TEDxEuston: Ripple effect, from talk to action. The premise on which TedxEuston is built is to inspire ideas about Africa and at its recent outing in London, the theme was the ripple effect. The audience came up for it and their hunger for new ideas was palpable. Belinda Otas witnessed it all.
It is not an everyday occurrence for a globally-renowned economist, who has served as a managing director at the World Bank and is now the finance minister of one of Africa’s leading countries, Nigeria, to get everyone on their feet and dancing on a Saturday morning.
But that is exactly what Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Nigeria’s finance minister, did in London recently at TedxEuston 2013, where she was one of the keynote speakers. As a tribute to Nelson Mandela, Okonjo-Iweala asked the audience to celebrate the life of South Africa’s first democratically elected president, because when he was alive, music and dancing were a big part of his public appearances.
Needless to say, the audience obliged and Okonjo-Iweala equally joined in the celebration as they rocked to a rendition of “Chop My Money” by Nigeria’s pop duo P-Square. It fired the audience up before she got them settled and delivered a thought-provoking talk on corruption that also left them quiet and deep in their thoughts. Centred on how political campaigns are funded in Nigeria and Africa, Okonjo-Iweala impressed on the audience that it was important to ask uncomfortable questions about how elections on the continent are paid for.
It was a departure from Okonjo-Iweala’s previous Ted Talks, which focused on a new, rising and hopeful Africa. Instead, she decided on a polarising topic that is bound to raise eyebrows and get the critics talking when the Ted videos become available on YouTube.
Adamant that it was imperative we “say no to corruption because it undermines development and growth,” Okonjo-Iweala would go on to warn against the trivalisation of the issue before ending on the note that it was important to start a conversation about how election campaigns are financed because currently, there is he deeply ingrained practice in Nigeria and across the continent, where people finance elections in order to gain favour with the government if elected.
She warned that without a policy of legitimate campaign funding, there would be reason to worry about corruption and if the problem is not solved, people will continue to find “illegitimate means of financing elections” that lead to corruption. This may not have been the dose of inspiration members of the audience had anticipated for such an early time in the day, but nevertheless, it was intriguing to watch her ability to get people excited and laughing one minute, with the dancing tribute to Nelson Mandela, before taking them on a sombre journey that left them pondering on questions they have never asked themselves.
It was a point Cynthia Enuma, a biochemist, alluded to when asked about her experience at TedxEuston. She told New African it was her first time and while it was inspirational, “I liked the fact that Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala talked about corruption. She asked a question I have never asked myself, which is, how do you fund elections?” Okonjo-Iweala ended on the note that it was time to get innovative about how we fund election campaigns, asking, “Why can’t Africa be a leader in innovation?”, prompting the audience that it was time to take responsibility, both personally and collectively.
The TedxEuston theme for 2013 was “The Ripple Effect”, which the organising team – made up of 20 professional Africans from the fields of business, medicine, IT and law – said was to “reflect the changes currently taking place on the continent.” The day’s programme was divided into three sections – Different by Design, Dare to Dream and Paths of Honour – and the line-up of speakers, including Okonjo Iweala (Nigeria), Wanuri Kahiu (Kenya), Catherine Phiri (Zambia), Herman Mashaba (South Africa), Sada Mire (Somlaia) and Fred Swaniker (Ghana), was the most diverse since the inception of TedxEuston.
If Okonjo-Iweala’s talk left the audience in a reflective mood, Nkwo Onwuka talked with humour about discovering Benin bronze (part of the cultural heritage from Africa that you do not see on television), and fusing it into her fashion brand, NKWO, as a way of bringing a forgotten craft into the 21st century. Wanuri Kahiu, a filmmaker from Kenya, focused on the need to break out of boxes and labels, while Sada Mire, an archaeologist, opened the audience’s mind to archaeology as a way of preserving the continent’s cultural heritage and a way of documenting and telling Africa’s multidimensional stories.
“The experience today helped me to realise that I need to share the story more. I think it’s important. People know what we do and they see the magazine but I think the story of why we do it, which is what drives us, needs to be put out there more often,” said Jacqueline Nwobu, co-founder and editor-in-chief of Mulaluchi Bride Magazine. Nwobu was a speaker whose talk – “One Like At A Time: Reshaping An Industry One Like At A Time” – focused on her unusual journey of creating a leading, nationally distributed wedding magazine catering to the wedding needs of women of colour in the US.
She added that the day’s experience, her first time at TedxEuston, had helped her to realise and recognise that “there is power in our story to inspire someone and it is just good for people to know why we are doing this and what the real mission is, because there was a time when we were very discreet about our story, as we felt that if we brought a magazine out and told people that we didn’t have the experience, they wouldn’t take us seriously. Now I think totally differently.” Though a speaker, Nwobu says other speakers also made an impression on her.
“Everyone made an impact but if I have to think of one person who stood out, the South African lady, Vuyiseka Dubula, who is HIV positive, was very effective. She is strong, courageous and she is a survivor. The fact that she is married and has two children, who are HIV negative… I just thought her legacy will live on.”
Catherine Phiri says events like TedxEuston are “important because there are so many stories and a platform like this allows us to open our minds to what is out there and hopefully, will inspire other people to say, what can I do, because I don’t feel there is one story that fits all.” Phiri, who hails from Zambia, is the managing director of Media 365, a cause-related communications company that produces award-winning campaigns for organisations. She is also the executive producer of the popular drama series, Love Games, and as for Nwobu this was her first time at TedxEuston. Her session as a speaker focused on Africans telling their stories.
It was a day of reflection, laughter and celebration, with the likes of Ikenna Azuike using satire to explain how he quit the law profession to embark on a media journey that has seen him contribute to efforts to change the unbalanced and inaccurate portrayal of Africa in western media.
Azuike’s approach resonated with Marian Ogundairo, a business analyst and entrepreneur and first-time TedxEuston attendee, who said: “We all need to find ways to make us laugh, even when the stakes are high, and it puts a different spin on dealing with the issues we face as a continent.” Pascal Dozie, founder of Diamond Bank, Nigeria and current chairman of MTN, encouraged the cross-section of audience members who come from various African countries to return home – “cross the Rubicon, burn your boat and come home,” he said as he encouraged people to bring their knowledge from the diaspora back home in order to add value to Africa and Nigeria (his home country). However, he stressed it was not enough to just come back and make money.
Fred Swaniker, founder of the African Leadership Academy and African Leadership Network, brought the baton home with his message of creating a system that raises a generation of good leaders, who will in turn create a ripple effect of raising future good leaders. The “quality of leaders in Africa is what is holding us back…Africa does not need a lot of people to prosper, just a few good leaders. We need a few good leaders to change Africa,” says Swaniker, who told the story of Joseph, a young Congolese man who found himself in a Ugandan refugee camp, but despite desparate conditions, his hunger to gain an education, has made him to become an inspirational success.
With the help of the ALA and others, Joseph has gone on to creat a platform that encourages children in his area and he helps them aspire to high education including going university. Today, Joseph is on his way to helping thealmost 1 million children in the DRCongo, in partnership with the government to get an education.
When all is said and done, TedxEuston’s primary function is to inspire others to take action that will move the continent forward in the right direction, like the participating speakers. Ogundairo believes this year’s speakers achieved this aim, saying:
“As an African living in the diaspora, I believe I have a role to play regarding the continent. I’m equipped to bridge the gap between Africa and the rest of the world. I can say that I’ve learnt that you’re never too young or too old, too insignificant or too important to make a change, make your voice heard. Take action.”