Ideas, Innovation and Creativity: Keys to Unlocking Africa’s Glory
2011 has been momentous year for the Africa. From Egypt to Tunisia and Libya, a change of guard is reshaping the continent’s political landscape. In the diaspora, a different kind of change is also taking shape as Africans challenge each other about rebuilding the continent from the powers of corridor to economic growth and social responsibility. One of such platforms is TEDxEuston, an annual conference which brings together the African diaspora community in the UK, to talk about Africa and find ways of influencing change on the continent.
According to Chikwe Ihekweazu, a TED Fellow and one of the organisers of TEDxEuston, “the purpose of the conference is beautiful in its simplicity; to spread ideas that can change people’s perspective, trigger the subconscious, lead to innovation, and affect every person in a different but significant way. It all sounds somewhat abstract, but that’s the beauty of TEDxEuston. It’s only abstract until you have felt it, listened, watched and immersed yourself in it.”
Ihekweazu, of Nigerian and German descent, is an epidemiologist, currently based in South Africa. Together with a team of 13 African professionals, Ihekweazu organises TEDxEuston on a not-for profit basis. TEDxEuston, he explains is about African claiming ownership of their stories. “Africans taking their destinies in their own hands and have done so very successfully, “ he says, “but how often do we hear their stories in the Western press, or indeed in our reportage of the continent?
“We have not been very good in telling our stories and this has a huge effect on our societies as we do not see the role models in our dialogue to inspire us to greater heights. TEDxEuston seeks to tell our stories to our friends in the West, but to ourselves as well!”
With the knowledge that the western news media is predominantly “weighted in favour of negative stories” about Africa, TEDxEuston aims to break that cycle with its vision of creating a platform for Africans, who have succeeded in their various life endeavours to speak to other Africans. The topics vary and range from their inspirational stories of hope and achievement to innovative ways African approaches to development.
An offspring of TED, a global non-profit devoted to the power of using ideas to change attitudes, lives and ultimately, the world; TEDxEuston wants to reflect the 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. The idea for TEDxEuston first came to Ihekweazu and a friend, Ike Anya after they attended TEDAfrica 2007. His excitement prompted him to ask the organisers if another event Africa was possible? Though he didn’t get his first wish, Ihekweazu was challenged to do something focused on Africa but in London, because of the large African community based in the capital.
Now in its third year, TEDxEuston consciously seeks to challenge speakers and attendees at the political, social and cultural levels. “We need to think hard about the way we do things on our continent and imagine better and more efficient ways of doing them. We need to innovate aggressively and create opportunity for growth and development.”
Some of last year’s speakers included, Hannah Pool, Eritrean-British journalist and writer. Remi Okunlola, co-founder and executive director of Africa’s first indigenous offshore drilling company, SeaWolf Oilfields, Nigeria. Pool shared her story about discovering her African roots after being adopted as a baby in Eritrea and growing up in Manchester, England.
“I have spoken at many international events, and sharing my story at TEDxEuston was like no other. The expectations are incredibly high, much of the audience knew a lot more about Africa than I do, and yet as long as you speak from the heart, with integrity, then good things will happen,” she says.
“The key with TEDxEuston is not the impressive list of speakers, it’s not even the Ted label, and it’s the audience. It’s crucial that the diaspora community which is as diverse as it is divided meet each other, share ideas and experiences. TEDxEuston allows this to happen, in a neutral space – no one community/country ‘owns’ TEDxEuston and that is incredibly important.”
Once criticism of TEDxEuston since it started has been its Nigerian-centric approach, with most of the speakers in its first two years being Nigerians and the lack of a Pan-African discourse though aimed at Africans as whole. “Our major challenge for TEDxEuston 2011 is to really represent the face ofAfrica,” says Ihekweazu. “It is equally our goal to be a platform that is representative of the African woman. We are very keen to give the stage to ideas that are shaping our world and the positively evolving status of the African woman is an exciting development.”
The goal to give women and gender related topics an equal platform may have eluded TEDxEuston in 2010, but 2011 has the potential to make up for it. With themes that include, Bold and Beautiful, Not Business as Usual and Called to Lead, it has a host of speakers that range from the political to the business world and culture heritage. They include Rt. Hon Paul Boateng MP; Helen Lieberman, founder and Honorary President of Ikamva Labantu and Hadeel Ibrahim, founding executive director of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation.
The impact TEDxEuston will have on the active participation of the London African diaspora community on the continent is yet to be seen. However, Okunlola, one of last year’s speakers, once based inLondon, before relocating toNigeria, told me that “Africa is the future. One way or the other, we are committed to weakening the negative forces that have kept our continent in the dark all this while. Sit tight leaders will be forced out. Corrupt leaders will be brought to justice. Good and courageous leadership will be celebrated. Africa is building and fortifying the human, intellectual and physical structures, keys to establishing Africa as the next frontier. Isn’t it time to join in this effort? Believe inAfrica. Invest your hearts, your talents, your intellect and your finance in Africa.”
TEDxEuston is fully sold out but you can watch the livestream at: TEDXEustonLivestream
Read my interview with Chikwe Ihekweazu: Africans Must Get Better At Telling Their Stories
This article was published in the New African Magazine’s November 2011 edition.
Images: Femi Sunmonu