Big Ideas are Spreading in Africa

What is the best way to sell your chocolate chip cookies? Max Soutter explains what the trick is in his talk at TEDxHarare. Max Soutter is founder of the Business Setup Group in Zimbabwe, an organization helping entrepreneurs bring their products to market. What I wanted to find out was, if TED talks had reached Africa yet. To my amazement, I discovered that already in 2007 TEDGlobal had taken place in Arusha, Tanzania. Since then, TEDx talks have taken off; every month there are several on the African continent. TED talks have become incredibly popular and with the creation of the TEDx conferences, it has gone global. TED talks take place in Long Beach, California bringing together the world’s greatest thinkers and innovators to present on topics that shape the future. The TEDGlobal conference, which took place in Edinburgh this year, is considered the highlight of all TED talks and what some attendees called “the ultimate brain spa.”

TED invented TEDx a few years ago with the idea of making TED more accessible on a local level. Initially, the acronym TED stood for Technology, Entertainment, and Design in line with the founder’s roots in Silicon Valley. Today, TED addresses a wide range of topics. Each year the Sapling Foundation, creator of TED, awards a grand prize of $1 million to the winner to realize the winner’s wish, a bold and creative idea that inspires people and shapes the future in a positive way. The 2010 winner, for example, was star chef Jamie Oliver who won the prize for his talk on fighting obesity in the United States.

North America and Europe have had a head start on TEDx, but Africa is catching up fast. Currently, most events in sub-Saharan Africa are taking place in English speaking countries, Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, Zimbabwe, and Kenya. Uganda and Tanzania just started out TEDxing in the last year and Portuguese-speaking Luanda, Angola had its first TEDx in May, 2012. French speaking Cameroon is having its first event on July 28, 2012 in Douala while Kinshasa, DRC, has an event planned in April 2013. The North African countries, Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt and Sudan all have had a fair number of events since 2010.

Last year’s TEDxHarare (2011), Harare’s first, had a hand selected audience of 100, probably having more of feel of a salon. The event brought innovators, entrepreneurs and activists of Zimbabwe together on the theme “Power of Ideas.” The speakers are considered innovators in their field and have resolved to work on creating a brighter future for Zimbabwe and the African continent. Pretty amazing, considering that Zimbabwe is the third poorest country in the world.

Zimbabwe’s most recent TEDxHarareChange is part of TEDxChange, which is co-organized by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and TED, focused on issues surrounding global health and development. Their upcoming TEDx conference, “think BIG, act BIG”, on August 25, 2012 will be on underexposed big ideas and actions. The underlying theme of the conference is to bring together those little pockets of innovation, change and progress and to inspire further change in Zimbabwe. TEDx is going strong in Africa and I hope to see even more it.


A man sitting elevated above a cityscape.This blog was written by Thomas Barkley. Thomas recently graduated from Monterey Institute of International Studies in Translation and Localization Management. During his studies he took part in course at Monterey Institute on the Ecology of Social Change Organizations. The class worked closely with Firelight Foundation. Currently, Thomas is volunteering at Firelight Foundation in the communications department.




Cover photo credit: TEDxEuston