Ted and the Power to Be


Esse quam videri means “To be rather than to seem”. It was the motto of my university, first quoted in Cicero’s essay “on friendship” which states that “Few are those who wish to be endowed with virtue rather than to seem so”.This is the power that TED has given to me and I find it echoed in many of the TED fellows I have the privilege to know and work with.

This picture was taken two weeks ago when Andriankoto, the only TED fellow from Madagascar came to join us in Nairobi. It has been 5 years since the three of us were together like this, and in some ways it seems just like yesterday. Joshua Wanyama and I met about 8 years ago during an IBM Global Innovation series of events, and I met Andriankoto at the TED Africa event in Arusha in 2007. When we chosen as Inaugural TED Fellows in 2009 at Long Beach, it was a really special time indeed, because we could now see a critical mass of TED fellows emerging from Africa, doing amazing things, and exemplifying what my university motto celebrates….the power to be rather than to seem.

This motto is very deep and is echoed throughout classical literature in describing an authenticity of character that is dynamic and ever evolving, because like the continent of Africa itself, struggling with complexity and adverse forces, in this world of technology and open data, we can no longer be pretending to change, we actually must strive to be the change we want to see in the world.

The Greek writer Aeschylus used a similar phrase in the play The Seven Against Thebes, when the scout (angelos) says of the seer/priest (Amphiaraos) “…his resolve is not to seem the best but in fact to be the best”. I’m not suggesting that any of us are the best at anything, far from it……but what  the TED Fellows badge enables us to do is to openly aspire to greatness, with a lot of humility but no apologies, because through TED we can receive inspiration and encouragement from so many extraordinary fellows who are added to the group every year.

It’s a wonderfully energizing and provocative thing to be part of the TED network ,with such great minds to add detail and drama to every constellation of thoughtful ideas you may have. So Joshua and I started TEDxNairobi in 2009 to celebrate so many other incredible people we come across everyday in Nairobi. It has grown in popularity and we are now driving this with our beautiful sister Juliana Rotich of Ushahidi, another TED Long Beach Fellow.

Last year our theme was “The City RebooTED” and speakers included Achim Steiner the Secretary General of UNEP, Martha Isabel Ruiz Corzo the Earth Champion 2013 and rousing raconters like Sam Makome of KCB, who told a captivating personal story about his journey to becoming a top banker, trying to understand the dynamics of his community across East Africa and creating products that suit their needs.

This year’s event to be held on November 1st, will be called “ a WasTED world” sponsored by the Rockefeller Foundation. We also started an online photography website to “…tell a different story about Africa..” using words and pictures. This has also grown and become more established, so I’m using this blog to begin expanding the network of voices and stories that translate and relate these images of Africa for audiences worldwide.

Joshua and I have spent some time in Madagascar with Andriankoto too….the images of that beautiful impoverished country, an island that has become an after thought to many in Africa, has left a permanent imprint on both our hearts.When we became TED Fellows five years ago, we were rather different people, today we have all diversified and added to our professional and personal portfolios. This year has been very interesting for me in Nairobi too, because I recently got the chance to star in an MNET movie Africa Magic Nollywood/Riverwood film called “No.18 Pleasure Street” produced by Spielworks Studio, to be screened on TV later this year.

When Juliana got to hear of this…she laughed so hard….and so I said “ Well we’re true TEDsters now…you’re Technology, I’m Entertainment and Josh is Design!”

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