(Emma Whitehall / McGill Tribune)

TEDxMcGill conference inspires innovation across campus

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On March 19, the work of executive organizers for the TEDxMcGill conference culminated in a seamless, inspired day, which included eight speeches from innovators across an array of disciplines. Ground-breaking presentations ranged from those by Moon Ribas, a self-identified ‘cyborg’ who can feel the vibrations of earthquakes around the world, to Thione Niang, the founder of Give1Project, a non-profit dedicated to the empowerment of young leaders in communities around the world. 

The event was marked by the theme ‘Paradigm Shift.’ The goal was for the curated selection of speakers to trigger the audience to change the way they think about an array of topics.

"We wanted a theme that made people [not only] reflect and question today, but where we are headed tomorrow,” Cassandra Delage, president of the executive committee, said. “We wanted as much variety as possible [so that] attendees come out of the event with at least one speaker that changed their way of thinking.”

From the moment attendees arrived, there was a parallel sense of innovation across disciplines and even within the venue itself. Le Salon 1861—a former church—has undergone a massive transformation into an impressive, inspiring community space that works to bring people together in the same sense that the church was able to from its origins.

Passion was a common underlying thread that linked all the speakers and their talks. Christopher Emerson, co-founder of SpherePlay—a media player software startup—spoke on the topic of storytelling and its important place in the world. Despite TEDx conferences being an independently run branch of the TED organization—an operation that hosts conferences on a much larger scale intended to inspire and educate—the event’s calibre and the selected speakers’ ability to inspire warranted its association with the TED name. 

“TED represents a bringing together of minds [that are] bursting with ideas,” Emerson said. “I think every single person that gives a TED talk is filled with a message or something that inspires them so much, that they can’t contain it, and it has to erupt out of them [….] Paradigm shifts can come about more powerfully and more effectively when the story is told well.”

Pointing to the fact that some of the most recognized changemakers, from Benjamin Franklin to Nelson Mandela, began at relatively young ages, Niang was acutely aware of the audience demographic and the unique opportunity his story could inspire. After coming up in a poor, 28-person family in Senegal, West Africa, his journey can be equated to those of very recognizable innovators that he used as examples. 

“If you look at history, everything that’s changed has changed through young people,” Niang said. “We are stuck together. If tomorrow is your last, what have we done for [those less fortunate]?”

This sentiment is exactly what Delage had in mind when designing the conference alongside her executive team.

“‘Paradigm Shift’ is relevant to McGill students because they have the power to make the shift or the changes that they wish to see happen,” Delage said, “The goal was to empower and push people to take action. We wanted to open the eyes of students and show them that they have potential to make a difference.”

This sort of excitement and passion sought to inspire students to envision innovative ideas that also might one day land them on a TED stage. Michelle Miakouchkine, U3 Cognitive Science and attendee of the conference, found herself thinking about innovation within education.

“The beauty of this kind of inspiration is that it can be applied to so many fields,” Miakouchkine said. “Personally, I’d love to see ideas on how to improve education as well as [how to] make it more accessible. Education is absolutely critical for any paradigm shift to occur. I think progressing our outlook on education will very quickly accelerate innovation and change in the world.”

According to Miakouchkine, the conference’s message reverberated among the audience of young students and innovators.

“I love how every talk incorporated this idea of challenging the status quo,” Miakouchkine said. “There is always a solution to the world’s most perplexing problems [….] It was deeply inspiring how many of the speakers overcame great challenges, and were met with even greater rewards and lessons afterwards.”

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