X marks the spot
About the author: Brianne Sanchez is a Des Moines-based writer and co-organizer of TEDxDesMoines, a program of local, self-organized events that bring people together to share a TED-like experience. TEDxDesMoines is July 15.
Nabeel Meghji, Brainne Sanchez and Alexander Grgurich represent TEDxDesMoines at the TEDxSummit in April.
I traveled 7,317 miles to Qatar and came back wanting to go to Fargo. Yes, that Fargo. Let me tell you why.
But first, a confession: I am not an entrepreneur. (Well, at least not yet.) I'm a lurker here in this space where ideas meet action, repurposing your #-ed wisdom for my more 8-4:30 career at a nonprofit. But because I choose to live in the non-Chicago Midwest, whose collective tagline should read: "Where You Can Be Part of Pretty Much Anything," I also help plan TEDxDesMoines with a team led by Alexander Grgurich.
And so, despite the fact that I haven't coded an amazing app to prevent sexual assault, my job title isn't something snazzy like "information designer," nor was I fraternity brothers with William Kamkwamba – I found myself in the Qatari desert this spring with 600+ TEDx organizers from around the globe (people who actually were all of those things) for the first TEDxSummit. Alexander and Nabeel Meghji also represented from the 515.
TEDx, for those who've never been, is a kind of grassroots spinoff of the celebrated TED conferences held in Long Beach, Calif. and various global locations. The Summit was TEDx on speed. Or, rather, shisha.
I started out feeling, if not totally insecure, unworthy of the opportunity to meet with so many amazing people. What could I add to a conversation about disrupting systems, interdisciplinary knowledge sharing or putting on events in war-torn cities, against all odds?
It turns out that didn't matter. When you stick yourself so far outside of your comfort zone, it's impossible to be part of every conversation or soak in everything that's said. Follow up on the relationships that resonate and you'll continue unpacking the experience long after you unpack your bags.
My big takeaway from TEDxSummit was the powerful potential of regional collaboration, and the amazing interconnectedness of the world. Whether the person I sat next to on the shuttle was from Monterey or Malaysia, we could find something meaningful to talk about. But if they were from the Midwest, there was an insta-bond.
The first night of the summit, I convinced a jet-lagged Hugh Weber to tag along on a late-night trip to the Souq Waquif. While we explored the market, I learned a bit about his OTA Sessions and the cool stuff he's working on in Sioux Falls.
I met Alice Adams, who helps run TEDxFulbright from Minneapolis, on a bus to see the camel race track and within minutes we'd found common connections, including a close college friend she was hosting for a Fulbright alumni coffee the following morning. My mind was spinning with her talk of staking out on her own to plan conferences, and I was delighted to learn she was a global citizen, raised in the Des Moines metro.
My hometown of Naperville even represented at the Summit, forcing me to do a double-take on a suburb I'd sort of written off as strip-mall and big-box crazy.
The reality that these people weren't just other TEDx organizers, but potential long-term collaborators set in when Greg from TEDxFargo (a fellow at Kilbourne Group) arranged for a Midwest organizer breakfast before workshops. We all talked about what we were excited about in our cities – and I was proud to hand out maps of the Pappajohn Sculpture Park and talk up Silicon Sixth. Everyone's enthusiasm was contagious — especially among people who could appreciate our cities for what they were and what they are becoming.
Now, Alexander hitched a flight to experience TEDxFargo earlier this month, and Greg and Alice plan on coming in to experience TEDxDesMoines on July 15. We're checking in, offering each other support and talking up each others' towns.
I went to Doha hungry for cultural exchange, and wound up finding a valuable camaraderie.
Credits: Photo courtsy of Brianne Sanchez