For TEDWomen, 7 TEDx organizers on the power of female leadership

Snapshots from TEDxWomen 2016

Snapshots from TEDxWomen events in 2016

Veteran organizers. New organizers. African, Asian, South American and European organizers. Women all around the globe have established, inherited, grown and organized some of our most successful and exciting TEDx events.

In honor of TEDWomen and TEDxWomen happening this week, we’ve asked seven TEDx organizers to share why they hold TEDx events — to encourage future female organizers to prepare to run the world (… and TEDx). Below, some of their wisdom:

“I believe in the movement of spreading good ideas, in creating a space for dialogue. And in showing people that they are not alone.”

– Ana Goelzer, TEDxLaçador, Brazil


“Globally, I have seen an increase in women organizers. When I was at TEDSummit, I met a lot of amazing women – some who have shaped what TEDx is today, had speakers from their events speak at TED and some brand new who are joining this crazy journey.”

– Safra Anver, TEDxColombo, Sri Lanka


“With the rise of TEDxWomen events around the world that celebrate women, it really has helped champion a great narrative for women and make them feel like an integral part of communities.”

– Mercy Akamo, TEDxGbagada, Nigeria


“We show that equality can be shown in more ways than just with the content on stage.”

– Elena Crescia, TEDxSãoPaulo, Brazil


“TEDxWomen is a tool that you can use to help society bridge the gap between a male dominated world, and a world that celebrates all its people irrespective of gender or race.”

– Kelo Kubu, TEDxJohannesburg, South Africa


“State your achievements: don’t be afraid to tell what you have achieved and done right. You are the first and best advocate of yourself. If you don’t do it no one will do for you. And people need to either see it for themselves or learn about it in order to support and follow you.”

– Elena Papadopoulou, TEDxThessaloniki, Greece


“When a woman rises, it’s the womanhood in its whole that rises with her.”

– Fatiha Hajjat, TEDxLyon, France

 

For more, read the full interviews with all seven organizers:

Fatiha, TEDxLyon

What encouraged/inspired you to organize a TEDx event in your local community?
It was both a collective and personal challenge. I was returning to Lyon after a long Ulyssean journey abroad and wanted to connect with the movers & shakers in my city. TEDx was at its genesis and I saw in it a unique and visionary opportunity to gather and meaningfully connect people around outstanding ideas and human beings. I wanted to explore a new form of leadership for myself and explore new ways of collaborating. This got me on a very intense journey of self exploration and a sometimes uncomfortable deconstruction of my own certainties.

Do you see many women on your team more eager to take on leadership roles since the inception of your event?
Yes. There is so much value in becoming a female role model. From the moment a woman steps in and leads the way, the domino effect is instant. I’ve watched some of my team members gain in confidence and lead in a more assertive and intuitive way whether in meetings or in dealing with male suppliers for instance. I believe that when a woman rises, it’s the womanhood in its whole that rises with her.

I also feel that both my being a TEDx woman organizer and TEDx Ambassador has prompted more women to apply and get a license in France.

What impact has your TEDx event had on your local community?
I think that it has created new bridges between people whose paths hardly cross each other. We tend to live in urban bubbles, whether physical or virtual ones. I regularly bump into people from the community who say that this talk or this conversation they had at the break has given them the impetus to start their business or revisit an idea or want to learn more about a topic. As we go more and more digital, we need to multiply the physical platforms and safe places where we can connect and have meaningful conversations.

And this is the beauty of TEDx: it’s an inclusive and impactful programme where serendipity and hybridity emerge naturally.

Have attitudes towards women changed in your local community since the rise of TEDx events in your local community?
I hope so, even though it would be pretentious to say that there is a direct causality effect! What I notice though is that a lot of women contact me for mentoring or advice for events or new ventures they are setting up. There is a global trend in France and elsewhere in the world where women feel more empowered to think big and bold.

Have you seen an increase in women organizers since you’ve begun organizing?
Clearly, yes, if we judge by the ratio of female/male organizers today.

What wisdom do you have for prospective women organizers?
We are living extraordinary times where old patriarchal models are gradually being replaced by more inclusive ones. TEDx is a unique opportunity to be part of this new world that is shaping. Women are particularly well placed and geared to handle these complex settings and see things through right to the end. We are emotional and social beings, much more resourceful than society as a whole and archaïc systems push us to think.

