This September, students and staff at Birla Public School, Doha have been busy setting up their second edition of TEDx for the community of Doha and beyond.

Marhaba contributor Neel Shah takes us behind the scenes of the TEDx event held on 28 September at Birla Public School, Doha. 

TEDx is a global set of conferences owned by the private non-profit, Sapling Foundation, under the slogan ‘Ideas Worth Spreading’. The TEDx events are independently organised on a voluntary basis by local communities, organisations and individuals to spark conversation and connection through local experiences, with the same TED ethos.

TEDX Events Qatar
Varad Angadi, pictured left, speaking to Birla officials

Varad Angadi, lead curator of the event and 12th grader by day,  spoke about the challenges of organising the event:

Abiding by the regulations for a TEDx conference was a major task. The application for the licence is a 3 month long procedure. We received our licence approval at the end of July.  In between, we had organised a shortlist of speakers that interested us. During the summer holiday, our volunteers focused on the external features of the event: organising volunteers, printing works and finding sponsors. We had also got in touch with Q-Tickets to offer tickets on sale to the general public.’

Varad was most looking forward to seeing Aditya Maheswaran. Aditya is considered one of the best public speakers in the world, placing 2nd out of 40,000 in the World Public Speaking Championships in 2017 and awarded ‘Best Public Speaker’ by Toastmasters International. Birla places great importance on public speaking and runs a popular Gavels Club for students to practice and refine their debate techniques. Varad was one of many students excited to learn from a master of the art.TEDx Birla Public School 2

I caught up with Shirley Rappai, Senior Vice Principal, during the first intermission. Shirley was also at the school when they hosted TedX previously in 2014, becoming the first Indian school in the Middle East to do so:

To organise such a prestigious event, preparation is very important. Students found the speakers and screened the speeches. They have needed to do a lot of research, 99% of the project has been led by the students. This is part of what the school is looking for in their development. This is a real highlight in the 15th year of the school’s operations”.

Saadya Rafiq, lead organiser for the event, hopes to work as a social activist in the future. She has overseen a number of teams including IT, logistics, Photography, finance and event design. She shared how she kept her team motivated during the run up to the event and what she was looking forward to.

TEDx Birla Public School 2The whole process started from November. I attended a TEDx last year and really wanted our
school to host another event. We wanted the public of Qatar to see the value of what we are studying here and a chance to empower our Indian community.  If your mind can conceive it and your heart can believe it, you can definitely achieve it! Students have really benefited from this event by working with an outside organisation and their requirements. It was also an opportunity to apply my studies as a Commerce student in a practical way especially with regards to the budget setting.’

We have all been working on tasks that develop our skills and channel our interests. We didn’t seek any outside professional assistance as everything for the promotion of the event has been done by students, such as the promotional videos and website.  There’s no one part of today I’m looking forward to in particular, but the whole event. I’m looking forward to seeing a full auditorium. I’m hoping the entire event is beautiful!’

The chief coordinator of the event starting from filing the creative write up to floating the innovative theme of ‘tolerance is painful; acceptance is graceful’ was George Edison, Vice Principal of the school.

The main draw for the audience was the high calibre of speakers invited to attend the event. One speaker that Shirley was eager to see was Nawaal Akram, a Qatar-based comedian, model, athlete and disability rights campaigner.  She was diagnosed with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy at the age of 6 and was forcefully removed from education against her wishes at the age of 10, becoming wheelchair-bound at age of 12. In 2016, she founded the organisation Muscular Dystrophy Qatar to raise awareness of the condition to the general public and to offer support to those with the condition and their families. She has since performed with Stand Up Comedy Qatar (SUCQ), the country’s first and only collective of stand up comedians, founded in 2010. She was also named as one of the BBC’s 100 most inspiring and influential women in 2017, at the age of just 18. 

TEDx Birla Public School 2

Nawaal is widely followed by students at Birla and several of them were star struck speaking with her!

About her role as the special guest at the event Nawaal said:

I have spoken about my work here in Qatar and in the UK, but it’s great to have the TED platform to speak today. Finding your purpose and meaning in life is so important. We are all on a different path and people can sometimes feel sorry for themselves and not learn from painful challenges.  Of course, we are all on different journeys and no one person’s is the same but I found my purpose in helping others and the community. We shouldn’t use our bad experiences to mistreat others.’

Nawaal has also performed previously with a good friend of hers, who is also a speaker at the event, Chandrashekar Angadi. Chandrashekar is multi-talented, having anchored and hosted events and featuring in short films, theatre and musical ballet. He has also been a voice-over artist. Today, he comes in the guise of a stand-up comedian.

The other very distinguished guest for the event is Phillip Young. Phillip was featured in the Forbes ’30 under 30′ list in 2016 for his work as Co-founder of Future Foreign Policy, a highly influential think-tank based in the UK that connects millenials who have an idea to change the world, with the decision makers and key influencers who can make it happen. Phillip is also the visionary Head of Strategic Policy Delivery for Digital Catapult, the UK’s leading advanced digital technology innovation centre. It drives the early adoption of digital technologies to make UK businesses more competitive and productive, helping to grow the country’s economy.

Phillip shares his passion on the subject:

Traditionally, big organisations are quite slow moving but we try to break down the barriers to the adoption of new technologies. We are looking at how emerging technologies can be used to solve a lot of our global challenges. A lot of what we do is balancing the playing field, helping start up founders to access state of the art technologies and supporting them.’

His advice to any aspiring young foreign policy makers:

Be passionate to solve a problem, be adaptable that that problem might change but ultimately find that passion to solve it and you will succeed.’

This passion was clearly demonstrated by the positive attitudes of the student volunteers at the event. Emblazoned in the black and red TED colours, they worked tirelessly behind the scenes to create the impression of such a smooth running event. One of the volunteers, 11th grader, Nandini Menon, effortlessly coordinated press relations, introducing us to the key players of the evening.

A special credit also goes out to the co-organiser, Rutaj Dash who was managing the IT, videography and photography for the event. The event would not be complete either without the comperes for the evening, Carol Joseph and Swaraj Harne, who charmed the audience and provided a smooth transition into the speeches.

In planning and running this event, the determination, drive, dedication and ambition of the students at Birla Public School are an inspiration to schoolchildren around the country. Hopefully this will inspire even more like it in the future. 

Author: Neel Shah

Image credit: BPS Doha