Luke and Bronwen: 'Everyone here looks like they actually have something to say to each other!'

On Saturday, April 16, Flow Cape Town General Manager Bronwen D’Oliveira and I were privileged to attend the first-ever TEDxCapeTown event.

It was attended by the Mother City’s most curious and deep-thinking people who possess an innate love for technology, design and entertainment, the three words that make up the acronym TED.

Wait ... What is TED?


According to the official TED website, TED is “a nonprofit devoted to Ideas Worth Spreading. It started out (in 1984) as a conference bringing together people from three worlds: Technology, Entertainment, Design. Since then its scope has become ever broader. Along with two annual conferences, TED includes the award-winning TEDTalks video site, the Open Translation Project and TED Conversations, the inspiring TED Fellows and TEDx programs, and the annual TED Prize.”

TED has a cult following among geeks, scientists, artists, writers, marketers, thinkers, wonderers, creatives and change-makers the world over. TED is set apart by the fact that all talks are freely available through the TEDTalks website. You can download or stream these inspirational moments – great lunchtime food for thought. #justsaying

TEDxCapeTown

Yup, even the TV peeps were there.

TEDxCapeTown’s maiden conference was over-subscribed and attended by more than 400 people. Personally, I can’t think of a better way to spend a Saturday: Short, riveting and thought-provoking talks left everyone moved, inspired and energised to take on the world’s challenges and fulfill some personal goals.

Themed “Be water my friend”, the day’s talks covered a massive range of topics and put on stage some of the most inspiring people I’ve come across during my time as a media worker. Here are just some of the highlights from the day.

Tony Budden: “Hemp: Educate, Innovate, Cultivate”


Capetonians know and love Hemporium: Stylish clothing made from the magic fibre, hemp. Tony and his crew have even built an entire home from the stuff (including linen and light fittings) in Noordhoek (Cape Town)!

With its endless uses, hemp is the ultimate in eco-friendliness – from bricks to insulation, from biofuel to omega-3 fatty acids, this plant could be the answer to civilisation’s needs.

Idea worth clarifying: You can’t get high from hemp! So why the resistance?

Kershan Pancham: “Mirror mirror on the wall, who’s the me of them all?”


A little bit of philosophy on a Saturday’s never hurt anyone. Mention Tetris, and you’re pretty much guaranteed my undivided attention.

According to Kershan, people are “epistemic partners” on our life’s journey; we use each other as a mirror to make sense of the world and, more importantly, of ourselves. Like turning the blocks on a Tetris game to see where they’ll fit best …

Idea worth trying: Identify a person in your life with whom you are in regular conflict, then identify three positive and three negative qualities in that person. Now try to identify those same six qualities in yourself. More often than not, you will learn that you share these six qualities with this “difficult” person in your life.

In my case, he was 100% right.

Words inspiring action ...

What we consider “problematic” in others are most likely characteristics persent within ourselves, characteristics that make us feel uncomfortable.

Theresa Mallinson: “Media freedom in Africa: An ideal worth living for”


Finally, a word from the media! Theresa is a journalist for the consistently outstanding news site The Daily Maverick, which is responsible for equally outstanding Free African Media a “platform dedicated to freedom of expression through the [African] continent.” Theresa is managing editor for Free African Media.

Idea worth applauding: Free African Media will be making all their content available under the Creative Commons licence.

It’s a bold idea and one that I welcome with giddiness. Here at Flow Communications we know all about the power of Creative Commons, using this licensing feature extensively when we source images for our clients.

Edwin Roberts: “Share the vision, dream and future realities of broadband and biometrics”


The world can be a lot like a sausage factory, churning out uniform products without giving much space to individuality. But Edwin wants us to be butterflies, with infinite colour, vibrance and variation.

Idea to live by: “Have the conviction in your own abilities to go and create your own future, instead of being a casualty of it.”

Simon de Haan: “Making the invisible visible”


Living with HIV in rural Africa: Taking advantage if the high cellphone penetration in rural Africa, Simon’s project improved patients living with HIV’s missed clinic appointment rates from 30% to under 10%, simply by sending the individual patients SMS notifications of their upcoming appointments. Should a patient not have airtime, they can send a “please call me” to the clinic, who then call them back. Simple and amazing.

Idea to always keep in mind: There is a strong correlation between access to information and behaviour change.

