Harsh Agarwal is the organizer of TEDxBhilwara, an event in the Bhilwara area of Rajasthan, India. The area is famous for its long-established textile industry, but — Agarwal says — “many do not know Bhilwara for its other special things, like art and culture.” Too often, he says, his hometown is seen as stagnant and set-in-its-ways, not a place where innovation and industry is thriving. That is why, after years of following TED and TEDx, Agarwal decided to put together a TEDx event in Bhilwara, centered on the great, but under-the-radar ideas, individuals, and technology making waves in his hometown.
Agarwal himself first learned about TED as a high school student, when a teacher showed TED Talks in class. Inspired by the breadth of ideas in the talks and the inspiration they stirred in him, Agarwal soon conspired to host a TEDx event at his high school with a friend. Youth, school, and other activities won out, however, and his plans for an event were put on the back-burner.
Flash forward to 2012, when Agarwal received an invitation to attend TEDxTheCalorxSchool in Ahmedabad, a town near his own. Having never attended a TEDx event before, Agarwal was touched by the experience. “Getting inspired from attending the TEDx event live, I felt honored and very special to be one amongst 100 attendees,” he told TEDx. “I then desperately wanted to know what goes on behind such a powerful event.”
After attending the event, he moved to Mumbai to attend university and learned the ropes of TEDx event planning while there. As a student, he applied to work with local event TEDxGateway; was accepted; and began to assist in speaker curation. “I learned a lot from [TEDxGateway organizer] Yashraj Akashi,” Agarwal said, “and he inspired me to pull off a TEDx event in my hometown for the community there who have no idea of what TED is.”
The first TEDxBhilwara took place in July, and it was a definite success, Agarwal says. He first organized two Salon events to drum up interest in the community and this led to a burst of excitement for the first live-speakers event.
“[I knew] the first event would not [necessarily] bring a big change but a small one … but after the event, I have observed that people have started talking about TED, TEDx and its importance in the community, which they never did before,” Agarwal said. “Many of them started looking at collaboration in a different way and started reaching out to local speakers for collaboration on projects.
“After the event, many media people approached us and gave us names of some amazing people who could be chosen to speak for the next edition of TEDxBhilwara. Looking at this, I am happy to see people understanding the vision of TEDx events and what it is trying to spread through this platform: a powerful story and an idea to the world. Attendees of the event left the place with a complete different thought process because they saw and heard things they have never before.”
Agarwar also noticed changes in his own outlook on his community and himself after the event. “As the organizer, my experience has been full of excitement. I got to learn a lot about myself after organizing the event. In the course of planning and preparation, I did things I never did in my life before … I saw the city through a different angle after the event. I get to see so much potential and passion in the people. I get to see an air of change, blowing in the city to mark the positive change.”
Overall, Agarwal says, he’s impressed and motivated by the excitement and acceptance toward new ideas he’s seen in his community. “It was a sheer pleasure seeing the people here in this small town coming together and showing so much interest and support in a TEDx event and its values and vision,” he said. “There is so much talent in this small city and hence I found nothing better than a TEDx event to spread ideas and knowledge at a global level.”