Six years ago I was back working in Birmingham, my home town, slightly frustrated and looking for some people who might share some of the same passion about the possibilities here in Birmingham. One evening I saw a tweet by Anneka Deva, curator and licensee at the time, and so began my glorious journey with TEDxBrum. After 6 years being involved with this amazing platform, it's time to say goodbye as licensee and curator and make way for a new generation of talent. Before I say goodbye there is one last event to make happen and here is a little run down of what this magical road has been like to get to this point.
2011 - 2016
It’s been a glorious 6 years working on and with the TEDx / TEDxBrum community. 2012 saw The Next Revolution at mac birmingham with more than a 100 guests trusting us with the coveted TEDx license for the city. In 2013 TEDxBrum grew into it's next iteration with Marking the Map at Millennium Point, with 350+ guests really ramping up the energy and confirming to us TEDxBrum as an ideas platform was one that this city really valued and wanted.
The energy after 2013’s event was so great that a special moment happened afterwards when we released a blog asking What if TEDx was everyday?. This blog was in response to lots of feedback and comments about the palpable excitement and energy that was felt around the ideas coming from the TEDx community. It wasn’t enough for it to be a one day event - something more was building, and we needed to explore that further. So began 2 years of exploring this question as far as we could take it.
In 2014 DIY was held at the brand new Library of Birmingham weeks after it first opened. 500+ guests started to truly show us the scale of talent, appetite and interest in the civic movement that was building. Global TED were also starting to pay attention to the magic that was happening in Birmingham.
We took an unexpected break in 2015 when the TEDx movement and blog I spoke of earlier, grew real traction and after a monster civic Kickstarter, Impact Hub Birmingham was born, a town hall for change, a place where this excitement, energy, passion and growing movement could have a home to grow.
2016 was our biggest to date with 750+ people at Birmingham Town Hall for Power of Us. It was a spectacular moment to see what was possible by a group of ordinary people from Birmingham, I don't think I’ll ever forget the standing ovation for Devita Davison as she schooled Birmingham about its potential unequal and divisive future.
2017 sees us continuing to grow with a TEDxYouth@Brum event on Wednesday 11th October and more than 1800 people at Birmingham Hippodrome on Sunday 15th October for TEDxBrum 2017 #Perspectives. I don’t think back in 2011 we could have ever imagined what the seed of an idea to bring TEDx to Birmingham would lead to. I think it’s fair to say what is coming this year will be an amazing moment in the journey of TEDxBrum. Its magical that the co-curator of TEDxYouth@Brum is a previous speaker and host, a legacy that I hope will continue long beyond my short time looking after the TEDxBrum license.
There are so many things that I could say about the last 6 years. I could write for days on it, so here goes; a tiny snapshot of the beautifully transformational journey with this city that I have taken with TEDxBrum.
I was young, a little lost, and terribly disillusioned with Birmingham when I first came back having worked in London. Most of my school year had gone to London and Birmingham had always been the place that when you mentioned it to your family, they mocked it, mocked you and put on that fake accent we all know. Something deeper had also struck me. The underground creative scene was doing amazing things, and of course there were some stunning people building magic here. However, when I looked at leadership and the dominant business communities in all the PR of the city I certainly didn’t see that many people like me.
TEDxBrum was originally a little way to find some likeminded souls and start to carve a path in my home city. We desperately wanted to platform the most amazing, radical, exciting voices in the city, whilst also putting Birmingham on the map in this global community of TEDx events. In 2011, there was already 10 TEDx events in London and nothing here. This may not have been significant from a TEDx point of view, but it definitely told us something at that time about the conditions, that meant we had one of the highest rates of graduates leaving the city for other places, primarily London.
I could never have predicted how utterly glorious, inspiring and moving meeting the TEDxBrum team would be, with about 100 people volunteering every single year to help make it happen. Each year the core team has been between 10 - 25 people, people who have volunteered 100s of hours, the equivalent of a full time job on top of everything else they were doing to make every detail of TEDx happen. The endless evenings, all nighters and 10s of 1000s of hours over the years have been one of my highlights. Working and discovering the talent, generosity and sheer commitment to building this platform has been sensational.
So, my first thank you is to every person who without knowing what was ahead, joined us every year through blood, sweat and tears to make it happen, and be better than the last. You basked in the fun and glory of each event, but also listened to lots of criticism and challenges along the way, and made sure that we moved forward as generously and humbly as we could to make each year as open, inclusive and inspiring as possible. So many of you are amazing friends and colleagues now across projects, big missions and the journey ahead. I appreciate all the faith, time and love you gave this idea.
