Youssef Chaker on the challenges and rewards of TEDxBeirut

TEDxBeirut, unlike other events, wasn’t about the speakers and the big names featured on the program. The theme for TEDxBeirut 2011 was “From Limitation to Inspiration.” What people outside of the TEDxBeirut organizing team didn’t realize is that the theme wasn’t as much a theme for the talks, as it was a theme for the journey the team went through.

TEDx events are special no matter where they are held in the world but in a country like Lebanon, organizing such an event comes with its own set of difficulties. Unless you are a well-known group or company backed by some good contacts, getting past the paperwork alone is an overreaching goal. When Patsy thought out loud about organizing a TEDx event in Beirut, she was merely expressing a wish — maybe some event company would make it happen. Little did she know that she was going to be the one spearheading the effort to see her dream go from idea to reality. And this is why I say it was an event of a different caliber. It wasn’t the major players and usual suspects who were behind the event, but it was, according to many attendee testimonials, one of the best organized and professional events that people in Beirut have ever experienced.

TEDxBeirut Team Members Hard at Work

Now why am I talking about an event that’s several months old? I promise you it will all come together at the end of this post. Bear with me as I take you through parts of the journey that will explain to you why if we ever talk about Lebanon I might say something along the lines of, “I live in a different Lebanon than you do!”

What I experienced during the days leading up to TEDxBeirut was only a fraction of what some people went through before I had joined. But I got the opportunity on many occasions to sit back and take a distant view of the behavior of the team members. It’s important to mention the HUGE differences on all levels between the people involved. The interests, skills, personalities, backgrounds, education — all of it was different. A typical Lebanese blend, “makhlouta” (mixed nuts) as we say in Arabic.

But the situation was atypical. There was a common goal. No really, there was. The entire team was working on a single goal, with no personal interest at all. We were all volunteers. None of us was gaining anything from participating in this effort on a personal level. I saw people work their asses off to put together a one-day event in Lebanon. We were doing something that we cared about, that we wanted to see happen, and if others wanted to be part of it, that would be great.

When Patsy started organizing the event, she meant it to be for about 100 or so people, then bumped it up to 300, and bumped it up again to 800 to eventually get an 800 seated audience and about 200 other people sitting on the stairs in the theater or watching the stream in a different room (not to mention those who tuned in for the live stream on the web)!! Exposure, recognition, TV spots or seats in the parliament were never the objective.

Patsy, the Fearless Leader

I urge you to take a moment and let that last paragraph sink in. It might not impress you at first, you might think it’s weak, your reaction might be #meh. But take a moment to put it in perspective. We are talking about a “do it yourself” mentality coupled with a “do it FOR yourself” attitude. So much goes into planning an event of this caliber. It takes certain personality traits but also education and culture to foster such a mentality.

With TEDxBeirut, the group of individuals who participated broke the mold. They showed that ideas belong to everyone and the execution is as possible for the common person as it is for the likes of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs.

What Inspires You?

Written by Youssef Chaker of the TEDxBeirut team

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