Farming ideas at Colombia’s first rural-minded TEDx

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Guatavita, a small town in the heart of rural Colombia was the home of the first TEDx event in Colombia focused primarily on issues facing rural areas, TEDxGuatavita. Themed, Hay Campo en el Campo, which in English roughly translates to, "there is space and opportunities within rural areas," TEDxGuatavita’s ideas filled up their stage almost as much as the haystacks.

"It took us 7 months to prepare TEDxGuatavita," said organizer Felipe Spath. Many residents of Guatavita had never heard of TED before. “It was a great challenge to express the nature of an event of this kind, and the immense opportunities deriving from it…We had to meet several times with [groups] to explain what TEDx was all about, choose the speakers, and prepare the [talks]. At the end, eleven speakers where chosen, eleven ideas which can inspire people from rural areas, and the city, to create sustainable models at the countryside,” he said.

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Speakers and volunteers before the event

Fortunately, volunteer TEDx’ers worked day and night to make TEDxGuatavita a reality. “People [worked] so hard, by heart, to build the magic performances and spaces which planted a seed for change in Guatavita and other Colombian rural areas,” said Felipe. "Massive migration to the cities is the ongoing tendency in Colombia; young people don’t see opportunities to develop economically, culturally or professionally in the countryside," he said, "so inspiring ideas, accompanied by a platform which can capture new thoughts, and implement them, is crucial for rural transformation."

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Their biggest setback, however, was in promotion. “These kinds of events are normally spread through social digital networks,” Felipe said, “[but] here we had to use different, local, alternatives. We used the church radio station, went to rural schools and [met] with teachers and students.”

TEDxGuatavita volunteers even installed a pop-up billboard in Guatavitan fields, a “rural cinema” screen inviting local farmers to the event.

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TEDxGuatavita’s outdoor rural cinema

When it came time for the event, the TEDxGuatavita encouraged community members to help create the stage design. “ConectArte, an [arts] program for rural children, held  workshops with the children of Chaleche, an area in Guatavita,” said Felipe. “It was an amazing experience to sense the power of collaboration, and to experience its outcome materialized on the stage. We shared the process with the audience at TEDxGuatavita, displaying slideshows and a video of the workshops through which the stage was built. People could connect with the local community through the space they were experiencing.

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Gustavo Cataño explaining why, even without space, there is space in rural areas

According to Felipe, TEDxGuatavita speaker highlights included, “Camilo Gomez sharing his sustainable cattle breeding model; Luis Fernando Samper describing the orchestra behind the coffee you drink; Elvira Villalobos’s emotive story about the oldest woman cooperative in Colombia, and the way social fabric has been weaved; and Natalia Poveda’s personal transformation tale from a high heel executive to a permaculture activist.”

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Natalia Poveda’s journey from the office to the caravan

Breaks allowed TEDx’ers to brainstorm and ruminate on what they’d heard. Sponsors created interactive spaces for attendees to document their ideas, and from these ideas, an art installation was created. By the end of the event, this catalog of ideas had turned into a plan for an initiative called "Campo Abierto"—"a platform which aims at reducing the gap between ideas and actions at rural Colombia," Felipe explained. "Campo Abierto will connect people with ideas, with knowledge, and with resources to generate actions in the Colombian countryside.”

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Performer Magda Perodi dances onstage at the event

"At the end, [TEDxGuatavita] was all about community," Felipe told TEDx. "The event itself was an amazing collective experience, an open collaborative performance: people working very hard together, enjoying it, with passion, for the pure belief of the immense power ideas have to change our world."

Still, “a lot of work still has to be done,” he said. “TEDxGuatavita was the powerful beginning of many projects and processes. Many people got connected and inspired to start new ventures. Others found ways to improve their ongoing work. Local projects where identified, and collaboration for them sprouted. Campo Abierto, a platform for taking ideas worth spreading, to ideas worth doing, started that day, and in the following months will be built and systematized. Our goal is to have local speakers, a product of this platform, at the next TEDxGuatavita.”

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Host, Jennifer, with a musical audience member

You can see more pictures of TEDxGuatavita preparation process here, and of the event here


Reporting by Hailey Reissman.

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