TEDxSummit: How our global community went local

I not too long ago decided I should start blogging. I’ve been collecting ideas and thoughts to post but I’ve just been waiting for that perfect one to start off with.

To say that I thoroughly enjoyed last week in Doha would be an understatement;  to say my eyes were opened to new cultures, ways of living and ideas would also be an understatement;  to say that I met loads of different people?… that’s where it starts to get a bit iffy and it’s the perfect place for me to jump in.

So last week in Doha, 700+ TEDx organizers from 90+ countries descended on this fast-growing city. We were all brought together to share ideas, best practices, thoughts, and plans for where this thing could go as a community…


The Group

90+ different countries is no small number, and you’d expect quite a variety of people and cultures. What struck me though was that everyone I met seemed strangely similar, and even more striking, we all got each other! All of a sudden I was thrown into the middle of a group of people who were obsessed with actually doing things and changing their little bits of the world.

Makes for quite the dynamic.

Something else I quickly came to find out about this group was that every single person had a story. I mean you’d pretty much have to if you’ve decided to take on the challenge of a TEDx, right? I expected this before I went, but I hadn’t realized the sheer range of experiences and personalities I was about to encounter. We had people from every possible sphere at this thing, from the top of the startup world to the rural villages fighting for a voice. We had singers, dancers, poets, authors, activists, academics, creatives, programmers. I’ve heard that even a bit of carpentry came into play at some point during the week after an especially enthusiastic session of ‘ideas-sharing’. The beauty of this group though, was that we’re all doers!

What also made an impression was the presence of ‘big TED’. As someone just starting to be exposed to the live side of TED it definitely was an experience. All of a sudden we found ourselves in the middle of actual TED speakers, TED fellows and TED staff (hello Chris Anderson and Lara Stein). Where else can you have casual conversation with a TED fellow on your elevator ride up to your room, or chill in a 3-story suite with a TED speaker and a TED host. It’s one of those elements that made it all the more real (or for some, all the more like a dream).


But wait..

For all our similarities though, there were still a number of things that stood out and that distinguished us. As an organizer of a TEDx within a Western context, I was made aware of issues we would never even have to dream of.

For example, we all know that TEDx is essentially an American brand. How then do you take this into a place with a strong identity that might actively reject this ‘foreign message’? Also, what about those areas where the ‘X’ might have negative cultural connotations? And what of those places where open discussion and sharing ideas may not be the norm and may even be culturally frowned upon? It changes the whole dynamic of getting sponsors and speakers on board quite a bit.

I was also introduced to TEDx events that took the idea away from the traditional urban settings into their own rural areas. These came with their own unique sets of challenges.

My mind was blown hearing stories of the event that spanned political borders by holding a ‘three location’ TEDx interconnected by a satellite uplink; or the event that brought people back home after many years to start rebuilding the place they so loved together.

And then there’s my friend who had to contend with a Sheikh passing away on the eve of not one, but two of his events. Given the context of our relationship, this was just a bit too ironic (he’d get this).


What does it mean?

We were always a large worldwide community. There are hundreds of events across the globe doing their parts in their local communities to bring about change. We knew of each other, but we may not have necessarily known each other.

That’s all been massively changed now.

All of us have met, mingled and formed lasting bonds that have strengthened this global community. The extent of this bonding has in some ways now made this global community local. That personal touch makes all the difference, and the collaboration and mutual assistance going forward from here would be exponentially different to that pre-TEDxSummit.


.. and now what?

So now that the week is over, how do we go back to life as usual. Well… we don’t, do we? I know I won’t at least, and getting this blog going is one of my first steps. On Monday morning I saw a number of people who had just gotten to work, questioning what it is they were really doing. After such a meet up you just can’t carry on doing the mundane. Now that we have seen each other and seen ‘the world’, there’s that feeling that whatever we do now has to have some meaning.

It’s Thursday now and already I’m forgetting bits and pieces of TEDxSummit. But then after all, aren’t we as humans made to forget? We relive our memories through those fleeting bits of the past that we hold on to. Rest assured though, I won’t be forgetting this one. I won’t forget the lessons I’ve learnt, the experiences I’ve had, and the people I’ve met over the week. These have had, and will continue to have, a significant impact on my life.

We’ve all now got a worldful of couches to surf and TEDx’s to attend wherever we might go. Have fun guys, and like the poem said, the richness of Ithaca is not in its destination, it’s in the journey!





‘Extra stuff’

  • Why was “So where are you from?” such a complicated question?
    Most of the time I’d get, “So do you mean where I’m from originally, or where I live right now, or where I work, or where my TEDx is?” It’s amazing how travelled this community is!
  • Loads of people (myself included) found it surprisingly refreshing that people around actually were interested when they talked about their TEDx experience. Nice change of pace from the usual ‘what are you going on about?’.
  • Everyone I met has been called crazy/strange by people multiple times. Wonder if there’s a TEDx organizer genotype? (reference to talk on opening night)