TEDxDubai – An Idea Worth Spreading

Posted on October 20, 2009

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As written for UAE Community Blog:

Not many events (let alone free media events), make the cut, here in Dubai. And by ‘cut’ I metaphorically refer to that fine, slice of meat; perfectly extracted, excluding everything unnecessary to produce a prime, well-done steak.

The purpose of TEDxDubai was to do justice to the concept of TEDx (an abbreviation for Technology, Entertainment and Design; the ‘x’ representing an ‘independently organized event’), a non-profit convention that started out in California, with the intention of hosting ‘forward thinkers,’ all connected by the common goal of spreading the power of positive thinking.
What TEDxDubai aimed to achieve was to bring together like-minded individuals from the emirates under one roof, and bounce off ideas that would otherwise seem unfeasible.

Delegates entered the event location with high expectations, but frankly, expecting the worst. As is the norm with most conferences / events / concerts here in ‘Dubayy,’ a parking predicament was expected, lousy customer service was anticipated, and a disappointed lot of speakers was prophesized.

But boy, were we pleasantly surprised.
Parking was plentiful, the volunteers were always on deck, the catering was delectable, and the line-up of speakers was nothing short of mind-blowing.
So obviously, the atmosphere was proportionately abuzz with intellectual conversation of TED-happy delegates.

What does it take to pull off this successful an event? The organizers obviously knew what they were doing when they set down the guidelines:

(a) Remove the price tag: Your delegate badge had to be ‘earned’ by filling out an application form on the TEDxDubai website; one that never asked for your nationality and social standing, preferring instead to deem you worthy depending on what you thought was an ‘idea worth spreading.’
(b) No black market sales: Since your invite to the event was non-transferable, and valid photo identification had to be presented on entry, not a soul even attempted to sell their tickets; even if they wanted to (which is hardly conceivable).
(c) First-come, first-serve seating: Self explanatory. The earlier you arrived, the better view you got. And if I recall right, the 1,000 seats of DMC’s Palladium were almost completely filled up before the session even began.
(d) Come-as-you-like mentality: No stated dress-code, meant that you were free to wear whatever it was that kept you comfy throughout the day. Presence of flats amongst the ladies and flowered shirts amongst the men were proof enough.
(e) Enlist speakers not on the basis of their job title, but on the principle of the vision / message they have to relay: Speakers varied in nationality (Emarati to Indian), age group (13-40), and subject matter (biophotonics to comic book characters); each speaker more inspirational than the next.

Bruno Guissani, European TED director, inaugurated the event introducing the audience to the concept of TED, and the many projects that have launched as a result.

Leo Laporte advocated the benefits of new media vs. old, while Paul Bennett stressed on the importance of ‘moving beyond scale and into substance.’
The Al Awadhi brothers of the contemporary Shawarma store Wild Peeta, and Mohammed Saeed Harib of Freej fame, all highlighted the significance of having faith in your dreams, and running it through.
13-year old Dubai Abdulla Abuhoul, took the stage as living proof that it was not age that mattered, but instead the drive to succeed, while Dr. Naif Al Mutawa, creator of THE99, planted humour into his talk with the same ease with which he glided us through the creation of the region’s first internationally-renowned comic strip.

Masarat Daud shared with us the vision and success of her 8 day Academy, emphasizing on the need for ‘education that functions,’ while Samar S. Jodha drove us to tears with striking visuals from the Indian village of Phenang, and his message of ‘finding the larger cause in your art.’
Bashar Atiyat brought to our attention the need for breaking stereotypes, while Jamil Abu-Wardeh had the audience in splits with his witty take on the importance of comedy in the region.
Mohammad Gawdat addressed the crowd on the internet’s role in non-manufactured information, and Ian Gilbert achieved his goal of making our brains hurt while underlining the necessity of promoting ‘independent thinking’ in today’s classrooms.
Jiochi Ito advised us to ‘invest in our failures in order to achieve that Google’ while Abed Ayyad brought in the science factor to the conference, delving into the ‘magic’ of Biophotonics.
Khulood Al Attiyat spoke of her innovation to bring back a Renaissance in Dubai, and Qais Sedki talked us through achieving every goal on ‘life’s table of contents.’
Ernst van der Poll helped us comprehend the importance of bringing today’s youth to explore nature in order to better understand it’s value in the circle of life, while Thomas Lundgren walked onto the stage barefoot, and stressed on the gravity of true happiness; stating that ‘without passion, nothing extraordinary in this world can be achieved.’

When the final speaker left the stage, and it was time for the organizer’s curtain call, the entire Palladium rose for a much-deserved standing ovation in honour of the Mad Men behind the scenes; Giorgio Ungania and James Piecowye. Mad because they took up the challenge of putting together a world-class act, purely because they felt it was their duty to make sure the Emirates was not deprived of such a phenomenon.

We, the delegates walked out an inspired lot; now reassured that we’re capable of achieving whatever it is we aspire for, provided we’ve got the passion to back that dream. ‘If they can do it, so can we!’

It just goes to show that it’s not the monuments we erect that put us on the map, but projects like these that put us on par with the rest of the world. Here’s hoping that the success of a humble event such as this will motivate our GCC counterparts into bringing the TED experience into their region.

And I’m quite certain I’m not speaking for myself here when I say, I was actually quite disappointed. Disappointed that the much-awaited TEDxDubai had actually come to an end.

Turns out the best things do come for free after all.

For more information on what you missed out on, visit: www.tedxdubai.com
For more inspiration, visit the main TED site: www.ted.com

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Posted in: Community, UAE