TEDx provides meeting of minds
DUBAI // What is our responsibility to the nation we live in? What happens if we dismiss people because they do not speak the same language as us? What are the scientific benefits of mimicking nature?
These were just three of the hundreds of questions posed by the 15 speakers who took to the stage yesterday in Dubai's World Trade Centre Exhibition Hall 8.
They gathered for the second annual TEDx Dubai, an ideas conference hosted under the banner of TED, an American non-profit organisation whose motto is "ideas worth spreading".
The speakers, including Patricia Ryan, an English teacher who has been in the Gulf for 30 years, and Gonan Premfors, a life coach who set up a parenting school in Dubai, each gave 18-minute talks to an audience of approximately 2,000 people.
Elham Qasimi, the woman who became the first Emirati to trek across the polar cap at the North Pole, said she saw the TEDx platform as an essential part of the progression of her generation.
"It is important for people who live in a multicultural community to have arenas in which to engage publicly," she said. "Here, we see people with different backgrounds with different perspectives, and it is one of the most powerful platforms for forward-thinking people to converge."
Ms Qasimi, the first speaker at yesterday's event, spoke about the organic nature of change in all societies, regardless of culture or nationality.
Following her was the US-based portrait photographer Matt Hoyle, whose topic was "finding perfection in imperfection", and finishing the morning session was Ms Premfors from The Coaching Training Institute in Dubai.
As the day continued, the most animated speech came from Yassin Alsalman, an Iraqi hip hop artist who was born in Dubai and raised in Abu Dhabi and Montreal, Canada.
Mr Alsalman, who also took the lead role of Khalfan in the Emirati film City of Life, mixed his talk with three of his songs and was accompanied on stage by a band including a harpist, a saxophonist and a DJ.
He talked about his parents, who chose to leave his home town of Basra to escape war, and said he was part of a displaced generation of Arabs who had found their voices.
"We have grown up now, and we have the ability to speak to people about our experiences," he said. "To be able to take to the stage and help people to see hip hop as an intellectual vessel of communication means a lot to me."
He closed the TEDx session before lunch with his new song, entitled Hamdulillah. "It is not a Muslim word, it is an Arabic word and it means to 'give thanks to God'," he said. "Although my situation is Arab, it is in many ways universal. I feel blessed to be here today."
In the afternoon, Steve Sosebee, from the Palestine Children's Relief Fund, and Mohammed Abedin, the entrepreneur who set up Foo Dog, a company dedicated to designer toys, brought out laughter and tears from the crowd.
Mr Abedin, an Emirati who was born in Bangkok, closed his speech willing the audience to go against the crowd. "There is a type of koi carp who swims against the will of the stream and is confronted by waterfalls along the way but when it emerges from the last it will emerge as a dragon. You can all be dragons," he said.
Hamna Ahmed, 21, a journalism student at Murdoch University in Dubai, said the event was uplifting and inspirational.
"We don't have enough events like this in the Middle East," she said. "And what I like about this is that you can relate to the speakers, either because they are from here or because they have lived in the region."
Mentioning Ms Qasimi and Mr Sosebee's speeches in particular, she said she had been moved by the day's events.
"Even though you might not live in the same society as the speakers, you can take ideas and apply them in your own life, within your own limits and boundaries. I think this is the concept of TED and that's why I love it."
In the original version of this article, it was stated that Yassin Alsalman played the role of Faisal in the film City of Life, but he actually played the character Khalfan. This has now been corrected.
Updated: December 5, 2010 04:00 AM