Tales of Survival and Calls to Action at TEDx Conference

At its second annual conference, TEDx hosted diverse speakers united by the theme “Portals of Discovery”

Innovation, perseverance, and positivity were just some of the themes front and centre at the 2018 TEDxTCD conference, held on Wednesday in the Science Gallery. Founded just last year, TEDx is a new society to Trinity, but it has already found its feet as being one of the foremost sources of motivational speaking on campus.

As part of the vast TED network, the speeches made on Wednesday will be uploaded to social media accounts reaching millions of international followers, giving both the speakers and the Trinity society a chance at wider recognition of the ideas they consider worth spreading.

The first speaker of the afternoon was Niall Dennehy, co-founder of AID:Tech, a company striving to bring social and financial inclusion to the 2.4 billion people around the world who do not have a formal documented identity. In his speech Dennehy aligned the goals of the company with the Sustainable Development Goals, the set of seventeen global goals which the UN and its member countries aim to achieve by the year 2030. Many of the goals are ambitious and far from completion; however, the “lofty” heights that they aim to reach could be aided by forward-thinking innovations, according to Dennehy.

He outlined the successes AID:Tech has had thus far in using blockchain technology to distribute aid relief from the Red Cross to refugees fleeing the crisis in Syria. Similarly, the company has used blockchain-based apps to ensure check-ups are provided to expectant mothers in Tanzania, working towards the goal of ending preventable deaths of newborns.

A common thread which tied all of Dennehy’s points together was the transparency and trust that blockchain can provide, in reaching the aforementioned development goals, and in reducing worldwide corruption.

Also speaking at the event were twins Mark and Andrew Ansell, students from California studying in Trinity this term. They were the winners of the TedxFactor competition held earlier this year by the society. The Ansells reprised their motivational speech which won them the competition, which focused on their journey from being made homeless at a young age to achieving success in their academic and personal lives.

They offered the audience a set of five principles which helped to push them forward; they placed emphasis on serving others, creating your own luck, and seeking inspiration from successful trailblazers.

In one of the more moving and emotional speeches of the afternoon, Tomi Reichental, a survivor of the Holocaust, recounted fragments of his life in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp, and his family’s struggle for survival. His speech was followed by an interview with Francisco Onofre, lead curator of the event, in which Reichental gave some insight into his journey from silence to speaking out about his experience; after being unable to talk about the Holocaust for decades, he now values his role in educating audiences about the war and its ideological roots.

Indeed, he sees a correlation between the political prologue to the second world war and the current crises of displacement and authoritarianism around the world, and warns of their violent potential.

The refugee crisis was also a major talking point for Dr. Paola Rivetti, a professor of Middle East politics in DCU, who spoke about her work with displaced people in affected areas including Greece and Turkey. In keeping with the theme of the event, ‘Portals of Discovery’, Dr. Rivetti’s speech was centred around the full quote from James Joyce’s Ulysses from which this theme derives: that “mistakes are the portals to discovery”.

Through various fascinating anecdotes she explained to the audience that volunteerism and aid work are often influenced by the social hierarchies and stereotypes that surround the lives of refugees. Dr. Rivetti’s core message was that mistakes made in her volunteer work were valuable in that they brought to light the misconceptions that she had previously been unaware of. She encouraged those listening to embrace the act of making mistakes, and of using them as learning experiences.

The line-up of speakers at the event was nothing if not diverse; other topics discussed included biochemistry, sex positivity, political psychology, and mental health. Despite the wide variety in subject matter, one recurring theme emerged in all the speeches: the importance of looking at issues from a new perspective.

The speakers advocated, each in their own way, for an opening up of the dialogue surrounding their area of expertise, and for the broadening of horizons. Looking to the future, this message was an optimistic one for those of us students wanting to effect change in society.