Medellin, Colombia, was not at all what I expected. While considering taking a trip to Medellin to attend the first TEDx hosted in the city, I was warned to be careful; there was a lot of history there with violence, kidnapping and drugs. I tucked the information in the back of my mind, I still wanted to go to Medellin.
My plane arrived late on a Monday night and I was surprised that there were a couple of young TEDxMedellin organizers standing in the arrivals area with my name on a sign. Nothing says welcome to a foreign country like being met at the airport. I had arrived a couple of days before the event to check out the city and pitch in on any last minute preparations should the organizers need a hand. Mostly I wanted to spend time with the committee and with the community and see what they were creating. This was the first of many trips for me over the next year to TEDx events around the world to take a look at how ideas spread.
The theme of TEDxMedellin was ‘Brilliant Minds’ and it brought together an eclectic mix of speakers from Colombia and the US who covered a wide range of ideas (some presented better than others) in Spanish and English with simultaneous translation provided.
Aber Whitcomb, founder of MySpace and Tim Ferriss of 4-Hour Workweek fame came in to give talks, in addition to Colombians David Escobar A., Andres Roldan and Juan Miguel Perraz, among others. Perhaps my favorite speaker was a local astronomer, Jorge Zulliaga, who was highly engaging (and funny) in both Spanish and English.
While the program was focused on individuals and not a specific theme, the Colombians who spoke really shed light into the transformation of Medellin and the many ideas implemented both by individuals and the local collective to change the perception of Medellin. The interesting thing about the transformation of Medellin is that it has occurred for the inhabitants of the city perhaps even moreso than the outside world. This is most notable through the built out of a significant number of public spaces which serve to get people together around the city and also to place value on parts of the city that may have previously been ignored. ParqueEsplora, the venue for TEDxMedellin, is the first of such city-wide spaces . In addition there is Santo Domingo Savio Library, designed by Giancarlo Mazzanti, situated on the hill in the middle of one of the poorest areas of the city- which has shifted the perception of both the neighborhood and even the way the people who live there see themselves, as I was told by the locals. It has all the makings of a social transformation (done well) and more can be seen about the project here:
As a first time TEDx, it was under 100 people which made it possible for attendees to connect with the speakers and each other. It was as glamorous as a large event but had something special about it based on the smaller size. I have now become a fan of the smaller events. The organizer, Angela Guerrero Moreno, was attentive to the social connections outside the main event and was sure to include a break for people to stretch, eat and talk as well as a cocktail hour after the event for more connecting.
As part of the experience of TEDxMedellin, most speakers came for 3-5 days and there were parties, dinner, discos, tours of the city- it was a fully immersive experience.
It was amazing that Angela and her team did this event in literally one month- when the main sponsor pulled out on May 16 (many of us have had a similar experience) she had to decide to postpone until October or move forward- she had already booked most of the speakers. So, she stuck with the June 16th date and pulled off her event as planned. The Spanish/English combination was fantastic. Traveling to see TEDxMedellin was an amazing trip. I must admit I have fallen in love with Colombia- the warm people and elegant aesthetics; I look forward to returning.
Written by Julianne Wurm, Organizer of TEDxEast.