A Decade of Ideas Worth Spreading

TEDxLusaka turned ten years old in August 2020, and it all started with the 2010 FIFA World Cup. A childhood friend had travelled from Canada for Africa’s World Cup and while visiting home to catch up with family and friends in Zambia, he stayed with another of his childhood friends, a guy named Simunza. One day I popped in for a visit, where I found them watching some videos. It wasn’t a movie or a television series, but the people seemed to be saying interesting things. The videos, called TED Talks, were speeches delivered at special TED conferences.

In 2007, TED also had a conference in Africa called TED Global. After this event, TED introduced a programme of independently organized events called TEDx. A friend of Simunza’s named Mulumba attended TED Global and later got involved in TEDxSoweto in Johannesburg, where he lived. I found all of this fascinating, and my thoughts naturally turned to whether or not we would be allowed to hold one in Zambia?

“You just apply online,” was the answer I received.

Shortly after that response, we Skyped Mulumba and consulted about applying. Simunza submitted an application on our behalf and a few weeks later we were granted the TEDx license to hold an event — TEDxLusaka. We recruited another friend, Kupela, to join the first TEDxLusaka Organising Committee – with Mulumba in South Africa and Simunza, Kupela and I in Lusaka.

That first year, looking for sponsorship was a nightmare. In those days, people were not as connected online in the way they are today – not in their offices or on their personal devices. The Digital Revolution had yet to fully take off. In those days, we used BlackBerry and Nokia N71 phones. We still had plug-in dongles; there were no MiFis or wireless routers and most importantly, mobile data was very expensive. We had to download some sample TED talks and burn them to DVDs to share with those who had no idea what TED or TED Talks were, let alone TEDx. Most conversations involved several minutes of explaining that we were not from FedEx, the logistics company! That year, only one marketing manager in the almost 10 companies we approached for sponsorship had even heard of TED.

Ultimately, we raised no money at all. But we still wanted to hold event. So, I did what you do when you need help — I sent an SOS email to friends and family, explaining what we were planning. I explained that Simunza and I had each put in K500 and we were now asking them to please give us K250 each in order to make TEDxLusaka 2011 happen.

The first person to respond was Janice. And then Muchemwa. And then Anna. The list went on, where our friends came through for us. And this teamwork, sacrifice and dedication of an incredible group of people is how TEDxLusaka has always been managed.

Over the years, the TED and TEDx brands grew and we didn’t need to spend an hour explaining ourselves. There are a few people we encounter who have never seen a TED Talk, but these are rare occurrences. 2020 is the first year that members of the Organising Committee have not had to put in their own money to ensure the event goes ahead. It’s a strange feeling to be a fully funded event, and not have to let the core team know that they will need to chip in to cover outstanding debts. But this is what volunteering and the TEDx spirit is all about.

It has been my privilege to be the driving force behind the team for so many years and it was a blessing when in January 2020, I had to relocate to Eastern province, but I could do so confident that others in the team would step up to take over. And this is exactly what they have done. This year’s theme – Metamorphosis is fitting. We have grown. We have evolved. We have transformed. But at the heart of it, TEDxLusaka is still a platform for local solutions to global problems. And that is an idea worth spreading.

Masuka Mutenda

TEDxLusaka Curator

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