Issue 4, 2015. August-September

   

TEDx TBILISI: GEORGIAN INNOVATION IN 18 MINUTES OR LESS

William Dunbar
Photographs by Nata Abashidze-Romanovskaya


Tbilisi often seems like a city of visiting experts. Politicians, economists, pop stars: dignitaries of all sorts fly in, offer their words of wisdom and fly away again. While one of this city's greatest strengths is its openness to people and ideas from all over the world, there is another, often overlooked strength of Tbilisi, and that is the experts that are already here: the people with the talent, vision and grit, changing things for the better.

It's that strength of Tbilisi we hears less about: the individuals coming up with ways to solve problems, from preserving the city's green spaces to making it an easier place to be accepted as a member of a sexual minority. The people critically analyzing Georgian fairy tales and the people finding a new model for journalism. It's these people, and their ideas, that we sought to celebrate and publicize as part of TEDx Tbilisi 2015.

TEDx events are independently organized conferences licensed by TED, the global brand behind the internet phenomenon of the "TED Talk." These talks, 18 minutes or less, are mini-lectures designed to be powerful and insightful, and dedicated to "ideas worth spreading," the motto of the organization. At TEDx Tbilisi, in 2012, 2013 and again this year, it has been the organization's mission to spread worthwhile ideas in the city we call home.

After a lengthy nomination, audition and training process, the volunteer team behind TEDx Tbilisi selected eight speakers to address this year's event, which was held on June 20 in the auditorium of the Free University/Agricultural University. We tried to select speakers from a variety of fields, aiming for a sample of the best, most innovative thinkers from Georgia, as well as foreigners who call Tbilisi home.

There were some well-known faces among the speakers. Natalia Antelava, an award-winning Georgian journalist familiar to anyone who watches, reads or listens to the BBC, spoke about how modern technology can help us reimagine what journalism is, about how stories can be told in more informative, in-depth ways, and about what she and her colleagues are planning to do to achieve that.

Cultural commentator Lasha Bakradze, director of the State Literature Museum, turned to the crucial topic of how Georgia should deal with its past—specifically what to do with the Stalin Museum in Gori. He argued it should become a museum of a museum, a constant reminder of how totalitarians try to falsely shape our memory.

On the theme of using technology to change our world for the better, Jonne Catshoek, founder and director of the Georgian NGO Elva, which now works around the world, explained how giving communities the ability to transmit data directly to governments and donors generates better outcomes for everyone—something Elva first demonstrated in the South Ossetian conflict zone in the aftermath of the 2008 Russian-Georgian war.

Andres Torres, the director of the American Academy, spoke about what he'd learned from his study of the Japanese martial art of kendo, and how that had helped to bring him back to Georgia; Keti Zazanashvili, winner of this year's "Georgia's Got Talent" told us how she discovered her passion for wheelchair dancing and changed her view of disability in the process.

Another educator, Sandro Jejelava, formerly an executive at TBC Bank and now the director of the Management Academy, spoke about Georgian fairy tales. "Do you realize," he asked, "'that Natsarkekia, the lazy liar who gets ahead, or Komble, the thuggish shepherd, are poisoning your children's minds?" Judging by the huge applause he received, the audience had not realized, and were happy for the advice.

The final two speakers exemplified the power of "ideas worth spreading," as well as the brave, talented and dedicated people working to make life in Tbilisi better. Natia Gvianishvili, a women's rights advocate, spoke of her experience, her "privilege," of coming out as a lesbian. She used her personal story to explain the almost impossibly difficult situation many LBGT individuals face in Georgia, and what we can all do to become allies.

Nick Davitashvili, a member of Tbilisi's Guerrilla Gardeners, explained the threats that unplanned and illegal property development is placing our city under. He argued that without action being taken, we will bestow a legacy of respiratory ailments and civic alienation on our children. More than that though, he explained exactly how he and his friends have been fighting—and winning—in the courts, in city hall, and in the streets.

But the point of TEDx Tbilisi is not to get 300 people together in a room to listen to some talks. The point is to make sure that the ideas shared in that room get out to a wider audience. Videos of this year's talks will soon be on YouTube, on the TEDx channel, and on our own TEDx Tbilisi channel, together with the talks from 2012 and 2013. We are hoping that volunteers will be able to translate the talks into Georgian as part of TED's translation effort, and we hope that the ideas shared and the bonds forged at the event will bear fruit in the future.

Also, as a voluntary organization, we are looking for people to help us with next year's event, and for potential speakers. There are no formal qualifications, you just have to have an idea, and a willingness to share it. Get in touch with TEDxTbilisi at www.tedxtbilisi.com.

William Dunbar is a board member of the TEDx Tbilisi team and was the host of this year's event.