As the audience filed into the Sarasota Opera House for the fifth annual PINC Sarasota conference, transformation was the word of the day. Armed with signature wristbands and a thirst for knowledge, each found their seats for a day sure to challenge, intrigue, inspire and, of course, transform the way they see the world. From world-class artists to top-notch researchers and hard-hitting activists, each speaker took the stage to showcase the power of passion in the hands of a first-rate mind and not a person left unchanged. For those who failed to get tickets this year, here’s a small taste of what you missed.

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Caption: Left to right:  Ulysses Jones, Puppet Designer and Performer; Michael Papadakis, Sunlight Artist; Reverend Richard Joyner, Pastor and Farmer; Anna Gadecka, Co-Founder at Bee Saving Paper; Pashon Murray, Co-founder Detroit Dirt; Christiaan Triebert, Conflict Researcher and (photo) journalist; Sanford Greenberg, Inventor, Entrepreneur and Advisor to Presidents.

CHRISTIAAN TRIEBERT  Conflict Researcher and (Photo)Journalist

An award-winning journalist and member of Bellingcat, Triebert and his global collaborators use openly available information to investigate international conflicts, including airstrikes in the Middle East and illegal wildlife trafficking in South Africa. Recently, Triebert rose to prominence uncovering misinformation related to US and Russian airstrikes in Syria, as well as deciphering and publishing communication between Turkish military officials during the 2016 attempted coup d’etat. “I admire the work of many of the journalists working at large organizations and there are absolutely fantastic journalists working there. But what is really strong about this new way of investigating is the use of, sometimes, openly available information, but also that collaborative aspect. What’s really great to see is that everybody is cooperating and there’s way less of a competition and a competitive element. People want to figure out the facts. And I may be a bit idealistic about it, but I really hope indeed that this is kind of future for traditional journalism as well—being very open and transparent about your investigations and showing the viewer or the reader, how did we reach these conclusions. You take them along the investigative journey. Which I think would indeed feed into more credibility.”

DR. SANFORD GREENBERG  Activist, Entrepreneur and Presidential Advisor 

Losing his eyesight to disease while a junior at Columbia University, Greenberg continued on to earn his masters and doctoral degrees from Harvard University, join the Johnson administration as a White House Fellow and become a successful inventor with a patented compressed speech machine. Appointed to the National Science Board by President Bill Clinton, Greenberg authored the book, The Presidential Advisory System, and in 2012 announced his “End Blindness by 2020” campaign with a $3 million prize in gold.  “Blind minds can make the difference. According to the National Federation for the Blind, 70% of blind people in America are unemployed. There is a great deal of historical prejudice, and, whereas we can provide blind people with every form of technology known to man, they still can’t get jobs. We might have been able to produce another of Winston Churchill or Mother Teresa or Gandhi. Their potential is simply lost. It’s been 6 million years since we humans have been suffering from blindness and to me today the only solution is to end the plague. You end it forever.”

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ANNA GADECKA  Eco-Entrepreneur

With bee populations around the world suffering from loss of habitat and food sources, Gadecka took it upon herself to help the little bumblers find respite in a developed world. Joining forces with fellow Polish entrepreneurs, she cofounded Bee Saving Paper, which manufactures a special paper that contains vitamins and sugars for bees to feed on, potentially turning every recycling bin into a bouquet banquet.  “‘When the bees disappear, after four years, human beings disappear.’ I don’t know who said it, but that might be true. Because they are pollinating most of the plants. So without them there will be no plants, no animals and so on. In the beginning, when we were working on this project, we were convinced that it is just a small thing, which can save a few bees. And, actually, it’s true. The bee-saving paper is a small invention. But when we published this project on the internet and it went viral, that made people more aware. And then, this invention doesn’t have only the value in product value, which works, but also value if it makes people think about bees.”


As a young man in a family of North Carolina sharecroppers, Joyner’s first exposure to farming was one of economic exploitation and racial injustice—and he was determined to leave it behind. But upon returning from military service and settling in rural Conetoe, NC, the land called him back. As a pastor, Joyner bore witness to the ravages of obesity in his small town, and founded the Conetoe Family Life Center, a 25-acre garden where 60 local youth invest in themselves and their community by increasing access to fresh, healthy food for the county.  “Literally, what farming meant to me was a place of suffering. It was a place where, no matter what you produce, you could not get the benefit of it, because of how sharecropping and that whole system is set up. It was painful. What it means to me now is a human development model of community sustainability. It’s beautiful to see children make that journey from internal pain to a spiritual relationship with soil and a healing journey take place. We are very relationship-driven. We believe in relationships. Healthy relationships with the soil, healthy relationships with each other, will be a sustainable life.”

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DR. JOHN MARZLUFF   Bird Brain Researcher

With a focus on corvids—ravens, crows and jays—Marzluff studies how human activity and development affects modern bird populations and behavior—particularly with an eye to enhancing conservation efforts. A professor of Forest Resources at the University of Washington, Marzluff’s research has been featured in everything from The New York Times and National Geographic to PBS documentaries and even Bill Nye Saves the World. “Our place is certainly to live happy lives, fulfilling lives, but we also need to be stewards of the planet. We have the ability to do that, to control our actions so that there’s some habitat left for other species. Our place is to take on that role as steward and not just as uber-consumer. A lot of birds are declining worldwide. We’ll be lonely. We won’t have bird songs to greet us in the morning, and we’ll have lost a significant part of our evolutionary history. And like bees, a lot of birds are pollinators. That’ll be an important loss.”

