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Talking TEDs

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Words Carinya Sharples

Having featured everyone from Thandie Newton to Steve Jobs, TED talks have become famous worldwide as a fascinating source of insight and information.

But TED also lends its name and prestige to smaller debates around the world – including TEDxEuston, an independently organised London event that gives a platform to inspiring African speakers.

For its third annual event, taking place this year on November 26, TEDxEuston has lined up an impressive roster of speakers, including Labour MP Paul Boateng, playwright Kwame Kwei-Armah and TV presenter Moky Makura.

Founding mission

TEDxEuston was founded in 2009 by public-health doctors Chikwe Ihekweazu and Ike Anya, the pair behind the innovative blog Nigeria Health Watch (featured in our Blogwatch series in issue 12).

Since the inaugural event, Ihekweazu and Anya have been joined by 11 other African professionals – all of whom volunteer their time to help organise the London event. As a not for profit, TEDxEuston is funded by ticket sales and sponsorship – this year's main sponsors are CDC, the UK government's development finance institution, and Shell.

For Ihekweazu, choosing the speakers is the most exciting part of being involved: "We have such vibrant debates within the team on what makes this guy special, why should we give him the stage, what does he have to offer, what does his story have that would inspire Africans to reach beyond what they think they can".

ARISE's Hannah Pool spoke at the 2010 event about her emotional return to Eritrea after being adopted at the age of six months – the story told in her book My Fathers' Daughter (watch the video of her talk below). "Last year's TEDxEuston was one of the most inspiring events I've spoken at," remembers Pool. "It's an event that stays with you, and that's because of the great speakers but also the incredible audience, who would be intimidating in their knowledge were they not so open to the exchange of ideas".

Changing perceptions

The event is also, says Ihekweazu, an opportunity to reject tired clichés about 'African time', disorganisation and nothing working in Africa – and create a new narrative. "The so-called African scene in London has been dominated for years by DfiD, Chatham House, the Royal African Society," he explains.

"These are all award-winning guys but they're not African! So we come and listen to them tell our story. There's always been a deep dissatisfaction with that … [With TEDxEuston] we're defining not just how others see us but how we see ourselves."

Other speakers at this year's TEDxEuston include author and poet Lola Shoneyin; Kola Karim, chief executive of Shoreline Energy International; guitarist Femi Temowo; Hadeel Ibrahim, founding executive director of the Mo Ibrahim Foundation; Governor of Ekiti State in Nigeria Dr Kayode Fayemi; Paula Akugizibwe, writer and activist; software engineer Herman Chinery-Hesse; Helen Lieberman, founder and honorary president of South African NGO Ikamva Labantu; architect and industrialist Jerome Okolo; Arnold Ekpe, group CEO at Ecobank; and Toyin Saraki, founder of The WellBeing Foundation.

TEDxEuston 2011 takes place on November 26 at RIBA (the Royal Institute of British Architects) in London. For more information or to book your ticket, visit www.tedxeuston.com.

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