Speakers exchange ideas

At the end of June, a local group proved that the TED Talks sign featured in conceptual drawings for the planned Centre of Excellence at Okanagan College wasn’t just wishful thinking.

Brian Hughes

Brian Hughes

At the end of June, a local group proved that the TED Talks sign featured in conceptual drawings for the planned Centre of Excellence at Okanagan College wasn’t just wishful thinking.

June 25 was the date of Penticton’s first-ever TEDx talks, held in the lecture hall of the Centre of Excellence, and bringing together speakers from around the Okanagan to share their ideas, work and passions with the audience.

The TED organization is based on one simple concept, “ideas worth sharing.” Starting in 1984, they began bringing together people from three very different worlds — technology, entertainment and design — to deliver lectures; since then, the concept has evolved and given rise to several offshoots, including TEDx, which are independent, locally organized versions of the talks.

In Penticton, that meant organizer Brian Hughes and the rest of the team brought together an assortment of the Okanagan’s most active, involved and farsighted thinkers and activists, including E’nowkin Centre leader Jeannette C. Armstrong, Niko Theodosakis, architect of InStill Life, which introduces elementary school children to concepts connecting food, global awareness and their own ability to create positive change.

One of the big show stoppers, according to Hughes, was a talk by Emily Chartrand and Jan Vozlenik, who both journeyed to Midway Atoll earlier this year to help document the problems being created in world oceans by plastic trash.

“He didn’t need to say anything,” said Hughes. “He just spread out the trash taken from the stomachs of dead albatrosses, and left it there for us to look at.”

The roster of speakers included Ajahn Sona, a Buddhist teacher and leader of the Birken Forest Monastery near Kamloops. Hughes met Sona some time ago, interviewing him for one of the philosophers’ café events he hosted. That was when Sona taught him the mantra “everything is perfect,” which Hughes in turn passed on to the audience at TEDx — along with other first-time glitches and mix-ups, the building housing the event is also just starting its working life.

“Every time something would go wrong, someone in the audience would start chanting ‘Everything is perfect,’” said Hughes.

Another big part of the annual conferences is the TED Prize, where exceptional individuals with a wish to change the world are given the opportunity to put their wishes into action with the $100,000 prize.

While they don’t have $100,000 to put up for a prize, Hughes is hoping to do something similar on a local scale, with the Okanagan Prize, but modelling it after the X Prize, setting up a problem that needs a solution, with a prize for the first group to come up with a viable solution. Hughes took the opportunity of the TEDx conference to pitch his idea to the people attending the conference, which included many of the area’s thinkers, activists and workers.

“My thought is the TEDx Okanagan Innovation prize. We get money together and we come up with a problem we want solved,” said Hughes, adding that the competition would be open to anybody in the valley, and telling the audience that he wanted their input to help flesh the idea out.

Response to Hughes’ concept was positive, but there are several steps, he said, before the concept can be turned into reality; steps like gathering the money needed for the prize — money, he said, that will generate far more ideas than a simple donation.

“For the X Prize, the latest thing they did is they put up $10 million for the first group to get into suborbital flight,” said Hughes. “The leverage that you get off a prize is quite dramatic. It’s like 50 times what just a contribution is, because you get this collective group of people going for that prize.”

Hughes said they expect to be back, though it will probably be in the fall of 2012, citing concerns over whether the summer was the best time to do it, with many other things going on… this particular weekend also featured the Peach City Beach Cruise and the Elvis Festival.

However, that didn’t mean the TEDx event wasn’t sold out; every seat in the place was filled. This is the first TEDx event ever to be allowed to publish a book to go along with the event, and not only were copies distributed here, but also will be at TED Global in Edinburgh later this year.