The African diaspora are restless. They a see a continent rising, the potential of boundless opportunities and a chance to exploit their western education and skills in a leading role in training, consultancy, entrepreneurship, social enterprise and business. They are restless because despite having achieved much in the way of education in their countries of residence, they still have not maximised their potential to the full.
At the same time, some have seen friends, colleagues, classmates and relations on the continent, prosper in the field of business in particular, achieving stellar success which even in the most integrated western society in the world (the United Kingdom) has still been difficult to achieve in any meaningfully recognisable way. They have seen a trend towards greater stability across the continent, the transformational impact of China and the diminishing power of western influence leaving many to question where they need to be in the world to achieve the best life they possibly can.
These are global Africans, with passports that can take them virtually anywhere in the world. They have the language and cultural sensitivity to be able to immerse themselves in the societies they live in. They have access to capital, technology, skill and the very best that western society has to offer. They think in a manner that reflects inspirations from across the world, not because they have read about it, but because they have lived it. This gives them a unique perspective on the world. They see themselves as British African (and so does the world)…of such and such heritage, pan African in outlook, and in a schizophrenic way able to slip into different international guises that gives them a distinct advantage in an increasingly inward looking western world which seeing itself threatened on the inside and on the outside, is more and more comfortable to reach out to people who look like them, and if not, sound like them or are in tune with Eurocentric thinking.
TEDxEuston (an independently organised TED event) has been able to capitalise on this restlessness by providing an environment which showcases inspiring ideas about Africa. Their aim is to motivate and mobilise British Africans to become more interested in the continent, and to change the narrative of a continent known for doom, gloom and disease. Their unspoken message is, whether it be business, social enterprise, or something else, just get out there and do something positive that helps to take the continent forward. Here’s an inspiring talk from one of the earlier versions of the TEDx in 2011.
…and here’s one from the 2013 gig. Significant progress in a small amount of time, a strong testimony to the organising team’s ability to raise sponsorship money and command high ticket prices to create a premier league event, with a vibrant after party to wrap it all up. African style of course!
Now in it’s sixth year and starting from very humble beginings, it packs out London’s 650 seater Mermaid theatre, it’s base for the last three years. Previous speakers have included author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Fred Swaniker of the African Leadership Academy, Nigeria’s finance minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and many other presenters from the global and local stage.
This year’s speakers included Kenyan Writer Binyavanga Wainaina on being gay in an intolerant Africa, Tanzania’s Ali A Mufuruki on why Africa really isn’t rising, Kene Mkparu on setting up a cinema chain in Nigeria, and Ghana’s Frances Mensah Williams on being a British African in Africa, amongst many others.
TEDxEuston stands out from the growing Afrocentric lectures, workshops and seminar space, in that it draws on a largely African audience. Other notable meetings in the annual calendar include the London Business School’s Africa Business Summit, attended by a mix of enthusiastic British Africans, top business people and politicians from the continent and the UK looking to network and make contact with people linked to the brightest economic hotspot in the world today.
TEDxEuston is not perfect. Although they do a heroic job keeping the conversation on Africa going, the organising committee lacks diversity. It is 95 per cent Nigerian and almost entirely from one region of the country. The programme, while entertaining, thought provoking and inspiring, is uncomfortably Nigerian centric which is probably reflective of a narrow network. Having said that, this is an awesome brand that is so needed. It would be great for it to be able to take the next step upwards: a wider reach and a more diverse programme.
Image credit: TEDxEuston via Facebook