Last month’s TEDxCairo conference explored the potential for finding a new balance in our lives and society
By Deena Refai
After four years, TEDxCairo has grown to be much more than just the sum of its speakers. The 2014 conference Equilibrium, held April 12 at the American University in Cairo’s campus in Fifth Settlement, featured not just 15 of Egypt’s most innovating minds, but, organizers say, inspired new levels of community involvement. Involvement that is essential for achieving a new equilibrium.
Nadine Hafez, TEDxCairo’s project manager, explains that the theme builds on the previous years’ events, in particular the 2013 conference Collisions. “We decided that the stage after collision between any set of ideas or objects is the creation of a new status quo, a new Equilibrium.”
The organizers themselves had to find a new equilibrium over the five months it took to put together the event. TEDxCairo is organized by an all-volunteer team, one marked by almost entirely new faces for 2014. “Over 80% of the volunteers on the TEDxCairo team this year joined in June 2013. In those five months, the team got to know each other, and it took us very little time to build our own team dynamic,” Hafez explains, adding the fresh blood and ideas meant, “Equilibrium was a completely different experience than the last few years,”
TEDxCairo 2014 included four sessions — The Mindset, The Concept, The Innovation and The Spirit — each with its own set of speakers and entertainers. Among them were Ibrahim Safwat, founder of Cairo Runners; Dr. Magued Osman, head of Baseera, a local public opinion research center; artist and storyteller Hani El-Masri; Chef Wessam Masoud; Dr. Salah Arafa, physicist and renewable energies expert; and Amel Fahmy, co-founder of Harassmap.
Between presentations, the entertainment was equally diverse. In addition to a performance by the German University in Cairo Music Ensemble spoken word street artist Ali Talibab teamed up with Dijit to reflect the sounds of Cairo, while singer-songwriter Nesma Herky shared her special blend of Nubian, Oriental and jazz compositions. Keeping the energy high as master of ceremonies was radio host Mena Shenoda, himself a veteran speaker from the 2011 TEDxCairo.
Attendees were encouraged to share their reactions on social media, and sponsor Philips Egypt installed a light board to display a running tally of tweets and Facebook posts under the #TEDxCairo hashtag. Philips also provided a Light Painting Booth and a Speak Up Corner to let visitors express themselves on site.
“This year the team put in a lot of effort to come up with as many ideas as possible for activities to make the audience network throughout the breaks. What was really spectacular to us though is the fact that the audience members, they surprised us with their own ideas,” Hafez notes. “One gentleman was walking around with a harmonica playing and singing to everyone around. Another person stood by his word and brought chocolates! The third is a calligrapher who came along with balloons and wrote people’s names in Arabic calligraphy on the balloons and gave them away.”
And that, she says, is the true sign of success for TEDxCairo. “The whole idea behind TEDxCairo is to create a community that maintains constant communication among itself about ideas worth spreading. We seem to be much closer this year than ever to achieving this goal.” et
Co-founder of the Contemporary Image Collective
Visual artist Hala ElKoussy, who helped launch the Contemporary Image Collective — the first art space in the region dedicated to the photographic image in 2004, dedicated her talk to the importance of having a public national archive and the responsibility it entails. On the screen behind her cycled a slideshow of rare photographs including images of Egypt’s space program and Egyptian women receiving military training.
“Memory is a power, by which we derive from the ability to build a personal identity,” said ElKoussy, thus comes the need for having an openly accessible archive. She noted that the word ‘archive’ evolved from the Greek words archeion (government house) and arche (rule, government). “We are experiencing important historical moments and it is our responsibility to write a history that we can comprehend after 20 years,” she continued. “Most of the Egyptian historical documents are locked up and this makes history harder for us to read and imposes on us a mono-oriented version of a story.”
Unlocking the archives comes with its own challenges, however. “The archive is a public property and a public responsibility as well. The responsibility of allowing sundry historical readings for future generations, is a communal partnership.”
“I think if Hala ElKoussy knew we will be discussing archiving selfies after her #TEDxCairo talk, she would have committed suicide.”
—Mennzie@Mennzie Apr 13
Postdoctoral Researcher at University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and a lecturer of chemistry at Cairo University
As as chemistry researcher, Dr. Maher El-Kady has helped develop micro-scale graphene supercapacitors, which can charge batteries in small devices such as mobile phones and pacemakers. He holds three US patents on Supercapacitors and is working with UCLA and industry partners to turn this technology into a commercially viable product that will benefit the general public.
While his talk focused on his specific work, he highlighted the general need for science in today’s world. “I strongly believe that scientific research could solve a lot of problems in our society,” El-Kady said. “Scientists I respect are almost like us, they just think in much simpler way. They don’t care about skeptical people.”
“Maher Elkady talks about a new mobile battery that recharges in 1 second and lasts for days. Meanwhile, my phone is dying #TEDxCairo.”
—Monica Georges @Monica_Ibrahime
Founder of the NGO Healthy Egyptians
A practicing neurosurgeon doing his residency at Ain Shams University hospitals, Dr. Mohamed Zaazoue was named one of the world’s most influential social entrepreneurs by Forbes magazine in its 2014 ‘30 under 30’ list. Zaazoue is working to promote health education and preventive medicine among people in developing countries using innovative tools, including creating a curriculum designed for children in kindergartens and schools.
On the TedxCairo stage, he spoke about how the people in Egypt and in other developing are falling victim to preventable diseases, because they lack basic medical knowledge.
“Every 20 seconds a child dies, and 98% of these children hail from developing countries,” the doctor noted. “We have a culture here in Egypt where people aren’t interested in medical awareness and see it as an area for doctors only.”
To raise awareness of simple health issues and precautions, Zaazoue worked with students at the School of Fine Arts to create a comic book about pneumonia. In the book, a boy named Montasser contracts pneumonia from the evil villains Hemo and Nemo — named after the two leading bacterial strains that cause pneumonia: Hemophilus influenza and Streptococcus pneumonia — due to an unhealthy lifestyle.
“If children were raised with the culture of health awareness,” Zaazoue said, “it would reflect in their life-changing decisions.” et
Zaazoue has reached 50k children, 50k parents, and trained 16k volunteers across #Egypt to raise medical awareness. Impressive! #TEDxCairo
— Mohammed Yahia @MohammedY