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INTERVIEW: How TEDx Talks Are Putting São Tomé On the Map

[Editor's note: The author of this interview is also a team member of TEDxSão Tomé]

TEDx, the local, self-organized version of TED talks, has already passed through Portuguese-speaking countries such as Portugal, Angola and Brazil. Last month, the talks arrived in São Tomé, an island of São Tomé and Principe, in Africa. With 18-minute long presentations that are published on the Internet, TEDx brings together creative people to “share ideas worth spreading”.

Global Voices recently caught up with TEDxSão Tomé curator Katya Aragão about the team behind the talks, the impact of the talks on the small country, and more.

Global Voices Online (GVO): How did you get the idea to take TEDx to São Tomé?

Katya Aragão (KA): It was more than an idea, bringing TEDx to São Tomé and Principe was a necessity, given the country is still such a well-kept secret. On one hand, we are a destination for luxury tourism and we are protected from tourism for the masses. But on the other hand, being an “unknown” to the outside world, is yet another barrier in the development of São Tomé and Principe, that more than just being a small market, suffers from isolation.

Having in mind that the general aim of the NGO Galo Cantá, which is organising TEDxSãoTomé, is the promotion of São Tomé and Principe, we thought the best way was to put the country on the map of a brand and a global event.

GVO: What rationale lies behind the theme “Connected: São Tomé and Principe = Africa Connected to the World”?

KA:  From the moment we are living in the country: opening of the telecommunications market, a local revolution in IT with the arrival of the fiberoptic cable and 3G internet. We decided to bet on the connection between the two islands that make up the Archipelago, São Tomé and Principe, and the connection between the country and the African continent, as well as the connection of Santomeans to the world.

So we called our theme “Islands Connected: São Tomé and Principe = Africa connected to the World!” and our slogan “Connect to the World”!

Katya Aragão/TEDxSão Tomé/Published with permission

Katya Aragão/TEDxSão Tomé/Published with permission

GVO: What is the central focus of TEDxSãoTomé and how has it been interpreted by the people of São Tomé? 

KA: The central focus is projects and ideas with local impact. TEDxSãoTomé was baptized with the name of the capital of the country which hosts it – São Tomé – symbolizing the centrality, the sense of broad sharing and necessity to “think globally and act locally”, keeping in mind the concept of amplitude which connects the islands. So, the focus is intrinsically linked to the theme chosen for this year: Islands Connected.

The NGO Galo Cantá intends for TEDxSãoTomé to be a platform to disseminate ideas and projects with a local impact, contributing to their visibility, acting still as a bridge between entrepreneurs and doers. That is, the meeting of those with good ideas and of those with the means to put them in practice.

To the people of São Tomé TEDx is still a new concept and an unknown, but São Tomeans understand that it has something to do with innovation, it's the word most used in reference to TEDxSãoTomé. There is still a great deal of awareness raising for people to really realize the dimensions of the events. We have worked on this, but given it is an annual event, we hope to gradually reach all minds in São Tomé and Principe.

GVO: We note that the team is made up of 13 people. How has communication unfolded between them to make this common objective happen? 

KA: We're actually 12 people, and the communication has been incredible. I consider myself lucky to being working with people who never give up. We are united by something, that is unfortunately almost extinct among young people: hope! We believe in ourselves, we believe in the power of young people and we believe in São Tomé and Principe.

GVO: We note that beyond speakers from São Tomé and Principe, there are speakers from different parts of the world, from Mark Shuttleworth from South Africa to Bob Drewes of the US. What is the common thread between the speakers you've invited? 

KA: The common thread is São Tomé and Príncipe. Mark Shuttleworth as well as Bob Drewes have a great love of the country. Mark is one of the greatest investors in the country, with a special interest in Principe Island. Bob has been coming to do brilliant work in the two islands on biodiversity. He's been coming here for almost 13 years.

GVO: What impact to you think an event of this profile can have in São Tomean society, in the short and the long term?

KA: Given that our stage will feature young entrepreneurs, in the short term networking between those invited and speakers, and between those in attendance. Partnerships for interesting development projects, people who just needed to hear an interesting story to discover their own potential, etc. In the long term, the impact will be even greater, as the window is open for great ideas and concepts will continue to spread through various platforms, so they can be discussed and become important to people. And of course, another impact in the long term will be an increase in the number of visits (both by investors and tourists) to São Tomé and Principe and even an increased demand for information on the country.

The videos of the talks will soon be available online in the website and Facebook page of TEDx São Tomé.

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