship in a networked age? The story asks some big questions: How is democracy working in an age of AI? How is online information impacting our decision making in what some call a post-truth or post-fact world? What is happening to community, neighborliness, justice, diversity and our understanding of morality? How do you share decision making in the age of machine learning?

One of the Oxford Research Directors says "Digital networking and machine learning are already changing how we relate to one another and how decisions are taken on our behalf. There is an urgent need to appraise what new kinds of citizenship will be needed, based on a deep understanding of what humans are for and how they can best flourish.”

The story involves luminaries that include Dr. Vint Cerf, a former White House faith based leader, and the CEO of a major Washington think tank.


Whales and alien intelligence

"Are we alone in the Universe,"  surely must be one of the most important existential questions humans will ever ask. And if we are not alone -- and one day an alien signal is received -- will Planet Earth even be able to recognize that it is a signal, let alone understand it? Researchers, funded by the Templeton World Charity Foundation as part of the Diverse Intelligences Initiative are now tackling exactly that question by studying a complex form of non-human communication -- that of humpback whales. Whales, it turns out, have a diverse communications system which has developed over 60 millions years adapting to life in our planet’s vast oceans. Humpback whales, in particular, possess a very large auditory cortex and are socially complex creatures. They produce a range of vocalizations -- songs that are lengthy, rhyming and constantly evolving. They work cooperatively together, for example, to hunt for food by deploying "bubble nets" in conjunction with broadcasting loud sounds to herd and corral the fish. Their vocal repertoire includes at least 40 unique social calls, some of which are incorporated into their mating songs. Humpback whales  can vocalize a "message"  to other whales that can travel hundreds or thousands of miles away, thus forming an "ocean internet". Using sophisticated mathematical algorithms, researchers are focusing their efforts on capturing the auditory signals -- not the meaning -- from humpback whales as a way to perhaps understand a future signal from an alien intelligence that itself will have traveled throughout the galaxy. This whale study will involve using a sophisticated array of underwater acoustic devices -- hydrophones -- to monitor the evolution of signaling among whales. Scientists have teamed up in a unique adventure that one day may help us answer the question: "Are we alone in the Universe?"


The Honey Bee Brain: A Model for Studying Diverse Intelligence

The Honey Bee brain is being studied by researchers who hope that it might provide a unique window into how the human brain works. While the honey bee has only one million neurons, the human brain is exponentially complex with 80 billion neurons. The project focuses on honey bee intelligence which researchers hope can provide an informative comparative lens on the intelligence of other animals. One of the basic questions is: "What is intelligence?" How is intelligence defined across species? How do we account for complex learning, complex navigation, complex memory , complex assessment? The honey bee provides some fascinating answers that will even impact the future of machine learning and robotics.


Managing Extreme Technological Risk

The Centre for Existential Risk, based at the University of Cambridge, was founded to explore critical threats that could end life on earth, as we know it. Lord Martin Rees, one of the Centre’s founders says, “Of the 45 million centuries of the Earth’s history, this one is very special. It is the first century that one species – us – holds the future of the planet in our hands.” So take a fast-paced tour through the Centre’s work and thinking on biological risks, environmental risks, as well as the risks and potential of artificial intelligence.


Understanding Social Cognition in Autism

"What is Autism?" How is it defined? Researchers at the University of Edinburgh are involved in a unique multi-year project aimed at trying to understand social cognition in autism. This story reveals a remarkable group of women who are all autistic. They discuss their very personal struggles and journeys in a world that sometimes see them as "others."

The project -- which is very narrow in focus with a particular group of research participants -- hopes to help refine what autism may mean and its implications for some of those who struggle with it. The project presents a "re-conceptualization of intelligence within a framework of neurodiversity," say its researchers, "challenging the notion there is only one legitimate form of human intelligence." The project hopes to shift the paradigm of autism: to see it as a "difference" rather than a disability.


Artificial Intelligence and MoralitY

Researchers at Duke University are trying to understand whether Artificial Intelligence can be designed to help human morality and decision making. An ethicist, a neuroscientist and a computer scientist are working together on a new project funded by the Templeton World Charity Foundation. Its aim is to see whether morality embedded into computer algorithms can assist physicians and hospital administrators make more informed decisions about who gets a kidney donation. The final decision will always be with the humans. If it works in the hospital setting, project leaders think AI and Morality can be expanded in the future to other arenas to help humans make better decisions.


Cognitive Evolution and Animal Intelligence

Can the Animal Kingdom help humans understand themselves? How does intelligence happen? How does it evolve? Why does one species solve problems a particular way, and another  solves problems a completely different way? Duke University Evolutionary Anthropologist Brian Hare, who focuses on Cognitive Evolution, posits that animals often have answers for us. Hare is well known for his "Dognition" work understanding dogs and their brain -- but this story is a look at evolution and intelligence.


The Human Genesis of Altruism

How does "Altruism" begin in humans? Are we born with it? Is it a learned trait? Why do some people lose that sense of altruism and empathy? Can altruism be taught? Researchers at the University of Washington are doing ground breaking research using both neuroscience and behavior to investigate the roots of altruism.


Ramanujan: Math Genius Award

How does society encourage learning, particularly those with a special talent in a certain discipline? Templeton World Charity Foundation is focusing on funding rising young stars in mathematics. The "Ramanujan Award" is based on a true story of a very poor Indian who won a coveted spot as a student at Cambridge University in the 1920's. The award -- in his honor -- finds young talent around the globe in order to encourage them to pursue a career in mathematics The focus is on two high school math stars from Atlanta and Baltimore that may surprise you.


The Theology of Suffering: Natural Catastrophes and Hurricane Katrina.

More than a decade after one of the most devastating natural catastrophes to hit the US mainland, explore the complex relationship between a community and its faith. Witness a very moving examination of how faith can enable people to survive such horror and loss, and yet still remain resilient enough to rebuild a community torn asunder.


Democracy, Poverty and Capitalism

 Is capitalism irretrievably broken in Western societies? Can poverty really ever be alleviated, despite 50 years of what has been known as "The War on Poverty" launched by President Johnson? And is democracy irrevocably stressed to the breaking point in the U.S.? How does society improve productivity as well as creativity? As part of Templeton's program on "Human Flourishing",  American Enterprise Institute President Arthur Brooks explores a range of critical issues and how his sense of deeply held faith can serve as a foundational experience for moving forward. 


Being Human: Discovering and Advancing School Students’ Perceptions of the Relationships between Science and Religion

The project explores the intersection of science and religion and how students think about both. What are the Big Questions that each discipline can answer best and why? What are the factors which students feel influence their views on each subject? How does a multidisciplinary approach to pedagogy improve both teaching and learning? Follow a daylong workshop to see students participating in a forum on these critical issues.


The Science of Human Flourishing: Religion Among Scientists in International Context

A Rice University project explores the attitudes and boundaries between science and religion among scientists in eight national contexts. A global survey asks key questions about the relationship between science and faith – for example, whether it is a relationship of conflict or compatibility? How do various cultures around the world reflect on this relationship? Can beauty find a place in scientific reasoning and work? Take a deep dive among three scientists and the project leader who discuss their attitudes and findings about science and religion.


A Conversation with Templeton World Charity Foundation President Andrew SeraziN

Andrew Serazin focuses on the critical impact of philanthropy and a variety of the Foundation’s key projects around the world. He also peeks into what the future may hold for this unique foundation and his hopes for its growing success.