TEDxSummit in Qatar’s Doha Brings Together Nearly 100 Cultures to Ignite New Ideas

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Tedxsummit in paper

I recently came back from Doha Qatar, where I attended a week-long event exclusively for TEDx organizers. The first TEDxSummit was hosted by the Doha Film Institute at the Katara Cultural Center aka the Katara Valley of Cultures. The “village” is a bit like a sprawling outdoor convention center that houses an ampitheatre, tents and domes where you can see live concerts and events.

Katara was born out of a long held vision to position the State of Qatar as a cultural lighthouse of art if you will, highlighting the best of theatre, literature, music and visual art in the Middle East.

It sits along the water, so you can watch boats sail by and a sunrise in the early evening off in the distance while you take in your event, whether it be performing arts or meetings, or in our case, a mishmash of both.

Reception by javier

Before arriving, I wasn’t sure what to expect, from the kinds of content they’d choose to why Qatar andwhat is Qatar? Refer to my numerous posts on Qatar including a write-up on the Arab Museum of Modern Art, images of the impressive Museum of Islamic Art,display of work from renowned Chinese artist Cai Guo-Qiang and the over-the-top Murakami Ego exhibit.

What is Qatar is probably the most mind blowing takeaway from the event as you’ll see from my write-ups. At first, it didn’t make sense why we were having an event in such a remote place, a country barely known to so many and yet, after returning from the Summit, the location makes perfect sense.

Given that the Summit attracted TEDsters from nearly a hundred countries around the world, it is in fact a fairly central location, though obviously a longer haul for those of us on the American west coast. And, given the diversity of the attendees, Qatar, which rather than having hundreds of years of history and cultural references, really only started to make its marks a few decades ago.

In other words, its a country in search of an identity as demonstrated by the volume of new immigrants pouring in to tap into Qatar’s exploding economic growth…less a land of local Qataris and more a land of transplants from Jordan, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Lebanon, the list goes on.

And, let’s not forget other stats: 75% of those living in Doha and surrounding area are expats/foreign nationals. Doha is preparing for its growing global interest; the city is about as modern as it gets with highrises going up faster than Las Vegas hotels in its prime.

Doha from harbor javier

Doha by night

The other reason Qatar makes sense as a location, is that so few of us in the west know “enough” about the Middle East, particularly the complexities of Islam and the culture that goes along with it. Understanding Qatar helps you understand the rest of the region.

Through greater understanding comes compassion, empathy, tolerance, gratitude and a willingness to not just expand your horizons and knowledge base, but reach out and help in whatever way makes sense. This, by the way, is integral to what TED at its core is about.

And so, we all embarked on soil that is new, yet old, to discuss ways we can help each other, sharing best practices, what works and what doesn’t.

Some of the sessions included: How to Write About Your Speakers, Sponsorships, Keeping Your Event Sustainable, Social Media Strategies, Building Salons, Blogging, Making Change with Corporate Events, Capturing Great Photo Content, Planning, Stage & Production Tips, Branding, Livestreaming, Working with Tight Budgets and more.

A talk by javier

Clearly it made sense for teams from specific regions to pow-wow with each other. We had breakout sessions in large tents in the middle of the desert broken out by parts of the world, i.e., Eastern Europe, Australia, Central America and in the states, it was broken down even further (northern California, Midwest and so on).

Below are ketchnotes of one of the TEDxSummit sessions from C. Todd Lombardo, organizer of TEDxSomerville in the greater Boston area.

Sketchpad

While meeting by region helps each group share resources, and even space for meetings, its amazing how much you can learn from organizers in parts of the world that have nothing in common with your own. This is separate of course from what you learned from locals who happened to be hanging out or ‘working the event’ – in the middle of the desert.

Desert day traditional javier

For example, storytelling on stage is very different at a small event in West Africa, yet what is so natural in a village is often missing from a large TEDx stage that may resort to Powerpoint and a speaker’s 20 years of experience and knowledge. The opposite applies too of course; there are clearly things from larger events that small towns can use to expand their presence and brand awareness. In other words: borrow from the formal for the informal and take the informal into the formal and make magic happen by blending the best of both together.

