Tuesday, 31 December 2013

My TEDxEuston journey and an invitation to stay with us in 2014!

By Chika Unigwe

In 2000, the Economist branded Africa in an article, a “hopeless continent.” I had just returned from Italy where I met an amazing Nigerian social activist, Isoke Aikpitanyi, ex trafficked sex worker who started an NGO to help trafficked women who wanted to quit the trade. Meeting Isoke and others like her who were driven to contribute what they could, refusing to be intimidated by the hurdles ahead of them was a life-changing experience for me. I spoke to my friend Chikwe, about the brain drain that was Africa’s curse, but we also traded stories about people we knew who were returning or who had effectively relocated from the West to Africa to invest on the continent. We also discussed Bianyavanga Wainana’s seminal essay, How to Write about Africa. Chikwe then told me of a conference he had been to with another friend, Ike Anya two years before, and about their idea to have one in London. I was intrigued and so I did not hesitate when he asked me to speak at the first TEDxEuston. I wanted to share stories of people like Isoke with
Speaking at the first TEDxEuston at UCL in 2009
whom I had come in contact. 

My first TEDxEuston was an unforgettable experience. As a Nigerian living in a suburban Flemish community in the North of Belgium, where having a job as an African taxi driver or supermarket cashier was a big cause for celebration, and where despite having two degrees and studying for a PhD, I was offered work as a cleaner by a job centre employee who did not bother reading my CV, being at the event and being confronted with all the different stories brought me very close to tears. The energy in the small room at the University of London in which that first event was held was infectious. I came
The audience at the first TEDxEuston in a UCL classroom

away- as did many of the 100 people in attendance - invigorated and challenged to do more than just complain about everything that was wrong about Africa. We were motivated to walk the walk in addition to talking the talk.  The next year, I joined the team. It is still one of the best, most fulfilling decisions of my life. 

In the thirteen years since the Economist article, there has been a significant shift, so that these days Africa Rising has become an ubiquitous phrase, and there is nowhere where that afroptimism is felt more than at a TEDxEuston conference. Focusing solely on Africa, it is a window into not just a fuller, more balanced narrative of the continent, but also of the possibilities that could be. It is an invitation to think differently of Africa.      

With speakers drawn across several fields: from the arts to business to leadership, TEDxEuston creates a platform for varied discussions around the continent. It challenges the notion of the “single African story.” More than that, it encourages ongoing engagement with and dialogue about Africa. Testimonies from attendees almost always reference the conversations that continue beyond the day. 

TEDxEuston speakers in 2013, in keeping with tradition, were people who not only excelled in their fields, but are in one way or the other helping to shape alternative narratives about Africa. They are representative of the shift in the single African story which is still ongoing. Mixed with performances and some carefully selected talks from the parent organization; TED.com, TEDxEuston 2013 made people laugh, cry, think, but above all to be inspired.  

Every TEDxEuston event is an opportunity to be confronted with Africa that refutes every stereotype of it.

My TEDxEuston journey has evolved from the 'single' story of Chikwe's invitation to a much more complex story of a group of friends that have become more like family; the TEDxEuston team. For a full year, we work hard at putting together an event that represents our hopes and aspirations for our continent without hiding the challenges that we confront daily in achieving the future we seek. In 2014, that journey will continue, and I invite you to stay with us....

With my brother and team mate Paddy Anigbo at the first TEDxEuston

From the first week of January, we will be releasing these talks online. Some of the previous ones, like this one by Chimamada Adichie has been watched almost half a million times after the event. Please do keep in touch, to give us advice, speaker and sponsor suggestions and to encourage us on our journey of inspiring new ideas about Africa.

And finally, a few bits from our TEDxEuston community.....

One of our most committed fans Chidi Ejimofo is part of a choir at the hospital where he
also works as a Consultant in Accident and Emergency Department. This year the choir recorded a CD single on behalf of charity (Macmillan Cancer and several local healthcare charities). The song “A Bridge Over You” ...watch it. Please back the song and cascade the links to buy/download it to friends and family. The song is available for download on iTunes and Amazon  as well as being sold in CD format on the choir website.

And there is a beautiful piece titled GOING HOME by Chibundu Onuzo. 

We wish you a great and to 2013 and all the very best in 2014. Together with the rest of the team, we will be working hard to put together another beautiful and inspiring event together for you....in the mean time, do your bit!

Chika Unigwe for the TEDxEuston team!

Follow us on Twitter @tedxeuston

1 comment:

  1. It was an amazing experience to visit this website and read the articles and contents.

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