TEDxColombo 2016 – Blueprint for Change

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Sundays are usually the day that one would sit back, sip a cup of coffee and relax. But this Sunday was different. This was a change. One could even say that it was a blueprint for a change. For it was the day that we finally saw TEDxColombo 2016 come to life.

TED, short for Technology, Entertainment, Design, is a set of conferences held globally. Their motto “Ideas Worth Spreading” revolves around many scientific, cultural, and academic topics. TEDx, is an independently organized TED event. Organized by a set of young dynamic individuals, TEDx hosts a number of local speakers who come on stage to express their ideas.

The stage at TEDxColombo 2016: Blueprint for Change (Image Credits: Pasan Dominic)
The stage at TEDxColombo 2016: Blueprint for Change (Image Credits: Pasan Dominic)

Held under the theme of “Blueprint for Change”, TEDxColombo 2016 was held on the 21st of August at the Nelum Pokuna Mahinda Rajapaksa Theatre. The event saw a massive influx of participants compared to the previous years’ event. In addition to the 900+ participants at the venue itself, the event was also live streamed at Coco Veranda – Crescat and Next Campus.

We had to admit, by far this was the best looking venue for TEDx thus far. The lighting, sounds and ambient surroundings indeed did help set the mood for the event to start. The lights switched off and the audience was plunged into darkness. Suddenly with a blast of music and a flash of lights (minus the coat flying out of sight), we were in the cockpit of a spaceship headed to a planet not unlike our very own earth. The scope closes in on a country much like our own as our spaceship finds a suitable place to land.

With that, TEDxColombo 2016 officially kicked off.

Starting things off was Koshal Krishnakumar, co-organizer – TEDxColombo 2016 to give us the welcome address.

Koshal Krishnakumar from TEDxColombo delivering the welcome address (Image credits: Pasan Dominic)
Koshal Krishnakumar from TEDxColombo delivering the welcome address (Image credits: Pasan Dominic)

He spoke in brief about TEDx and the sharing of ideas that takes place within the organization. He also spoke about the success of TEDxColombo so far from hosting events with 100-150 people, to hosting the current event which housed more than 950 people at the same location.

Next up was Will Davis, Application Manager for TED to give us, a brief history on TED. Conceptualized in 1994, TED originally covered Technology, Entertainment and Design. Over the years, the topics have grown to include any credible topic such as medicine, philosophy, science etc. Will also proudly added that TEDxColombo is in its 5th run so far and has thus helped shaped a new mindset to all young Sri Lankans.

Chaminda Serasinha takes the stage

TEDx Colombo 2016
Image Credits: Pasan Dominic

Straight off the bat, Chaminda explains how we have to think of new ways to solve our problems.

You can’t solve the same problems you have today with the way you thought yesterday.

Chaminda then went on to show an experiment at TEDxColombo 2016 involving water crystals, where upon exposure to human emotion such as love, the structure of water crystal would change. Herein he introduces his blueprint for change: The frequency of love. He draws inspiration from Dr. Masaru Emoto who claimed that human consciousness has an effect on the molecular structure of water.

Chaminda then proceeded to show via video, what the earth looks like as seen through the ISS (International Space Station).

Through this, he spoke about being responsible in consumerism such as saving electricity for example by charging all devices after 10PM, the usage of hybrid vehicles and even dialing down the megapixel count on your selfies to save CO2 emission. The last one had us scratching our heads a bit but Chaminda went on to prove how even the amount of data we upload onto the internet adds to our Carbon footprint. Sounds wonky? It actually makes sense.

Chaminda continued to explain sustainability and environmental impact by talking about a Responsible product. Taking rubber as an example he showed us how Latex, taken from the rubber tree is the highest CO2 absorption product in the biosphere.

He also explained how rather than blaming the product and its manufacturers, we can figure out new methods to create products.

Let’s re-engineer the product for the environment instead of blaming each other.

There is a close relationship between human thought and the balance of the world around us

Chaminda ended his session with these words:

We shifted domains from .com to .earth not for rocket science, but for our love for the earth.

The next speaker for the day was Chandila Fernando.

His topic: Global debt. More specifically, clearing Sri Lanka’s debts. Using humorous examples, Chandila explains the basic concepts of swapping oil with debts, equity and foreign loans. The biggest challenge with this, he explained, is that this happens on a regular basis. From past promises to failure in public infrastructure, many countries including our very own motherland are in debt.