The other surprise for me was the whole concept of “you don’t know what you don’t know and you don’t know who you don’t know.” I didn’t even know all the organizers in my own region (greater Bay Area), nor did I know the depth of where TEDx events had spread.

Hands shot by javier

For example, while the events are largely by geography, there are a few that are connected to brands/companies, universities and other institutions. Did you know that there’s a TEDxHouses of Parliament? This isn’t just fascinating data – this is revolutionary. Consider the kinds of conversations they have already had and will evolve as a result of this kind of “new” organization and collaboration.

Bringing everyone together to share, collaborate and execute on ideas around the world is brilliant. Let’s not forget the ‘healing’ and compassion that comes as a result of greater understanding, which inevitably comes from bringing such a global audience together in one place.

Well done and hats off to Bruno Giussani, Chris Anderson, Lara Stein, and the NY & Doha teams for turning another great idea into a reality.

Chris anderson by javier

Some of the Speaker and Presentation Highlights include:

  • ‘The Human Arabesque’ opening night video sourced inspiration from Doha’s Museum of Islamic Art. The team researched traditional arabesque patterns in a quest to incorporate regional culture to create a moving, human sculpture representing the transformative power of x.
  • Futurist Juan Enriquez has always been a long time favorite of mine. He contends that science and technology are leading us rapidly towards the next “human species.” See excelvm.com.
  • Vinay Venkatraman, who is a founding partner at the Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design, has developed an alternative vision to creating a more inclusive world through a design concept he refers to as ‘Frugal Digital.’
  • TED Senior Fellow Cesar Harada demonstrated a bold new design for a sailing craft with a flexible rudder — on both ends. Called ‘Protei,‘ the robot is designed to sense and clean up oceans.

  • I loved Shereen El Fedi’s talk on how bad laws fuel and good laws fight HIV. Chart after chart, example after example, she demonstrated her point. Check out their work at HIV Law Commission.
  • Amit Sood wowed the crowd with an incredibly impressive demo of the Google Art Project. They have collected and curated the world’s greatest art, from museums and beyond, onto the web, making it as easy to access your favorite piece of work or view art you’ve never heard of or are likely never to see in person. You can search by sub-category, by typing in for example, red and Picasso for everything that Picasso did in red. There are other filters as well that could keep you glued to this site for hours if not days.
  • Rives, who many of us know as a renowned poet, has given awe-inspiring performances on the TED stage before. In Doha, he took us a journey of factoids using his poetic tongue. Bouncing from site to site, we learned about some of the most trivial and not so trivial knowledge on the web, ranging from culture and politics to insects and sex.
  • With passion and energy, Indian artist Raghava KK argued why everyone should have a 200-year plan.
  • Rare book scholar William Noel fascinated the audience with his research. Using a particle accelerator to read ancient works, he took us on a journey from start to finish. He’s a huge believer in open-source and open-data and he and his team are making their work open to others(aka the web of ancient manuscripts).
  • Comedian Maz Jobrani intertwined humor with local culture and events. You have depth as a comedian when you can stand on a stage in Qatar and have Americans, Lebanese, Saudi Arabians, Qataris, Scandinavians, Japanese and Aussies all laughing at the same time. He’s known for his work on the ‘Axis of Evil Comedy Tour,’ which traveled around the world, including the Middle East.

Opening night on stage (10)

  • National Food Security Programme chairman Fahad Bin Mohammed Al-Attiya educated me most about where Qatar was a hundred years ago versus where it is today and where’s its heading. They’re working on a Master Plan, using Qatar, which only has two days of water supply, as a model for sustainable, environmentally friendly agriculture in arid regions.
  • Yahay Alabdeli who curates TEDxBaghdad created a lot of teary eyed attendees with his story about how he traveled back to Iraq after 34 years to create an event that pulled not just locals but others who had left Iraq but returned specifically for his event. As you can imagine, it was much more than a reunion. He went through a number of obstacles to make it happen, so it seems perfect that his event theme was: “Making the Impossible Possible.”