Organizing a TEDx event is like a pregnancy! It is not going to be a walk in the park everyday. It takes a lot of resilience, nurturing, determination, patience and courage. To thrive in this environment, as an organizer, you need to make sure you first cater for your own needs: you cannot serve the world if you have not served yourself respectfully! There is a lot of support from the TEDx team in New York and the community as a whole through the Facebook group and the TEDxHub. Do ask questions and look for mentors. Finally, connect regularly with like-minded people who face similar challenges and share your dream of a more conscious, enlightened, informed and caring society.

***

Safra, TEDxColombo

What encouraged/inspired you to organize a TEDx event in your local community?
Having being part of the team in our first year of introducing TEDxColombo, I had just then realized the impact that the event could make on a community. One year later we put together our second event of success, endurance and discovery. Something we realized was that our event was an open forum where we could talk about solutions to pressing issues – we face every day with non-bias. We were the curated event this country had not seen before. It recently culminated with our 10th TEDx event and we are still amazed by the impact it’s had.

Do you see many women on your team more eager to take on leadership roles since the inception of your event?
In honest truth, we’ve seen a reduction in women on our main steering committee team since its inception. It has been a mix of various elements ranging from leaving to study abroad, marriage and work life balance. Some of them return as volunteers on the day of the event but we’ve seen a dramatic increase on our volunteer force and I am sure in time when spaces open up they may even end up on the team as we figure out the next wave in our series of events.

What impact has your TEDx event had on your local community?
Our events have somehow always been right after crucial moments in Sri Lanka’s history. Our first being a few months after the war; we had one just after racial tensions escalated across the country; one right before the most crucial election in Sri Lanka’s history; one a year into the new government and aptly themed blueprint for change. This enabled us to critically evaluate where the country as a whole was heading and how ideas could help navigate the turmoil into something with more substance and transparency. We’ve also had the issue of freedom of expression in Sri Lanka and TEDx allowed us to create a safe space where ideas of any nature (not political) can be stated. This year we looked at the past, present and future to connect the dots following all the change that we’ve seen throughout the years to understand what we can do by learning from our past mistakes.

We’ve seen investors from the audience actually fund our speaker’s ideas and are now working collaboratively. A TEDx Talk doesn’t end on stage. Tilak Dissanayake now has a budget (by a provision of the ministry of finance in the recent budget revisions) for mechatronics projects; Chinthaka Abeysekera spoke about the impending situation of waste management and the solution of using it in the energy process. A few months later our garbage hill meethotamulla had landslide issues which massacred villages in its paths resurging the need to find alternative solutions. Asoka Obeysekera spoke about how citizens need to use the tool of the right for information to find out what our government does for their people – a week after the event our first ever Right To Information Act was signed in cabinet.

We have also had team members judge start up competitions and watch participants say they were inspired by TEDxColombo to go ahead and surge on with their ideas (they didn’t know we were part of the team). It is yet a growing curve but I think as time goes on we will only see greater stories coming out of the woodwork.

Have attitudes towards women changed in your local community since the rise of TEDx events in your local community?
I think we are starting to see a change within the women attendees at the event where a lot of individuals have become inspired to venture out of their bubbles. We have also seen women speakers (even though we find only one or two a year) become shot into the spotlight. A speaker from 2016, Shanuki De Alwis, always jokes saying that we created a monster for she had a speaking or workshop assignment almost every week after our event. We are always looking at increasing the narrative and we hope that in the future the women in Sri Lanka come out and tell their stories through our platform – till then we will keep searching for the next one.

Have you seen an increase in women organizers since you’ve begun organizing?
In Sri Lanka, we have only two organizers and funnily or (not so funny) enough we are both women. However, globally, I have seen an increase in women organizers. When I was at TED Summit, I met a lot of amazing women – some who have shaped what TEDx is today, had speakers from their events speak at TED and some brand new who are joining this crazy journey. I am sure that as the years pass by we will hear a lot of their voices and may even watch them come out with great initiatives.

What wisdom do you have for prospective women organizers?
Patience – during this journey – you will have moments where you want to rip your hair out but you need to hang in there, keep your cool and look for ideas in terms of solutions. Also your team, this is crucial for without them you cannot make this work. They are the fabric to how your event comes alive so choose them wisely. Work on finding an eclectic mix of personalities that sync well together but remember between working out great ideas you need to also mediate to ensure you have a regular reality check.

Also have fun – this is key – if it’s all stress and no fun your team will run its course.

Another key thing is to remember you are part of a community – so ask for help when you need it – most likely someone is going through what you are halfway across the globe.