TEDx Colombo 2016
Image Credits: Pasan Dominic

Let’s think of debt like a cold winter flame. Stand close and don’t get burnt.

Chandila’s talk is brief and on point. His basic summary was about what steps can be taken to reduce foreign debts taken by our country.

Think of equity like a Venus fly trap. If it works out, great. If it doesn’t, we won’t see you again.

Chandila also made an interesting point about the dash that one sees on their gravestone. The dash pretty much sums up what you achieve throughout the dates that precede and succeed it.

Things should be used and people should be loved, but that balance has changed.

What’s an idea for, if you don’t use it?

With that, Chandila’s session came to an end.

Next was the duo: Ohan Hominis & Michael Ketigian.

It was at that point we realized that Michael was actually the guy who was seated right in front of us. They both walk on to stage barefoot, and proceeded to blow the audience’s mind on what it means to be an artist.

TEDx Colombo 2016
Image Credits: Pasan Dominic

Being an artist is a daily struggle – Micheal Ketigan

The act of living is art – Ohan Hominis

The duo expressed their creativity and how art changes how we see the world. From slam poetry to busting a rhyme, these two express two sides of a coin called art. They urge us to create, rather than recline and idle ourselves.

They also spoke about their brainchild, Openbrain at TEDxColombo 2016, which is a platform for artists, poets, basically anyone who has to say something, to come forth and express themselves. There’s no registration, no fees, nothing. It can even be held in someone’s living room. The key point, they both express, is not just the individual taking steps to express themselves, but more importantly, the community built around them and how they help share his or her idea.

The fourth speaker was Nissanga Warnapura.

Nissanga began his talk but talking us back to his childhood. His parents had asked him, what he wanted to be when he grew up. For most of us, the answer would be something along the lines of a doctor or a pilot. For Nissanga, the answer was to become a giraffe.

As a child you can be whatever you want to be. I wanted to be a Giraffe.

TEDx Colombo 2016
Image Credits: Pasan Dominic

Imagination and progressive attitude are the names in the game here. As a child, your imagination is limitless. But as we grow up, reality sets in adds boundaries. Nissanga spoke about these barriers that one has when trying to break away from the status quo. If you want to create a startup or become part of one, you are immediately hit with a wall of negativity by society. Why leave a safe job for something that may fail within a few months? Why go for a job that doesn’t give you an EPF? These are just the tip of the iceberg. Sadly our society has a conservative mindset when it comes to Startups or indeed anything that is different.

This can be troubling as it blocks innovation.

Enter the idea to create a design and fabrication lab. Nissanga founded a small design and fabrication laboratory, a first in Sri Lanka and was soon joined by Dyan Prakas and thus 3D Concept Studio was born. Over the last couple of years, the mindset of the Sri Lankan has always been to duplicate things rather than come up with their own design. But that soon changed in 2015 when Nissanga noticed an incremental transition. Enter 2016, where individuals now create solutions for problems identified.

Nissanga went on to share experience at TEDxColombo 2016 from life stories of clients such as creating a mold for the perfect patties (to be followed by a mold for the perfect cutlet), to a person who wanted to mold the perfect glove to a client who 3D printed the world’s first wedding dress. These success stories are indeed a great motivation but the most motivational in our opinion, was a 3D printed prosthetic hand for a child whose hand was deemed too small to operate on by most doctors in the country.

Nissanga’s topic then went on to talk about Innovations and Patents. For example, did you know that South Korea filed for almost 6000 patents while Sri Lanka has only had 2 in the year 2015?

In conclusion, Nissanga says, if a small design and fabrication lab can do all this, just imagine what we as a country can do together. Truly an inspirational session indeed.

After a break, Chinthaka Abeyesekera took the stage

TEDx Colombo 2016
Image Credits: Pasan Dominic

Chinthaka’s session focused on environmental pollution under the topic “Green Gold” To be precise, his session was about how we need to create a blueprint for change in waste management.

His talk revolves around two key points:

  • We are the waste generators, therefore it is us, not the government’s responsibility for managing it.
  • Waste is not waste but a resource that has value.