My second thank you has to be for the generous sponsors who have supported us. You financially and in kind gave as much as you could to help support this ambitious, slightly crazy and totally volunteer powered team to produce stunning events. From our first sponsors like Packt who believed in us when no-one else did to the huge sponsors like PSP who contacted us and said: we have produced global TED, we are in Birmingham and we want to help you up your game. Unlike many TEDx’s we kept the price as low as possible no matter how big we grew with community programmes each year, and just about sort of broke even in that endeavour. Every year the team contributed their own and our businesses' money to help cover the gaps at a time where many of us were very early in our careers. You came side by side with us, and made sure we knew you believed that Birmingham needed this event. Thank you to every sponsor who supported, and never censored how radical or controversial we could be. This in itself was an important step in showing what this city values. Thank you, sponsors, it literally can't happen without you. Big institutional partners like the Birmingham City Council were crucial. Whilst there were many years where the players you’d hope would support were silent, there were also years where people like Mark Rogers, Piali Dasgupta, GBCC and Marketing Birmingham really got behind us, and for that we are so thankful.
I don’t have a single regret in building TEDxBrum over the last 6 years. I wish I had been better at corporate sponsorship so tickets could have been radically inclusive each year, but the journey of TEDxBrum has been transformational, and made me fall in love with this city and its potential. It would, however, be disingenuous of me to give you an instagram filtered version of the journey, not because I want you to feel sorry for any us because we have been privileged to take this journey with Birmingham, but because the whole story is important to understand how these things happen and how we can be better. For a city that markets itself on being the youngest and most diverse in Europe, I really hope we can be better.
In the first year lots of people were somewhat outraged by what we were trying to do, and the abuse and squashing of our hope was utterly crushing. We pulled through together, and so many wonderful people reached out and reminded us all to carry on. But, it wasn't ok; not really - not when we should do everything to support young people to rise and fill the massive holes in civic leadership that are needed in this world, especially Birmingham. It was an important lesson. I constantly ask myself how do we make sure we don’t recreate this scenario with anyone bright and hopeful about making something happen with Birmingham?
As a city, we love sponsoring a fundraising dinner or an awards ceremony, but it hasn't always been easy persuading us to sponsor something where citizens grow and learn together and build our collective intelligence and action. To be brutally honest, it was even harder to find sponsors who didn't want to utterly censor the voices you put on stage. Not a week goes by when we have been trying to subsidise cheaper tickets, putting more and more resource from every corner to make it happen, but still have messages that don’t believe we are voluntary, or not making massive profit or trying to exploit people. These criticisms and questioning are valid and should always be asked, but it hasn't been easy. Balancing the desire to scale whilst keeping tickets as cheap as possible, bringing world class talent to the stage, adhering to TED rules and somehow funding it alongside trying to earn a living, being decent to our friends and family and make Birmingham’s TEDx sit on the world stage, has been a tricky and sometimes dark balance to achieve. I don't need an ounce of sympathy; it has truly been an honour, but for me it's about learning about the layers to these journeys so we know how to support ideas makers in the city in an empowering and uplifting way.
It’s time for me to say a little formal goodbye. Thank you Birmingham it's been an honour, a real honour to do this. Your love and support has been humbling and inspiring. Thank you to big TED; you gave us the confidence that TEDxBrum was causing ripples around the world and that we should continue to be more inclusive, community focused, radical and bolder each year.
Thank you this year to everyone who is believing and supporting. We are in an incredible venue, with a massive line up and we are offering tickets from £5 which is exactly what I had always hoped for. We are still a way off from breaking even, but we also want the most amount of partners and friends for this years event to really close this era with a bold vision for the future, together.
So, please come, partner, sponsor and get involved. It will be amazing. If you think you want to take over TEDxBrum in the future, let us know. For me, stepping aside is about allowing the next generation of ideas worth sharing to grow.
To sign off, here is my idea worth sharing. Let’s make Birmingham the city where we unlock the talent of everyone, where anyone can make their ideas happen. Let’s live the youngest city title by making sure at every turn we elevate each other's hopes and passions, no matter how different they are from our own. Let’s make sure the journeys of our citizens are littered with support, resource and love, and that you don't have to be a hero entrepreneur character to make something happen. Let’s congratulate each other and lift each other up as much as we can; our talent is so often applauded from other places and abroad and it's time for us to take ownership of that. Let's support those giving their all to tackle the deep systemic wicked challenges our city still faces. Even just recently the huge holes in our cities leadership have been well documented, as well as some of the really amazing opportunities on their way. Let's please fill every gap with bold, radical, diverse civic leadership and let's lift each other up in this journey.
Let's be better Birmingham, let's be a global example of what an inclusive, participatory, vibrant, loving city led by its people looks like.
Thanks Brum, it’s been a bloody honour and you have changed me forever. Thank you for your love, support and for indulging me in getting this bit of closure on something I have truly loved and find hard to let go of. If I missed you in the thank yous, I am sorry; thank you to everyone who has played any part in the journey.
See you on Sunday 15th October at Birmingham Hippodrome.
Curator of TEDxBrum