One of our speakers Vidusha Nathavitharana from TEDxColombo 2017 had to say this about how we work as a team: “I also learnt that ‘getting together’ and ‘having a ball’ is a fantastic way to get things done. I was privy to some of the meetings the team had. They were chaotic, they were absolutely hilarious at times – and at times, downright shocking. Some slept whilst others talked. Some just went missing. Some were messing with the infernal phone. Gosh – if this was a typical office – they would have been fired. And that WAS the point – it was NOT a typical office – and amazingly, on the day, the young man who happily slept during meetings, pulled out all the stops and DID AN AMAZING AND FLAWLESS job. It taught me NEVER to judge – and NEVER to look at the ‘way’ in which things are done – and to allow a person the freedom and the space to work in their own unique way – a lesson I honestly took back with me to start afresh and with renewed perspective!”

***

Kelo, TEDxJohannesburg

What encouraged/inspired you to organize a TEDx event in your local community?
I started organizing TEDx events when the TEDx platform was launched. The first event that I organised was in 2010. The same year I attended the first TEDWomen event in Washington DC. Spending a week with what was arguably a gathering of some of the most influential women in the world was one of my TED highlights.

Do you see many women on your team more eager to take on leadership roles since the inception of your event?
Our team is majority women. This might be due to the fact that I am a woman. I have also noticed that volunteerism in my part of the world (South Africa) lends itself more to women. Over the years our volunteers move on either because either they got promotions at work or they start their own initiatives.

What impact has your TEDx event had on your local community?
Celebrating ideas and the people behind them. That was not always the case. TED and TEDx has given more people a platform that traditional media would not give them.

There are a lot more events that are modelled on TEDx which add to the richness of the city.

Have attitudes towards women changed in your local community since the rise of TEDx events in your local community?
South Africa has always had a strong participation of women, especially in civil society and politics. We are one of the top 10 countries with the highest representation of women in parliament. The biggest challenges are in the corporate sector which is still predominately male.

I do see more of our women speakers being profiled. They definitely get more speaking engagements.

Have you seen an increase in women organizers since you’ve begun organizing?
60% of the TEDx events in South Africa are organised by women. Every year, I see more women getting licenses. The TEDxWomen events are in most cases organised by the same teams that hosts other standard TEDx events.

What wisdom do you have for prospective women organizers?
TEDxWomen is a tool that you can use to help society bridge the gap between a male dominated world, and a world that celebrates all its people irrespective of gender or race. Be intentional when curating your events.

***

Mercy, TEDxGbagada

What encouraged/inspired you to organize a TEDx event in your local community?
I have always been a huge lover of TED Talks and wondered why we did not have a conference like that in my community that celebrated ideas. I found out I could apply for a license to host one in my community. I applied and here we are. What really encouraged me was the fact that I knew that my community has lots of amazing ideas that are worth sharing. We also had issues that needed to be brought to the front burner.

Do you see many women on your team more eager to take on leadership roles since the inception of your event?
Yes. TED encourages diversity and inclusiveness. As a result, my team has a healthy mix of women and men in leadership positions. I believe it is always good to have that balance.

What impact has your TEDx event had on your local community?
I will like to believe that my TEDx event has impacted my community positively. A major impact will be creating a safe space where people can share ideas, listen and learn something new.

Have attitudes towards women changed in your local community since the rise of TEDx events in your local community?
I believe so. This is because at TEDx events you listen to powerful ideas from both women and men and you leave the conference in awe of the ideas shared not necessarily who shared it. That moment, you realise that your mindset has changed. You just learnt that great ideas can come from anyone – even women. With the rise of TEDxWomen events around the world that celebrate women, it really has helped champion a great narrative for women and make them feel like an integral part of communities.

Have you seen an increase in women organizers since you’ve begun organizing?
I would say I hope so. I know a huge number of women have reached out to me who are interested in organizing a TEDx conference. I do hope that my organizing sparks a positive increase.

What wisdom do you have for prospective women organizers?
Organizing a TEDx event is a fantastic experience. It is also a huge responsibility. As a woman, it presents you with the opportunity to be a change agent in your community. My advice is that you try to be the light to other people who can be inspired by you. Be strong, own your strength and your weakness and be willing to delegate to your team. Have a core team you can trust. It might be difficult at first but always worth it in the end.

***

Elena, TEDxSãoPaulo

What encouraged/inspired you to organize a TEDx event in your local community?
This is our 5th TEDxWomen event and our community now is expecting our TEDxWomen every year, because we bring them new voices & ideas. We also show that equality can be shown in more ways than just with the content on stage. We have men and women working in all positions during the event. Receptionists, cleaning crew, firefighters, etc. We carefully see that we have men and women in all positions and roles.