Rather than blaming the government for having an inefficient waste management policy, it is up to us to manage our waste. How can we do this, you ask? Well its actually quite easy. The first step would be to recycle as much as possible. The saying “One man’s junk is another man’s treasure” is indeed factually sound. In order to recycle our waste, we first need to break it down or segregate it. Using an example of a few garbage bags that have been sorted according to waste type such as glass, plastic and paper, Chinthaka demonstrates how giving these waste to recyclers can create a valuable resource, both for you and the recycler. Hence the term Green Gold. It’s like black gold, only greener.

Glass, plastic and paper can be recycled without an issue. But what about organic waste? Well, that’s where true innovation lies. Did you know that 1 Ton of organic waste is equivalent to approximately 50 Liters of crude oil or 600KG of fertilizer? It should be noted that the value of organic waste only applies once it is treated and handled properly. Chinthaka then proceeded to us an example of how a farm disposes of its waste by turning it into Bio gas that then powers the electrical appliances of the farm and the cycle continues.

Indeed, where there’s value, there’s always an entrepreneur who will monetize it.

Chinthaka’s session at TEDxColombo 2016 was followed by a video on the two reasons companies fail, and how to avoid them.

Narrated by Knut Haanaes , the video looks at answering the question of whether it is possible to run a company and reinvent it at the same time? The ability to innovate after becoming successful is the mark of a great organization. He also shared insights on how to strike a balance between perfecting what we already know (exploitation) and exploring totally new ideas. If we take a short term initiative, we exploit. If we take a long term initiative, we explore. Perfecting it is striking a balance between the two.

Shanuki De Alwis was up next.

TEDx Colombo 2016
Image Credits: Pasan Dominic

Shanuki, a well-known stage personality has also played the roles of teacher, financial marketer, photography assistant, project manager, writer, TV presenter, strategic planner and has even run a company. Using the “voice in her head”, she goes through her session explaining how she suffers from stage fright and anxiety. Her remedy for this? Simply “fake it”. By using a method known as characterization, you can become someone else. Characterization will give you empathy and it will bring change.

Throughout her session at TEDxColombo 2016, Shanuki’s inner voice makes random appearances adding to the overall humor of the session but also teaching us a valuable lesson in adding a background, personality and costume to the character created. All these will help you realize that the power to change the status quo lies within you and by creating a character, you can bring out that person. Shanuki explains all this with a simple piece of cloth that transforms into a shawl, saree and scarf, while adapting to the ethnic background of the character represented by it without missing a beat.

The result: a standing ovation by the audience.

Asoka Obeyesekere on the burden of proof

TEDx Colombo 2016
Image Credits: Pasan Dominic

Asoka, the Executive Director of Transparency International Sri Lanka, spoke about the burden of proof. More specifically, he spoke about the promises made by the current government and the current situation of said promises. As an example, he uses the Maithri meter. By using technologies and methodologies, we, the citizens of Sri Lanka can actually hold accountable any and all political statements made by government and other officials.

He also spoke about certain irregularities seen in legislative laws. For example, the Declaration of Assets and Liabilities is a tool that can be used to see the assets of any MP (member of Parliament). The catch is, you cannot share that information with anyone else lest you find yourself behind bars or faced with a heavy fine. Most of the time, it’s both.

Asoka also briefly spoke on the Open Government partnership and the passing of the RTI (Right To Information) bill.

In conclusion, Asoka ended his session with these points:

  • Check your Member of Parliment on manthri.lk to ensure that they indeed do practice what they preach
  • Track Open government partnership commitments
  • File RTI requests – When you’re requesting information from the government, don’t do it for patriotism, but rather, do it do it for fun.
  • Demand the right to see and share Member of Parliament asset declarations.

With those words, Asoka’s session came to a close.

To deliver the vote of thanks was Safra Anver – Licensee of TEDxColombo took the stage. She thanked each and every contributor for all their hard work, dedication and effort. Indeed, TEDxColombo 2016 was brilliantly organized. Hats off to the organizing team indeed.

With that  TEDxColombo 2016  officially came to a close. Like they say, Nothing lasts forever. As we left the Nelum Pokuna Mahinda Rajapaksa Theatre, full of warm, feelings and coffee, we also took with us the messages put forth by the speakers and also our very own blueprints for change.

TEDxColombo 2016
Image Credits: Pasan Dominic

Till we meet again at TEDxColombo 2017, keep those creative thoughts brewing folks.

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