TEDxWellington: Hearts and Minds, well and truly Connected

Photo: ReFold

Photo: ReFold

With any live TEDx event, there is always buzz of inspiration and possibility that flows back and forth across the room.

At the end of the day, my note book is typically filled with dozens of scribbled circles containing the letters “AP” within - a note to self to follow up the corresponding action point sparked by an idea from the stage.

TEDxWellington was no different. The line-up of speakers included an impressive array of New Zealand firsts - NZ’s first open-to-the-public, bean-to-bar chocolate factory, our first social enterprise accelerator and surely our first mobile fish bowl. Carrying the theme “Connecting Hearts and Minds”, the event was a showcase of inspiration and creativity, featuring artists, designers and entrepreneurs who don’t just think outside the box – rather, they dismantle the box, reimagine everything, and put it back together in such a way that it smacks you in the face like a jack-in-the-box.

Kiwi designers Fraser Callaway and Oliver Ward literally did just that, showcasing their digitally fabricated ReFold desk – an adjustable, mobile desk made from recycled cardboard boxes. Both graphic design graduates, they took a bold chance, dropping the ‘graphic’ from their job descriptions to instead embrace uncertainty and blurred lines between disciplines. As Fraser explained, “The most exciting stuff happens when you don’t know what you’re doing”.

The most exciting stuff happens when you don’t know what you’re doing
— Fraser Callaway, ReFold

Graphic design itself was not ignored, with illustrator Dylan Coburn talking the audience through his creative process in an impressive display of sketching, before urging the crowd to make the time investment to inject creativity into their professional careers.

If the animated chatter in the breakout networking sessions was anything to go by, the speaker who sparked the most conversations had to be designer Adam Ben-Dror, whose inventions include an interactive robotic lamp that can switch itself off and the Abovemarine – a mobile fish bowl that is controlled by the movements of the fish within.

the Abovemarine from Adam Ben-Dror on Vimeo.

Like all TEDx events, there was plenty of great storytelling. Laura Green, a science communicator, implored the audience to better engage with scientists, while also passionately urging scientists to tell their stories better. She illustrated her point by using cartoons to explain how multiple sclerosis attacks the brain, before announcing a recent breakthrough in treating MS with anti-psychotic drugs – a very cool story indeed!

Wellington social entrepreneur Guy Ryan told some amazing stories when he co-produced the short film “Carving the Future” in 2010, following the work of four young Kiwis who were leading projects to battle climate change. After the film won the Platinum Best Film Award at the 2010 Colorado Film Festival, Guy went on to found Inspiring Stories, which helps young filmmakers to tell the stories that matter. With over a million New Zealanders fitting into the 13 – 30 age bracket, there is no shortage of material. More recently, Guy has added the Festival for the Future to his portfolio of inspiring stories, along with Live the Dream – New Zealand’s first social enterprise accelerator.

Staying true to its reputation as the creative capital of New Zealand, even the entrepreneurs showcased at TEDxWellington have intricately woven the arts into their work.

In 2010, in the wake of the global financial crisis, Sophie Jerram saw an opportunity to use vacant commercial spaces in the Wellington CBD, to curate interactive public art that nurtured conversation and connectivity. Co-founding Letting Space and Urban Dream Brokerage, one of her first projects was a ‘free grocery store’, distributing expired food from large supermarkets that was still perfectly fine to eat.

While the Marriage Amendment Act was being debated across the road in the Beehive last year, Urban Dream Brokerage hosted the Brides project in a vacant store at the end of Lambton Quay. This interactive exhibition encouraged anyone (and everyone!) to come inside, try on a wedding dress and be interviewed about what marriage meant to them.

Brides on Lambton Quay. Photo: Mark Amery

Brides on Lambton Quay. Photo: Mark Amery

Global connectivity was a recurring theme. The first international speaker to grace a TEDx stage in New Zealand, CEO and founder Alan Schaaf spoke about the emergence of online communities. Using the example of his hugely successful image-sharing site Imgur, Alan explained how widespread access to the Internet has changed how we define ‘community’, removing the geographic limitations that were historically imposed on most communities.  Dave Moskovitz, the man who has been dubbed “The Godfather of Wellington Startups”, went on to challenge the audience to consider how they had each individually contributed to the four superpowers of the Internet: direct communication, openness, accessibility and freedom.

Cassandra Treadwell took connectivity beyond global to a philosophical and spiritual level, emphasising the Southern African concept of Ubuntu: “I am, because of You”. The notion was beautifully captured by the example of a question from a Kenyan child, “How can I be happy, when the others are sad?”. Cassandra’s moving talk didn’t focus on the many amazing initiatives she has set up in Kenya and Tanzania, which include a primary school, a teachers training college and a micro-finance business school. Rather she spoke passionately about the need to reject the idea of ‘charity’ as one-way giving, and recognise the intrinsic rewards of human connectivity.

Interspersed between speakers, the crowd was treated to some amazing musical interludes. Originally from Manchester, Wellington-based rapper Arcee wowed the crowd with her powerful rap lyrics, beautifully contrasted with gentle keyboard melodies. Later on, folk duo Ryfe, comprising Lydia Bennett and Mat Patrick, inspired everyone to break free of the physical and mental walls that are around us all.

You can’t see the stars without the colour black
— Arcee, Lyrical Genius

In the ultimate ‘refresh the crowd’ move after a day of mind-blowing inspiration, chocolate entrepreneur Gabe Davidson’s talk on diversifying global chocolate markets included delicious samples of roasted cocoa beans and chocolate, from the Wellington Chocolate Factory. Founded in late 2013, Gabe has opened the first bean-to-bar chocolate factory in the country, priding himself on using a variety of cocoa beans which are overlooked by industrial chocolate manufacturers.

And if locally made chocolate wasn’t enough to satiate the taste buds, a special shout out goes to Wellington-based Tuatara brewery who brewed a new beer to top off the event, called “X Speechless”. An aptly named brew to finish off a fantastic day of ideas worth spreading.

                                          Photo: Anna Guenther

                                          Photo: Anna Guenther

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