Claire Janisch: “The genius of water”


Claire is already a favourite of mine as she champions the discipline of biomimicry in South Africa: She has hosted workshops at the Two Oceans Aquarium.

You can’t help but go “wow” and “ooh” when you listen to her speak about the “conscious emulation of life’s genius”. And any speaker who brings up the golden ratio is worth their weight in gold, in my books.

Ideas worth Googling: Lavasa, India; Lilly Impeller

Preven Chetty: “The river”


Preven is endlessly engaging and his talk about The River Project opened my eyes to how small actions, bright ideas and social networks (physical and digital) can have a profound impact.

Choice quote: “Water is the most powerful force on the planet, and also the most benevolent.”

Paradoxes like these used to confound the human imagination; these days, it seems, it’s become the source of hope as well as the source of brilliant ideas.

Idea worth getting involved with: The River Project on Facebook

Patrick Kayton: “Going with the flow”

Interesting and interested minds finding a place to meet

It’s hard to say why, but this was my absolute favourite talk of the day. Patrick addressed broader concepts that, for me, served to encapsulate what is so great about TED, and what is exciting about being alive in the 21st century. He espoused the virtues of taking time to think, to really think, about the things that are important in our lives.

Choice quote: “Any great idea can be reverse engineered into a great question.” And asking questions, Patrick showed, is how great ideas are separated from not-so-great ones. Questions also allow us to stop judging, even if just for a minute, and to start considering.

Take, as per Patrick’s example, Albert Einsten: He asked, “What would it be like to ride on a beam of light?”  The result? His theory of relativity. Say no more …

Idea worth embracing: The two greatest things about humankind? Our ability to think and our ability to love.

Caron von Zeil: “Reclaiming Camissa”


I’m embarrassed to admit it but, although “reclaiming Camissa” have been buzzwords in Cape Town lately, I didn’t actually know what it was until Saturday.

Turns out, Cape Town is built on a wealth of fresh water, and the Reclaim Camissa project aims to reintroduce fresh water systems throughout the city.

Idea worth exploring: The human race is in the process of committing hydrocide.

Anthony Turton: “Reinventing civilisation”


Anthony is the 2010 SAB Environmentalist of the Year and by far the oldest speaker at TEDx Cape Town 2011; he is also the only speaker to receive a standing ovation at the end of his talk. And well deserved it was.

Promoting a move away from “human versus wild” towards “human as part of nature”, Anthony’s sensitive but hard-hitting account of the hazardous conditions on the Witwatersrand, a result of the dumping of 430 000 tonnes of low-grade uranium in this area, touched on a number of points, the most salient of which was: Big businesses can and do squash research and cover up facts.

Idea worth putting into action … today: Apply financial pressure on these businesses by insisting that your pension-fund manager invests in businesses with sound environmental-sustainability practices. If you think there’s nothing that you, as an individual, can do, think again: It’s your money, so you have the power to dictate where this money is invested. Boycott bad businesses and support those who make a positive impact!

This strategy can and does work, even in this age of rampant capitalism:

Rob Harmon: “How the market can keep streams flowing”

Video courtesy TED.com

Mike Markovina: “Moving sushi”


Wawaweewa! What a way to end a life-changing day. (Yes, my life was changed, so I’m not just saying that for effect.)

Mike and his partner spent two years travelling from South Africa, via West Africa and Europe, to Japan and back to South Africa, via East Africa, examining and documenting various marine conservation hotspots and problem areas.

Moving Sushi is very much about engaging communities in environmental matters that affect them directly, returning the role of custodian to the people who inhabit the land; this was a recurrent theme on Saturday. Sure, it’s easy to dream up big schemes from above or beyond the problem, but when the people whose lives we want to change are part of the solution, the change has a real chance of staying alive.

Idea worth spreading: Environmental problems have people at the centre of them.

I can’t help but wonder …


Where were reading, writing and language in all of this?

I will hand it to the organisers of TEDxCape Town 2011: They put together a brilliant and astounding programme – “brilliant” and “astounding” are not terms I use lightly, so do trust me on this one.

The only things missing on the day were insights into reading, writing and language. I am endlessly fascinated by this aspect of human culture, not only in terms of the pivotal role it’s played in our evolution, not only in terms of the way language informs experience (the two are necessarily connected) but also the ways reading and writing are being transformed as the world experiences its current revolution: the digital one.

Watch this space. (I told you my life’s been changed!)

comments powered by Disqus