ULYSSES JONES  Puppet Designer and Performer

A Master Craftsman for the National Puppetry Conference at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center and professor of puppet arts at the University of Connecticut, Jones wields a theatrical alchemy like few others, bringing life to vessels that straddle the line between prop and performer. Often working in teams to manipulate massive constructions live onstage, Jones’ work has been featured in everything from Broadway plays like Wicked to the 2014 Sochi Olympic Games. “One of the magical properties of the puppet is that the performer has to bring a life to it. It’s just an inanimate object sitting there, but as the audience is viewing and watching the show they believe there is some life. And that life comes from the puppeteer, who’s not simply moving around the stage, but are imbuing it with life and breath. Puppetry is a nexus of many fields. That’s one of the reasons I was drawn to it. All the things I was interested in came together there. You need math, science, art, theater—everything is relevant.”

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MARK VERGE Balloon Sculptor

As an extreme balloon sculptor, Verge pushes the boundaries of his inflatable medium and his own endurance in creating some of the largest and most interactive balloon sculptures ever seen. From life-size dinosaurs such as the Tyrannosaurus Rex to the first fully balloon costume, Verge’s life as a full-time balloon artist has taken him around the world, from Hong Kong and China to Belgium and the Netherlands, not to mention his home country of Canada. “I consider it a lot like ice sculpting. Ice sculpting doesn’t last forever unless you’re down in the arctic. Balloons don’t last very long, but that makes it even that much more valuable, like a flower. A flower dies within a week or two, so you value that flower even more knowing that it won’t be around forever. Balloon art does the same thing, where you know this is just a temporary form of art that will not stick around forever. There’s more to balloon art than balloon dogs and swords.”


Traveling through Central Asia along the Silk Road, high atop the Pamir Plateau, Papadakis found his artist’s calling in the light and heat of the sun. Where other artists use paint and brush to craft their images for the world, Papadakis uses elaborate contraptions and focal point manipulation to wrangle sunlight itself as his medium. Called heliography, the practice enjoys a rich history, but few modern practitioners.  “We’ve got so many things coming at us 24 hours a day, the only thing that can truly capture somebody’s attention is something as bright as the sun. Heliography could be almost as if the sun was sending a message. I use that brightness, with responsibility. You have something super powerful here and you can use it for many different reasons. I want to use heliography for change, to help spread a message. I don’t know what the words would be, but it would be something that would make people remember that they’re free.”

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PASHON MURRAY   Entrepreneur and Environmental Activist 

As cofounder of Detroit Dirt, Murray works to shrink the Motor City’s carbon footprint by diverting food waste from overstuffed landfills to a closed-loop composting system. Uniting economic and ecological concerns, she also works to educate the population on the mounting importance of such green initiatives and their ability to enact global effects through local action. Murray’s work has been featured in Forbes and Fortune, and she was recognized by President Obama in the first Demo Day. “Having a bankruptcy is exactly what needed to happen to get us to think differently. Detroit may have been the car capital of the world, but now we’re looking at diversifying our market because we have to. Our failures as the automotive hub actually helped us to recharge and reinvent ourselves and think about the future, and all that talent and ingenuity has to be managed some way beyond the automotive community. And we have to keep the environment involved in everything that we do, every decision. We can’t afford for it not to be. To take the environment for granted, we don’t have that luxury anymore. This is the one thing that can bring us together.”

CAROLINE BARON  Philanthropist and Filmmaker 

A Golden Globe-winning producer with titles like Capote, Monsoon Wedding and Mozart in the Jungle to her name, Baron has parlayed critical and commercial success into philanthropic endeavors with FilmAid International. Beginning from the refugee camps of Kosovo and now impacting at-need populations in Africa, Asia, South America and through the Middle East, FIlmAid brings comfort, hope and life-saving information to refugees with the power of film. “All human beings have needs beyond basic survival. Many refugees have told me that if their minds are not well, the food doesn’t help. Cinema has the ability to transport the viewer to another space. Done well, it can also be emotionally cathartic and intellectually stimulating. Watching a film with other people offers a positive communal experience and an opportunity for dialogue. People are drawn to stories, especially during difficult times. A Bosnian friend of mine told me that during the war in Yugoslavia people ran to the movie theater in Sarajevo at risk of being killed by sniper fire.”

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NASHRA BALAGAMWALA   Experiential Designer

Beginning with the topic of arranged marriages in her home country of Pakistan, Balagamwala has gained national attention by creating games and using the notion of play to address controversial issues that all-too-often stifle conversation. By bringing people together in an intimate and safe setting that also sparks important discussion, Balagamwala hopes to free people from the taboos that hold them down or apart. “It’s tough to sit anyone down and talk about a really dark subject. Nobody’s going to want to do it. If I read a book, maybe there’s going to be one part that I’ll discuss with a friend. But when I’m playing a game, we experience it together and then we actually sit down and talk about it. And usually when you’re playing a game it’s a safe space. It’s a fun family and friends setting. It’s easier to bring up topics in conversation. I’ve actually learned a lot about my friends through playing.”

KATHY BRYAN   Human Trafficking Expert

Bryan has devoted her life to ending the plague of human trafficking and encouraging the empathetic and compassionate mindset that she believes will lead communities out of the darkness and tackle the problem at its root. An author, speaker, mentor and activist, Bryan empowers women and survivors as director of Elevate Academy, consults with the Department of Homeland Security and was instrumental in the passing of new anti-trafficking legislation for the state of Arkansas. “Over the millennia, humanity has won and lost the battle against human trafficking several times, because the truth is that human trafficking is slavery. And we’ve been enslaving people since time began. Getting trained on what it looks like in your community is one of the biggest things a person can do. You don’t have to go become an advocate or an abolitionist but knowing what it looks like in your community is step number one because it looks different in every community. And it is everywhere. Wherever there’s people, there’s trafficking.”