Do you see many women on your team more eager to take on leadership roles since the inception of your event?
Definitely. I see our women members more willing to take new roles and face new challenges. Our team has many women in leadership roles.

What impact has your TEDx event had on your local community?
We have given a space for new voices and ideas to be heard.

Have attitudes towards women changed in your local community since the rise of TEDx events in your local community?
There are more spaces for women to share ideas and work together.

Have you seen an increase in women organizers since you’ve begun organizing?
We still have many more men organizers than women in South America. In August and September, I have participated in local workshops in Sao Paulo and Bariloche and women are a small minority.

What wisdom do you have for prospective women organizers?
Trust your instinct. Trust your capacity to get people together to work for a common goal.

***

Ana, TEDxLaçador

What encouraged/inspired you to organize a TEDx event in your local community?
I believe in the movement of spreading good ideas, in creating a space for dialogue. And in showing people that they are not alone.

Do you see many women on your team more eager to take on leadership roles since the inception of your event?
Yes! On my team but also happens with the audience and speakers.

What impact has your TEDx event had on your local community?
A huge impact, people always tell us that TEDx helps them to make life decisions. The speakers are really thankful for the speaker coaching and the opportunity to participate in our event. We know that some great partnerships start in our events. I can list so many examples if you want. Actually, I gave a TEDx Talk last month about the power of stories.

Have attitudes towards women changed in your local community since the rise of TEDx events in your local community?
Some people just recognized that women also do important things, some have started worrying about inviting women to speak. But we have a long way.

Have you seen an increase in women organizers since you’ve begun organizing?
Just a little. I think should be more, and they should know they can organize. And also I will be glad to talk about curation to everybody because people must start inviting at least 50% woman to speak, especially black women.

What wisdom do you have for prospective women organizers?
That they should call other women to organize and speak.

***

Elena, TEDxThessaloniki

What encouraged/inspired you to organize a TEDx event in your local community?
The potential of making an impact through the power of ideas. The unique combination of people and ideas are for me a unique context that makes ideas welcome in the minds and the hearts of the people. Even if the audience does not agree they are open to the discussion.

Do you see many women on your team more eager to take on leadership roles since the inception of your event?
In my team women always had a leadership role in the evolution of the team and of the community in general. The previous licensee at TEDxThessaloniki until 2012 was also a woman. The heads of the departments in the team 3/5 are women and the team members are 60% women regardless of the departures and additions of each year. Our audience is 52% women. Our lineup each year is around 40% women.

I believe that by example we encourage women to come forward, to take the necessary steps to acquire the position they wish to have in anything they do and leadership roles is also part of the choices that are out there available to select.

What impact has your TEDx event had on your local community?
It is a much awaited event every year! We are always sold out (around 700-800 attendees)! Around 25% of the audience comes every year. Others come depending on the theme or the speakers. After 9 years we have new people still coming for the first team even though they knew the event since day one.
From feedback we are getting it seems to be:
- a window to the world
- a day of positive vibes and enthusiasm
- an inspiration
- an optimistic yet realistic view of our society and the world

It has also provided an example for other events to appear in the city that encourage conversation. It has also provided an opportunity of thought for initiatives in various fields of the everyday life of the local society to appear.

Have attitudes towards women changed in your local community since the rise of TEDx events in your local community?
I don’t have any data to support this but I see a lot of women leading initiatives in various fields in my city and I know that this is not the case for the capital Athens where it is usually men that lead.

Have you seen an increase in women organizers since you’ve begun organizing?
I know a lot of women organisers and I can say that they have not stepped down. I would love to know the number of women organisers in the international TEDx community. Do you have the data?

What wisdom do you have for prospective women organizers?
Persistence: don’t give up when things get rough. I personally went through some very tough moments where a make member of the team said: “If I were in your shoes, I don’t believe I could have stayed calm and handle it they way you did.”

Walk your talk. I believe it that:
- because I always lead by example
- because I lead with empathy and
- because I was always providing arguments for my positioning
I never had to use my role as a curator to achieve something. No matter who came on the team I have earned everyone’s respect even if there was disagreement of perspectives.

State your achievements: don’t be afraid to tell what you have achieved and done right. You are the first and best advocate of yourself. If you don’t do it no one will do for it. And people need to either see it for themselves or learn about it in order to support and follow you.

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