I was in NYC Wednesday night for the launch of the TED Africa conference. TED is a long-running technology conference, usually held in Monterrey, California, which attracts an amazing array of speakers and participants – I attended last year and blogged pretty extensively about it. Last year, TED tried something new, launching TED Global, which went to exotic, exciting Oxford, UK. Now the organizers are straying farther afield, holding a four-day conference in Arusha, Tanzania.
I was a bit concerned when TED decided to try an African conference – there’s so many ways the event could have gone off the rails. It would have been very easy to set up a conference of people who worry about Africa for a living, featuring non-African speakers opining on every tragedy and challenge the continent faces. It’s to conference organizer Chris Anderson’s great credit that he chose to do the opposite – build a conference featuring the creativity, entrepreneurship and dynamism of the Continent. In doing so, he made a key decision early on – he asked Emeka Okafor to be the curator of the conference.
Emeka, as most readers of this blog know, is the remarkable creative force behind Timbuktu Chronicles, Africa Unchained, and half a dozen other projects dedicated to showing the innovative capacity of Africans. He’s put together a remarkable program, featuring some of the people I most admire working on projects in Africa today. Speakers so far include:
– Patrick Awuah, founder of Ashesi University in Accra
– James Shikwati, creative and controversial Kenyan economist
– George Ayittey, author of “Africa Unchained”
– Ory Okolloh, blogger and co-founder of Mzalendo
– Binyavanga Wainaina, author of the brilliant “How to Write about Africa”
– Primatologist Jane Goodall
– Russell Southwood, editor of the indispensible Balancing Act telecoms newsletter
It’s going to be a remarkable event, very much worth the time of anyone excited about the challenges and potential for growth on the continent. With the help of corporate sponsors, TED is offering 100 scholarships to African attendees to allow people who otherwise couldn’t afford the $2800 price tag to be at the event. I’d urge my African readers and blogger friends to apply for these scholarships – these slots are going to fill up fast, so you should put in an application if you think you’d like to come.