TEDxMogadishu report: A rebirth of hope

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From the TEDx Tumblr, this inspiring story:

TEDxMogadishu — the first TEDx event in Somalia — will happen tomorrow, May 17, and livestreamed around the world.

Update: Read press reports from TEDxMogadishu >>

On May 17, between 50 and 100 people from diverse backgrounds will attend the event to listen to Somalis discuss the rebirth of Mogadishu. The event will be livestreamed for Somalis who can’t attend (e.g., the diaspora) and people who are interested to learn about the positive changes happening in Mogadishu.

The goal of the organizing team is to build a foundation for more events in the future, and to hopefully give Mogadishu a steady and fresh platform for spreading ideas. We spoke to team member Sebastian Lindstrom about the event:

Why Mogadishu — what led you to organize a TEDx here?

We had an opportunity to go to Mogadishu to film the opening of First Somali Bank, and while planning this trip, we brainstormed with Somalis living in the city about how to further share the positive stories taking place. TEDx has become a worldwide movement for sharing ideas and innovations taking place at the local level, and it seemed like a great fit. Mogadishu is changing, and while some in the media have picked up on it, the general perception of Mogadishu remains negative. We feel it’s important to share what’s really happening and we want to showcase positive stories for those who care about this dynamic city.

Who are the locals you’re working with?

We are working with Liban Egal, the founder of First Somali Bank, and his team in Mogadishu. They have linked the organizing team to a wide variety of Somalis — those who have returned to Somalia over the past few years and those who have lived through the conflict — who are supporting this initiative in various ways. We are crowdsourcing from the Somali and Somali diaspora’s Twittersphere to track down resources and awareness. Basically, it’s all very much a team effort on a worldwide Somali basis.

How did you choose the theme of your event — does it relate directly to the political situation, or is there a broader meaning?

The theme focuses on positive changes happening in Mogadishu, irrespective of the political situation. Many Somalis think Mogadishu has recently reached a turning point now that there is no active fighting inside the city for the first time in decades. There are thousands of Somalis returning home to open businesses, buildings sprouting up and being reconstructed, and there is a real sense of rebirth in a marginalized, misrepresented community that feels that its time has come. We realized this was the right moment to hold the event. So on the 17th a group of Somalis from different walks of life will share their stories of how Mogadishu is changing and their ideas for the future — this is TEDxMogadishu.

What are some of the challenges you knew you would face?

Safety concerns. Even though Mogadishu is changing, there remain significant security concerns that we cannot disregard. We are taking ample precautions so that adequate security will be in place. We are comforted by the fact that we’re holding an apolitical event with no agenda other than providing a platform for Somalis to communicate positive changes happening in this city to the world.

The second biggest challenge was timing and communication. Remote organization isn’t possible, so much was done on the ground over the past week. However, this city tends to operate quite last minute, so it hasn’t been a problem to find great speakers and attendees.

What’s a challenge that was completely unexpected?

Isolation anxiety. Because of security reasons, you cannot, as a foreigner, openly walk the streets of Mogadishu. So, you end up spending a lot of time in one place, which can result in a case of island fever.

What did you expect to be challenging, and wasn’t at all?

We thought that finding a venue was going to be a huge problem, but it worked out superbly.

What’s one thing about Mogadishu and Somalia that you wish everyone knew?

Despite its perception, Mogadishu is a beautiful city filled with hard working and extremely entrepreneurial Somalis. Both Somalis at home, and those in the diaspora, are optimistic that a turning point has been reached after 21 years of conflict.

Tell me about your speakers!

Speakers will include a wide range of Somalis and one foreigner. Some have recently returned to Mogadishu and others have lived through the conflict. They include: a chef and restauranteur, a real estate developer, the founder of a university, the founder of the First Somali bank, a healthcare specialist, someone who works with rape victims and former child soldiers, a Somali journalist, a camel milk mobilizer and more.

And tell me one speaker’s story …

Elle Elman will give a talk about her work with rape and sexual assault victims and the rehabilitation of child soldiers. Her father started the Elman Peace and Human Rights Centre and was an ardent peace activist in the 1990s, who coined the slogan “Put down the gun, pick up a pen.” He was killed in 1996 for trying to promote peace in Somalia. Elle left for Canada and three years ago came back to support her mother’s work with that same organization; more on the organization and her mother can be found here and here.

She is of the new generation in Somalia and has returned to her country during these difficult times.

Read these stories about her father, which are good to mention, since he was one of the initial major peace advocates; and people in Mogadishu know his name well.

Check out the website for the event: www.TEDxMogadishu.com

Follow on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/TEDxMogadishu

Follow on Twitter: @TEDxMogadishu

Email for more information: info@TEDxMogadishu.com