Wednesday, 2 January 2013

TEDxEuston 2012 - A unique event that challenged conventional wisdom on Africa

On the 1st of December 2012, 500 people interested in ideas from Africa gathered at the beautiful Mermaid Events Center in London for TEDxEuston, an independently organised TED event.
The Beautiful TEDxEuston Stage
They came to listen to 13 speakers, including Justice Albie Sachs, "patient capital" investor Jacqueline Novogratz and writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie – all of whom are challenging conventional wisdom, with their work on the continent. TEDxEuston aims to reflect ideas and inspired thinking of a new generation of African leaders committed to engaging and re-engaging in an active and meaningful manner with the continent. What started as a small event at University College London has grown to become one of the premier events focusing on Africa in London.

Ayan DeFirst opening TEDxEuston
When the day finally arrived, and as usual with TEDxEuston events, the buzz increased exponentially as the morning progressed until the doors were opened at 10.30 am to the beats of Ayan De First, a multi-talented drummer and artist. The excitement created by his “talking drum” helped people shake off the cold and settle down to the warm welcome of the TEDxEuston team.

Albie Sachs received a standing ovation 
The first talk of the day was by one of the first judges of the South African Constitutional Court; Albie Sachs. He started by speaking about the soft vengeance of a freedom fighter and ended up with a personal story of how he had moved on from seeking vengeance to focusing on improving our world; a transition, he advised that we should all make. When the first speaker got a standing ovation, the audience could feel that they were in for something special. The first session was titled “We are all Leaders” and the next three speakers illustrated the point through their own stories. Amina Mohammed spoke of why we should care other people, reminding us that when we talk about great people; those great people all started as small people. Alcinda Honwana spoke about young people in Africa, their relationships with each other, with work and their impact on development. Frank Njenga, a Kenyan psychiatrist gave a moving account of what it means to be a Grandfather and how it changes one's life and thoughts. ‘Without grandparents, society would have remained primitive’, he said, while challenging us to embrace collectivism and to improve our world for our grandkids. The first session was brought to an end by Queen Sylvia Nagginda, HRH, the Queen of Buganda. She spoke in the most graceful manner about how our culture is relevant to our progress. She was particularly passionate about using the opportunity of royalty to change the lives of her people.

Jacqueline Novogratz - apostle of "patient capital" 
The theme of the second session was "Business for Change" and the first speaker was Jacqueline Novogratz founder and CEO of The Acumen Fund, and the only non-African speaker on the TEDxEuston stage on the day. She spoke of her story of engagement with the continent spanning close to 30 years, and how much she had learnt from  businesses in Ghana, Nigeria, and Kenya etc, leading up to her current passion; finding patient capital for projects on the continent. She left the audience with a message of purpose; "We must create meaning, we are each other’s destiny". Next up was Jason Njoku, founder of iROKOtv. He spoke about embracing failure! “Failure unshackled me from the fear of risk”. He asked; “What’s the worst that could happen? You fail, but there is tomorrow”. He told an enthralled audience that iROKO TV was his 11th company, the first 10 had failed!

Ndidi Nwuneli - so much passion in one person!
Ndidi Nwuneli of LEAP Foundation spoke on ‘Rage for Change’ and the need for us to use our anger for good. She implored us to be angry enough about your situation, ...and then to do something about it. The session was brought to a close by Trevor Ncube, Zimbabwean publisher and entrepreneur who used his personal story to illustrate how important it was to have someone believe in you, and why we need to believe in others. He left us thinking about this phrase; "Sometimes being shocked out of your comfort zone is the best thing to happen

Chimamanda Adichie
The third session started with another standing ovation, this time for Cobhams Asuquo; award-winning musician, producer, and songwriter, who is blind. He inspired the audience with his words; ”One thing that has fueled my ability to dream has been the gift of blindness”, imploring us to “Be blind to be focused”; lots of food for thought there. Next up was Komla Dumor, a Ghanian journalist at the BBC. He spoke about the need to respect audiences and for Africans to raise our voices and tell our own stories. The penultimate speaker, Jepchumba advised us not to leave home without this critical word, “WHY” in our heads. She spoke about the challenges she faces, being African and in the digital space and how much we need the support of everyone, from our parents to those in the workforce. The last speaker of the day was Chimamanda Adichie; from whom we expected a tough subject and we sure got one! She explored gender issues in our society and the way we, men and women ought to engage with it. With fascinating anecdotes from her own life, she asked us to be angry about the gender disparities that still exist in many African communities and to do something about it, reminding us that; “a Feminist is anyone, male or female who agrees that there is a gender problem and does something about it”. This was another characteristically powerful talk that led to endless debates on twitter and which will no doubt ignite several discussions, once the videos from all the speakers are released online.

Inua Ellams reciting his poems
In between the talks, there were performances from Inua Ellams, a talented poet who recited three poems on Love, Prayer/Faith and Urban spaces. The poems made the audience laugh, shed a tear and think. The eager audience was also treated to Silhouettez in the dark, a theater, dance and poetry act. A carefully selected choice of TED videos were shown in-between the talks and performers. These included talks by Leymah Gbowee, Liberian Peace Activist, Faith Jegede and Euvin Naidoo as well as a movie trailer of Chimamanda Adichie's Half of a Yellow Sun. It was World AIDS Day also, so Winnie Ssanyu Sseruma who is living with HIV, reminded us of the importance of getting tested and how we can have an AIDS-free generation.

What makes TEDxEuston special? What creates the adrenaline in the community that makes it such an enthralling event? Perhaps it is because London is such a melting pot for a generation of Africans that moved to this cosmopolitan city or were forced out by circumstances from a continent they never wanted to leave in the first place. Maybe it is the hope and expectation of Africa as the next frontier of exponential economic growth. Maybe it is a synergy between all of the above, but TEDxEuston has evolved organically into an amazing day of hope, excitement, energy, engagement and inspiration on positive stories out of Africa. Thanks to you.....

From the feedback, discussions, Facebook comments and tweets, TEDxEuston 2012 was a rewarding experience for everyone who attended, not forgetting a huge presence on the internet as the event managed to reach the top trending lists in Nigeria on the day of the event. Now it is time to put our inspiration into action.

You can watch all the videos at TEDxEuston 2012 from January 2012 – details on

Find all the lovely pictures HERE.

Special thanks to Antonia Anni for her contribution to this post and to TEDxEuston 2012

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