Ask any TEDx volunteer what it’s like to be on a TEDx team and they’ll say it’s a fun, crazy, difficult, rewarding, unforgettable experience. Says TEDxSalford volunteer Michael Metcalf of his experience: “Getting involved with my local TEDx was one of the best things I’ve ever done … Your phone will be constantly buzzing. You will have many inconvenient epiphanies at 3 a.m. on a worknight. You will, at times, think that you can’t possibly be qualified to be in the same room as some of these people. And above all, no matter what your credentials are, you’ll be part of something that can change lives. I promise you, it’s worth the sleepless nights.”
Inspired by their experiences organizing TEDx events, and their meetings with other TEDx volunteers from around the world — hailing from different countries, cultures, and communities — Andrei Dinu of TEDxBucharest and Ruta Kruliauskaite of TEDxVilnius started the TEDx Exchange Program, a jazzed-up version of the familiar high school exchange program that allows TEDx volunteers to switch places with TEDx volunteers counties or countries away. The TEDx Volunteer Exchange Program allows TEDx volunteers and organizers with a new opportunity to interact in real time with TEDx volunteers from TEDx events miles away from their own, giving all a chance to share ideas, insight, and new experiences.
This year, the TEDx Exchange Program was chosen as one of the 2014 TEDx Incubator projects. Every year, up to three projects created by TEDx organizers are selected to become part of the TEDx Incubator and be spread to local TEDx communities. You can see all TEDx Incubator projects here.
On the launch of this program, we spoke with project leads Ruta Kruliauskaite and Andrei Dinu on the philosophy behind the exchange. An edited version of the conversation is below:
How did you come up with the idea for the TEDx Exchange Program? What inspired you?
Ruta: I’ve been carrying around this idea for quite a while now. I think since TEDActive 2013 — there I got so inspired to have met so many inspiring and like-minded people that I kept unconsciously thinking of more ways how to be in touch with them.
Andrei: The math was really simple on this idea! Every TEDx team gathers some great individuals working a lot to shape some great events, all in the spirit of “ideas worth spreading.” Most, if not all, of the people involved in the TEDx program are open-minded, culturally aware and eager to dive into new experiences. And each individual’s professional or personal experience can at some point benefit another person or another event. Add them all up and you get a cool cocktail, where having people experiencing other events than those they work for directly comes only natural if the proper system is in place.
How do you see this program affecting the TEDx community?
Ruta: I believe it will be a great tool to encourage communication and interaction among different TEDx teams from all over the world — and locally. I hope it will not only help make our events be more creative, but also strengthen the TEDx community as a whole.
Andrei: Last year, at TEDGlobal in Edinburgh, I learned one hard lesson. While some of us organizing TEDx events worry about the quality of the food for participants or event technical execution and grandeur, there are others putting aside money from their small wages just to rent a beat-down laptop and a projector to host the event. And in moments like these you realize that even though you are connected to thousands of TED and TEDx enthusiasts, you actually know very little about what’s going on in the larger picture. If this program can make us realize better what we can do to help others, how we can share information, resources and knowledge or what’s the real importance of a TEDx event in a certain community, I think it will be a success.
What are your greatest hopes for the program?
Ruta: I hope that many organizers will find it useful and necessary to interact with fellow TEDx’ers, and we’ll see more international teams working together on initiatives and traveling to one another. For me, TEDx is not only TEDxVilnius, which I’m working on; it’s not only the Facebook group to which I’m posting; it’s everybody involved … and if there’s one more tool and platform that helps to interact with them, I think it’s worth it.
Andrei: I wish that this program can help bring TEDx organizers and TEDx teams closer together by having direct shared experiences. And if the volunteers which will participate in the exchange program will change their own perspective even by one degree, in what regards understanding the core of these events, learning new skills or helping other TEDx teams in the process, than it will have succeeded. An important part of my professional experience in event organizing came from learning experiences on-the-job and, more importantly, by volunteering. So I considered this volunteer approach to be a creative method to benefit one’s personal learning path as well as the development paths of others.