This past summer, TEDGlobal 2017 generously invited TEDxNorthwesternU to be one of 160 representatives in Arusha, Tanzania. From August 27 - 30., speakers illuminated their bold visions and creative ideas on one powerful stage. TEDxNorthwesternU director Ryan McHenry reflects on his experience here.
TEDxNorthwesternU: Which takeaways from TEDGlobal will most influence your contributions to this year’s TEDxNorthwesternU conference?
Ryan McHenry: Both the TEDx Organizer workshops and the TED conference itself were both tremendous instructors. The workshops let me collaborate with and learn from some of the most experienced TEDxer's in the world, such as TEDxSaoPaolo, TEDxMidAtlantic, TEDxVienna, TEDxCapeTown, and TEDxDelhi. We studied curation tactics to best match speakers with ideas relevant to our audience (rather than ideas that will promote the speaker's career). We focused on sponsorship, networking, and outreach, and discussed how to best finance our events as non-profit organizations. Finally, we tackled team organization, which had a huge influence on the new executive board we've handpicked for this year. This is our biggest team ever, clocking in at 17 members, and I'm already thrilled to see the conference we're crafting.
TEDx: A TEDGlobal talk that resonated with you most?
RM: One of my absolute favorite talks was from Keller Rinaudo, a robotics entrepreneur who founded the company Zipline. By fusing of his backgrounds in drone design and health care, Keller implemented a blood donation and delivery system in Rwanda using small, electric powered self-piloting drones. Zipline now provides much-needed blood to the entire country with virtually no waste in expired stock — and it’s expanding into other nations. Keller represents one of my favorite ideals of TED - he's one person, who is not necessarily any better equipped to solve global problems than anyone else — but he’s leveraged his unique set of skills to a solvable problem in a way that does incredible, practical good for others.
TEDx: Did you connect with anyone in the TED Community? A possible collaborator for this coming conference?
RM: That week, I had the opportunity to meet so many passionate TEDx organizers from around the world, including the TED team that executes the official TED conferences each year. The TEDx program launched 9 years ago, and many of the original organizers are still active today. Jan Scheele, an organizer from the Netherlands, has organized eight different events including TEDxAmsterdam, TEDxEindhoven, and TEDxUnitedNations. We became great friends while on safari in Arusha National Park, near the base of Mount Kilimanjaro. Martin Nera, one of the other young TEDx organizers at the conference, lives in Belgium and organizes TEDxUCLouvain. Both of them have been fantastic resources in the planning process of TEDxNorthwesternU 2018, and I will get the opportunity to regroup with them this spring in Brussels, just about a month before our event!
TEDx: What are the major benefits that TEDxNorthwesternU will receive from having their director attend such a prestigious event?
RM: It's important to remember that all TEDx events are licensed through the over-arching company TED. They provide the platform for us to bring ideas and speakers to our local audiences, so there are a host of requirements we must fulfill to do the TED platform justice. That said, TED heavily prioritizes bringing TEDx organizers to TED conferences by: offering workshops with their organization teams and top experts, aiding in fundraising, and offering exclusive access to interactions with speakers and partners. By attending TED Global 2017, TEDxNorthwesternU gained a new license that permits us to have an audience of more than 100 people for the first time in our seven-year history. We also have the capacity to fundraise twice as much money as years past. Also, we’re now a member of the TEDxHub, a social network designed specifically for TEDx organizers. Beyond those tangible boosts, we are more connected than ever to TEDxer's worldwide. I had the opportunity to work with the Director of TEDxSaoPaolo, the world's largest TEDx event with an audience of over 5,000 people each year - it's hosted in a soccer stadium because it's the only venue big enough! I even had the chance to share a meal with TED's owner, Chris Anderson. The TED community is highly supportive of one another, and the network of support and advising we’ve been invited into is truly invaluable.
TEDx: What is your favorite overarching memory from the conference?
RM: I had the chance to visit a local market in downtown Arusha on my last day in Tanzania. I took a van from the TED theater with other organizers from Sweden, India and Belgium, and we spent the afternoon exploring local markets. Swahili was the area’s main language, but most locals spoke English, too. I learned quite a bit about the art of haggling—and a lot more about the regional culture beyond the tourist-driven areas. TED is all about uniting people everywhere around big ideas, and that experience was definitely one that will stick with me, for those reasons.