Nazar Poladian knows what it is like to live on the edge of society: he recently arrived in Canada from Syria and is a social entrepreneur that connects refugees to one another through technology.
A team of organizers, speakers, and 750 delegates ventured to the St. Lawrence Centre last Saturday, March 19 for Edge, this year’s student-run TEDxUofT conference. They listened to talks by Poladian and many others, all of whom are innovating to produce solutions to social problems. Speakers included Angela Schoellig, an expert on artificial intelligence; Lisa Bovin, “an interdisciplinary artist and bioethics specialist” who works to connect bioethics with indigenous culture; and Sarah Hughes, a UTM professor specializing in urban climate change issues.
According to organizers, the event was an opportunity for students across all disciplines to engage with, and learn about, innovative ideas in other fields.
“Usually students are in their departments, and they only get to hear professors from their departments as well as friends and this is a way for them to hear other great minds from the university,” says Issey Roquet, fourth-year student and TEDxUofT chair. “We hear feedback from people that every year, once people go to the conference, they hear a talk on something that’s completely different from what they… frequent. Sometimes they merge those ideas into what they do.”
Roquet’s remarks echo the purpose of TED, a nonprofit organization tasked with ‘spreading ideas.’ TEDx events are run by local teams of independent organizers but still follow the TED mission.
For Swarochish Goswami, an 18-year-old social entrepreneur and speaker at this year’s conference, events like the TED conferences are essential to raising awareness. “I think a ton of people either stay ignorant to a problem, or they tend to not even know about it. And I think these types of forums allow us to talk about issues that are very close to us,” he says.
Goswami’s talk focused on the importance of youth harnessing the promises of social entrepreneurship. He is the co-founder of Canada Thinks, a social enterprise aimed at providing youth with platforms and funding to carry out their innovative ideas and bring about social change.
“When people care about the issue they’re trying to solve, they’ve been impacted by it day in and day out, they’re all the more likely to work hard in trying to solve that issue,” Goswami says of social entrepreneurs, adding that “The sky’s the limit there.”
This was the first time that the TEDxUofT team took the annual event off campus since it began in 2013. Roquet says that the decision was motivated by the high demand for tickets and the inability of on-campus venues to accommodate larger crowds.
For an event run entirely by student volunteers, the increase in size was a challenge. The team needed to accommodate not only the seated audience, but also enough space for intermission activities, including a virtual reality lounge and an activity space hosted by the U of T Hatchery.
“We just started in the very beginning taking a lot of risks and trying things,” Roquet says. “The stakes were higher for everyone on the team just because it meant more work and more responsibility.”
In the future, Roquet expects that TEDxUofT will continue to expand, and she hopes that it will be able to feature more diverse speakers, including more women of colour.
TEDxUofT is a tri-campus initiative, but it is not the only TEDx event at the university. TEDxUTSC took place on January 30 and was themed ‘Dare to Know.’