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Caribbean: TEDx Shows “Ideas Worth Spreading”

“Ideas worth spreading.” With this simple slogan, TED.com, which began in 1984 as an annual conference devoted to technology, entertainment and design, has infiltrated the Internet, gathered valuable global mindshare among people interested in changing their communities and empowered people in various countries to spark discussions in local, self-organised, intimate, TED-branded events, dubbed TEDx.

This sharing of ideas has found its way to the Caribbean – in 2011, five TEDx events were held in the region: two in Jamaica, two in Trinidad and one in Puerto Rico, the prelude to which was the hosting of a TED Talk in November 2010 by Jamaica and Trinidad and Tobago. TED Talks cover science, arts, politics, global issues, architecture, music and more. Events can be held in homes, workplaces, schools, universities or public theatres.

Showcasing local live speakers and featuring TED video talks, the Caribbean events each had a different viewpoint. All TEDx events share TED's format of short, prepared talks on a wide range of subjects to foster learning, inspiration and wonder, and to provoke conversations about the topics for discussion. Interestingly, for all of the interest they garnered and the reportedly high attendance at each of these events, very few bloggers actually wrote about them, and a survey of the respective events’ hashtags showed a trail of mainly the organiser’s tweets.

The first Jamaican event, TEDxIrie, aimed to “show the world that Jamaica's size doesn’t limit what [they] can contribute globally in all areas of human activity.” Speakers included Carolyn Cooper, Ebony G. Patterson, Jacqueline Sutherland, Kaiton Williams, Mark A. Jones and Wayne Marshall.

TEDxJamaica, held in October 2011, featured a mix of local and foreign speakers and seemed more business-oriented. The Jamaica-born featured speaker, Barrington Irving, is confirmed by the Guinness Book of World Records as the youngest global solo flyer. He used the event to announce a global initiative with Brazilian aeronautics manufacturer Embraer to create the world's first Flying Classroom at 40,000 feet in the air.

Other speakers included Andrew Simpson, Information Technology guru expert of CASEWare; former “Apprentice” winner Randall Pinkett, who now heads his own multimillion-dollar company; Simon Benjamin, an artist whose portfolio includes television commercials, music videos and branding for major entities; JJ Geewax, who helped establish the real-time, online advertisement exchange company Invite Media, as a market leader before its acquisition by Google and Divya Narendra of ConnectU, the campus-based, social-networking platform, the central ideas of which would eventually morph (albeit with bitter litigation) into Facebook.

In contrast, Trinidad’s latest TEDx event, TEDxPortofSpain, the theme of which was “Changing Conversations”, attracted a crowd that seemed largely filled with persons from the arts and creative industries. Featured speakers included Global Voices’ Managing Director, Georgia Popplewell, who spoke about Global Voices’ work around the world; Wendell Manwarren of the Rapso Group 3Canal, who is a singer, writer, producer, teacher, sound designer and director, entrepreneurs Ria Ramkissoon and Kiran Shiva Akal; architect Mark Raymond and Stefan Grosberg, food artisan.

Students at the University of the West Indies also threw their hat in the ring, hosting a TEDx event, TEDxUWI with the theme “Beyond Your Limits” in February 2011. Speakers included students Amilcar Sanatan, Brandon O’Brien, and Stephan Taylor and UWI graduate Omar Mohammed. Sanatan spoke about youth and culture in Trinidad and Tobago and examined how self-acceptance affects the way we live.
 Taylor talked about new ways of thinking about innovation, discussing how the Caribbean region is developing through fresh ideas, and O’Brien discussed “Compassion as 21st Century Enlightenment”, outlining how compassion can be used to border the differences between different sectors of society and push towards a new unity. Mohammed focused on the ways in which Caribbean countries are responding to Climate Change.

Local celebrities, Miss Universe 1998 Wendy Fitzwilliam, and comedian Learie Joseph, were also featured. the former beauty queen focused on encouraging the audience to recognize opportunities, while Joseph shared his life's journey, comically illustrating how perseverance can help to overcome boundaries.

The response to the student-led event was so positive that the university held another TEDx event in November 2011 event, themed “Cultural Reality Imitated in a Mutual Environment”. The focus, inspired by the Trinidad and Tobago's government's imposition of a state of emergency to combat the escalating crime situation, looked at crime “as part of the cumulative narrative of Trinidad and Tobago and its connective ability”.

Finally, higher up the Caribbean archipelago, in December 2011, TEDxSanJuan was about to its mark. At first, bloggers seemed uncertain about what the event was meant to accomplish and how successful it would be. Gil the Jenius quipped:

As I write this, TEDx San Juan, first edition, is to start in 17 hours.

I have no idea who's speaking. Or what they'll talk about.

The only information I have is that the theme is “Bursting the Bubble,” referring to My Brethren who are pushing the envelope, boricuas breaking new ground. Good. Marvelous. But to be blunt: so what?

So Jenius, if you're so down on the event, why are you going?

Because I could be wrong. I could be wrong that the agenda, when it is finally revealed, will be a flop, a collection of butt-buddies brought in to present a skewed shadow of “Bursting the Bubble” excellence.

And wrong he was! Post-event, the Jenius wrote here that “TEDx San Juan was a rousing success“:

As I tweeted: I'll eat some of My words, happily.

Let Me dismiss My off-targets first: I sill don't agree with hiding the speakers line-up until just before the event.

Now for the positives: TEDx San Juan is the first event I have ever attended locally that exceeded My expectations…for My money, every speaker was a huge hit. TEDx San Juan was interesting, dynamic, moving and impressive. Three thoughts came together during the event:

1) I'm so used to events like these being “what could have been” that I have become too cynical about “what could be.” I won't do that again.

2) I, and We, are not alone. There are plenty of My Brethren who not only want to make a difference, they actually are making a difference.

3) The next TEDx has already begun. And it will be even better than this one.

Dondequiera was excited to attend the event from the get-go and noted that:

2011 has really been a breakthrough year for the Internet in Puerto Rico…everyday, I see more signs that the Internet is gaining broader and deeper acceptance locally. I have two predictions:

We're still on training wheels here in Puerto Rico, but the rollercoaster ride that is the Internet, is just about ready to take off. Look for a more ubiqitious Internet presence in 2012.

The Internet marketing embargo that the local advertising agencies controls, is starting to leak. When the dam breaks, it will break a tidal wave of opportunity.

After the event, the blogger noted that despite the limited number of invitees for the conference, which he called a “barrier [that] caused many local social media users to express their disgust with the process and the exclusion it caused”, there was a bright side:

Pissing people off because they couldn't register for an event is a great problem to have. Let's reframe this. 900+ people in Puerto Rico wanted to attend the TEDx San Juan Conference! People are hungry for ideas. What a optimistic signal!

I talked to one of the organizers and we agreed that, if nothing else we celebrate TEDx San Juan for having told us this one story: I am not alone. You are not alone. They are others. And they're here and in many different places around the world. Many speakers talked of transformation, to becoming fueled by passion.

TEDx is one way in which the Caribbean creative and technology fraternities are getting their ideas out and sharing them with the world – and the phenomenon seems to be a harbinger of innovation for the regional online community.

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