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How a TEDx event spun up in Bhilwara

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Harsh Agrwal is the organizer of TEDxBhilwara, which he hopes proves that his city is more than a textile hub. Photo: Daksh Baheti

Harsh Agrwal is the organizer of TEDxBhilwara, which he hopes proves that his city is more than a textile hub. Photo: Daksh Baheti

Bhilwara is a city in Rajasthan, India, famous for its textile industry. Textiles dominate the local economy; after agriculture, it’s the leading employer in the city. The city is populated with spinning looms, fabric processing plants and weaving centers, producing huge swaths of yarn and thousands of tons of suiting fabric.

But seeing Bhilwara merely as a textiles hub prevents a real understanding of the city, says Harsh Agarwal, the 19-year-old who organized the first TEDx event here in July.

“Many do not know Bhilwara for its other special things,” Agarwal says, “like art and culture.” Too often, he says, his hometown is seen as stagnant and set in its ways, not a place where new ideas thrive. That’s why Agarwal decided to put together a TEDx event in Bhilwara centered on under-the-radar ideas, individuals and technology making waves in his hometown.

Agarwal learned about TED when his high-school teacher showed a few talks in class. Inspired by the breadth of ideas in the talks, Agarwal soon conspired to host a TEDx event at his high school with a friend. School and other activities won out, however, and his plans ended up on the back burner.

Flash forward to 2012, when a 17-year-old Agarwal received an invitation to attend TEDxTheCalorxSchool in Ahmedabad, a town near his own. He was touched by the experience. “Getting inspired from attending the TEDx event live, I felt honored and very special to be one among 100 attendees,” he said. “I then desperately wanted to know what goes on behind such a powerful event.”

After high school, Agarwal moved to Mumbai to attend university — and learn the ropes of TEDx event planning. As a student, he applied to work with local event TEDxGateway; was accepted; and began to assist in speaker curation. “I learned a lot from [TEDxGateway organizer] Yashraj Akashi,” Agarwal said, “and he inspired me to pull off a TEDx event in my hometown for the community members who have no idea about what TED is.”

The smiling audience at TEDxBhilwara. Photo: Courtesy of TEDxBhilwara

The smiling audience at TEDxBhilwara. Photo: Courtesy of TEDxBhilwara

Working with TEDxGateway gave Agarwal the confidence and practice he needed to take on a TEDx event in Bhilwara. To drum up interest in his hometown, Agarwal hosted two TEDx Salon events — events centered around watching and discussing recorded TED Talks. This led to a burst of excitement for his first live event.

“[I knew] the first event would not [necessarily] bring a big change but a small one … but after the event, I have observed that people started talking about TED, TEDx and its importance in the community, which they never did before,” Agarwal said. “Many of them started looking at collaboration in a different way and started reaching out to local speakers for collaboration on projects.”

Another interesting side effect: People piped up with their own ideas on who should speak. “After the event, many media people gave us names of amazing people who could be chosen to speak for the next edition of TEDxBhilwara,” he says. “Attendees of the event left the place with a complete different thought process because they saw and heard things they have never before.”

Agarwal also noticed changes in his own outlook after the event. “As the organizer, my experience has been full of excitement. I got to learn a lot about myself. In the course of planning and preparation, I did things I never did in my life before,” he says. “I saw the city through a different angle after the event. I get to see so much potential and passion in the people. I get to see an air of change blowing in the city, positive change.”

Overall, Agarwal says, he’s impressed — and extremely motivated — by the excitement and acceptance toward new ideas he’s seen in his community. “It was a sheer pleasure seeing the people in this small town coming together and showing so much interest and support in a TEDx event and its values and vision,” he said. “There is so much talent in this small city, and I found nothing better than a TEDx event to spread ideas and knowledge at a global level.”

Agarwal will be attending TEDGlobal 2014 as a TEDxChange scholar, and is hoping to draw some inspiration for the next TEDxBhilwara while in Rio. “I never thought in my wildest dreams when I first watched a TED Talk that I would ever attend a conference live,” he said, but in just a few weeks, he’ll join TEDx organizers from around the globe for a week of big ideas from speakers surfacing the intelligence and insights of their own cities, both small and large.

This story originally ran on the TEDx Innovations Blog. More stories:

Attendees pose for the camera. Photo: Saurabh Bhatt

Attendees pose for the camera. Photo: Saurabh Bhatt