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Our Days of Future Past

TEDxNairobi

When we started the first TEDxNairobi in July 2009, we really did not know that five years down the line we would have built such a powerful platform for engaging Nairobi and the world in coversations that transform how people feel about diverse issues like Urban Planning (Achim Steiner), Storytelling (Aghan Odero), Financial Institutions (Sam Makome) and Commercial Farming (Alex Onyango).

Although we still think of it as a labour of love, the TEDxNairobi team has naturally grown and become much more professional in planning and delivering the event. We can’t leave our day jobs for it since it provides no actual income, but we’re happy that it now meets it’s own costs, thanks to generous sponsors such as the Rockefeller Foundation, The UN-REDD Programme and others. Our baby is now walking and running, like any healthy five year old.

A good friend of mine, Yvonne Owour, Caine Prize winner for African Literature and author of the highly acclaimed new novel Dust, has been a part of our TED Community journey too – and we reminded ourselves about that ebullient feeling of “Africa Rising” that infused us in 2009. It was a few years before the Economist newspaper also recognized that the caliber of talent and energy on the continent was now sufficient to proclaim a turning point in the negative scenarios about the future of Africa.

Optimism about Africa still reigns, even the IMF has recently proclaimed that “The World’s a Mess, but not Africa” is  it true? Maybe. In any case although our picture of Africa’s future has now faded in perfection, when compared to the abject realities of everyday life for many poor communities, those mental imprints of prosperity like our old black and white family photos, infused with love and nostalgia, still captivate our hearts and minds. Those imprints are like the best “TED moments” at  TEDxNairobi events, a powerful rush of insight – when a portal in your mind opens and an old challenge, meets a new champion with innovation for the future. It reminds me of that quote by Ellbert Hubbard

The world is moving so fast these days that the man who says it can’t be done is generally interrupted by someone doing it.

What remains I asked Yvonne “the Sister of my Soul”? She openly declares her credentials on her business card as “Writer, Social Entrepreneur, Time Traveller.“ So we were wondering if perhaps what we felt at that time was a not just prescience – knowledge of things or events before they exist or happen), but rather a memory for the future – the ability to use memory to picture and plan future events. It is a subcategory of “mental time travel” which has been described as the process that allows people to imagine both past and potential future events.

Perhaps our theme for TEDxNairobi this year  “A WasTED World?! – Reduce, Revise, Reclaim” reflects some of that questioning spirit. We are provoking our community to engage in conversations about how to reduce excess, make wise choices about consumption and recycle or reclaim what remains valuable and could so easily be lost.  This is important because if we do not change our wasteful ways, those parallel futures, which we see in our dreams have positive and negative outcomes.  Those visions, as precious as future memories can be, may eventually be lost to us and our children forever.

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