Compared to an average business networking event, TEDx conferences – such as the latest edition held in Kanata in early March – are high-energy affairs.
Inside the Brookstreet Hotel, pulsing dance music greeted guests as they took their seats ahead a series of inspiring talks by eight speakers who tackled thought-provoking questions about how we live alongside one another.
“What you are about to experience, I truly believe, will change each and every one of you,” TEDxKanata organizer Jenna Sudds told attendees at the start of the event. “The person you walked into this room as five minutes ago? In five hours from now you will walk out with new inspiration.”
Though disparate in topic and varying widely in approach, each speaker channeled this year’s theme – “re:Design” – in a different way.
Presenters included CPAC’s Catherine Cano, who spoke about getting millennials engaged in politics, as well as Treasury Board President Scott Brison, who presented his vision for running government like a startup.
“We can’t be a Blockbuster government serving a Netflix citizenry … Digital gives us the power to reboot our relationship we have with our citizens,” he said, later adding, “Government exists to improve the lives of people. There’s got to be an app for that!”
With TEDxKanata taking place in the heart of Ottawa’s tech community, it was no surprise that many of the presentations contained tech overtones.
As speaker after speaker delivered their talk, a simple message began to cut through: technological solutions for the world’s problems are possible, but only if we ensure that our social solutions stand just as tall – a reminder to keep people first.
Iterations of this idea varied in interesting ways.
Mark Sutcliffe, a local media commentator and business owner, discussed the concept of privilege and encouraged the audience to move outside technology when looking for solutions to human problems.
“We all live in bubbles,” Sutcliffe said in his talk. “If you aren’t born in Canada or another western country, you start farther back. There’s no computer chip to even things out. You carry that disadvantage your entire life.”
Other speakers included Marianne Gee of Gees Bees Honey, who underscored the importance of bees to the environment and used the creatures as a metaphor for battling climate change.
The audience also heard from speakers such as Jay Gosselin, the founder of MentorU and the Discover Year Program, who spoke about getting young people excited about post-secondary education through programs that involve travel and volunteering.
DA-Integrated co-founder Scott Bulbrook spoke about his time working to create a digitally accessible communication device for someone with muscular challenges, while Emily De Sousa, a 22-year-old environmental activist, spoke about plastic pollution in the earth’s oceans.
Ideas worth sharing
For Sudds, the implicit theme of applying technological solutions to human problems and, ultimately, the call for people to do more for one another made the conference a perfect fit in the heart of the Kanata tech sector.
“When I think about Kanata, I think about the technology community. We are designing and we are redesigning. That’s what our technology community does,” she said. “We’re always iterating, working on the next thing. Starting from scratch. It’s a process. This is what has to happen to be successful.”
This year marked the fourth iteration of TEDxKanata, an event that’s grown considerably in size and stature.
In 2015, Sudds said, there was about 100 people in attendance. That’s since quadrupled.
“We’ve grown every year, to now when we have over 400 of you in the room here with us,” she said, to raucous applause.
“What we’re doing here tonight, please do share,” Sudds later added. “It’s our chance to share your big ideas, right here in Kanata, with the world.”
By Kieran Delamont. All photos by Lindsey Gibeau / Westboro Studio.