  • One of my old time favorites Hans Rosling returned to the TED stage, bringing humor to sex, religion and data once again. What was even more fascinating was having his global trends in health and economics from every country in the world presented in a place where we had representation by nearly every region in the world. All of his talks exude one of his sweetest talents – his dry humor and quirkiness. Beyond the quirkiness he shows in his professional life, which adds to the power of his talks, let’s not forget that the man swallows swords for kicks in his spare time. What’s not to adore about Hans? (see a video interview with Hans at the Summit here – he uses legos, rocks and humor that reveals deep insight in typical Hans-style).

Photo

Because the event was an International Summit where best practices and learning beyond “talks” were a big part of the agenda, the highlights that will inevitably be glued to people’s minds and hearts include the experiencial activities.

Below is a brainstorming session in a tent set up in the desert dunes, roughly an hour and a half south of Doha.

Session in tent by javier

TEDx-ers formed a TEDx in the middle of the sand dunes while others filmed from above:

Tshirt shot on beach javier

There was dune bashing, also in the south of the country.

Cars in dunes javier yunes

And, kayacking among mangroves in the north, after which we were guests in the home of a local man, who fed us well and shared some of his photos and life experiences:

North Qatar tour day1 (35)

North Qatar tour day1 (52)

A visit to the Al-Zubara Fort:

Fort by javier yunes

A boat tour along the water:

Boat for tour javier

The incredibly breathtaking Islam Museum of Art:

Education City has representation from some of the top schools, including Carnegie Mellon University, Cornell University’s Weill Cornell Medical College, Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, Northwestern University, and others, with a goal to grow Qatar’s knowledge base, making it an attractive place to visit and work in the future.

Below, Weill Cornell Medical College in Qatar Weill Cornell.

File:WCMCQ.jpg

Below is a shot taken at one of the cafes in the Souq Waqif one night (we ended up in the Souq several evenings). Despite the fact that the Souq doesn’t serve alcohol, it was a great place to hang out, socialize, shop, drink coffee and eat fabulous local food.

Souq-Waqif in Doha (7)

Desert Day in the South. Of course, it wouldn’t be desert day without an opportunity to catch a ride on a camel:

Camels-desert day (48)

A casual shot of TEDx organizers in the desert…

Desert day-wed-3 (115)

Then there was the late afternoon drumming session, which frankly, I can never get ‘enough of…’.

Desert day-wed-3 (302)

A music jam session in one of the main tents – small but intimate and full of great TEDx talent:

After hours jam session-TEDxSummit (3)

18-year old Jordanian pianist Sima Sirriyeh, who composes her own pieces played for us on the main stage.

TEDxSummit stage (17)

Opening night, they danced and sang. And then, danced and sang some more.

Opening night (119)

We took in the best of the local culture and greater Doha through visits to Souq Faqif, the Arab Museum of Modern Art, and the Cai Guo Qiang and Murakami Ego exhibitions. Also check out Doha’s Centre for Media Freedom.Late nights were spent in the hotel bars where we stayed: The W and Kempinski Hotels.

Photo Credits:

  • Katara Village, Fort, Boat, Landscape City Shots, Brainstorm session, Hands, Anderson, Dunes, TedxStage Shot1: Javier Yunes
  • Yahay Alabdeli, Cesar Harada, Inside Museum of Islamic Art: Duncan Davidson
  • Group shot in dunes: taken on my camera by a TEDx-er
  • North site visit for lunch, middle of desert scene, Hans sword shot from a previous event, casual desert day shot, camel close up, Souq, Maz Jobrani, opening night, drumming circle, jam session in tent after hours, Sima Sirriyeh: Renee Blodgett
  • Education City Weill Cornell University shot - website.

  • http://www.tedxlemek.com jamey ponte

    Thank you- Great write up and wow pretty full recap of all we did. I have shared it with others as a great view of the the first TEDxSummit. I think you were pretty fair on your description of Qatar- It left me with many questions or hopes for a deeper culture experience but mostly saw the reproduction of Western Society.

    I return in September I hope to see and feel more of the local life and get a deeper experience of those living in Doha.

    They can do and are doing great things and I do feel more depth of expression of who Qatar is will unfold over the next ten years.
    -Jamey Ponte, TEDxLemek / TEDxCincinnati

  • http://TEDxHomer.org Kat Haber

    700 versions of nirvana for the mind at Katara-thank you for this gorgeous story.