The TED stage features a red circular carpet and light-up letters, the look far more sleek than rustic. But at TEDxGuatavita, the stage was decorated with bales of hay, farming tools and boots with plants sprouting out of them.
Guatavita, a small town in the heart of rural Colombia was the home of the first TEDx event in Colombia focused on the issues facing rural communities. Themed “Hay Campo en el Campo” which in English translates to, “There is space and opportunity 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. The biggest issue: 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,” said Spath. “We had to meet several times with them 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.”
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 Spath. “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 … So inspiring ideas, accompanied by a platform which can capture new thoughts, and implement them, is crucial for rural transformation.”
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 (below) in Guatavitan fields, a “rural cinema” screen inviting local farmers to the event.
When it came time for the event, the TEDxGuatavita organizers 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 Spath. “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.”
According to Spath, 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 women’s cooperative in Colombia, and the way social fabric has been weaved; and Natalia Poveda’s personal transformation tale from a high-heeled executive to a permaculture activist.”
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,” Spath explained. “Campo Abierto will connect people with ideas, with knowledge, and with resources to generate actions in the Colombian countryside.”
“At the end, [TEDxGuatavita] was all about community,” Spath said. “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.”
This post originally ran on the TEDx Blog. Check it out for continuous coverage of TEDx events, organizers and speakers.