TED Global Conference offers a window on the world



Ian Blair of Bethel traveled to Rio de Janeiro, Brazil last month to attend the TED Global 2014 Conference.

TED (Technology, Entertainment, and Design) is a nonprofit organization that was founded to spread ideas and inspiration through brief talks (usually 18 minutes or less) by people who are passionate about their chosen subjects.

Begun in 1984 as a single invitational conference, the organization has grown to encompass several annual conferences, a popular video series (TED Talks), and numerous other programs and initiatives, including TED-Ed, which shares the voices of teachers and students from around the world; the TED Institute, promoting professional development; and the weekly TED Radio Hour, broadcast on National Public Radio.

About four years ago, Blair was inspired when he watched a TED Talk given by Simon Sinek.

Sinek is an author and motivational speaker whose concept of the “Golden Circle” of human motivation explains why we find certain leaders, messages, or organizations more inspirational than others. His presentation, “How Great Leaders Inspire Action,” is the third most viewed video on the TED website.

“After that, I became a TED Talk enthusiast,” said Blair, who has a background in business and entrepreneurship.

He quickly branched out beyond business-oriented themes to TED Talks on a variety of other subjects.

The TED website, www.TED.com, has more than 1900 TED Talks available to watch and browse by topic. Subjects cover a broad range, from behavioral economics, microfinance, and urban planning to creativity, religion, and extra-terrestrial life.

Last year, Blair started looking into the various conferences that are held regularly by the TED organization, and learned that the TED Global Conference would take place in Brazil.

Although he had never been to Brazil, Blair had traveled to his mother’s native country, Venezuela, in the past, and was interested in going back to South America.

The theme of the conference was “South,” meaning, in general, issues relating to the southern half of the globe, he said.

“A lot of the presenters were from the southern hemisphere or were influenced by, or were influencing, life in the southern hemisphere.”

TED conferences are limited to 1,000 to 1,200 attendees, and those wishing to attend must complete an extensive application, including an essay about their reasons for applying.

Blair said his goal in attending the conference was “to get viewpoints and thoughts from people from all over the world, and to explore a ‘non-North American view.’”

According to the TED website, “the attendees—scientists, CEOs, designers, intellectuals—are as extraordinary as the speakers. TED’s success is in bringing together up to 1,200 of the world’s most remarkable people across many fields. The result? Unexpected connections. Extraordinary insights. Powerful inspiration.”

The conference was structured to give participants the ability to interact with one another throughout the five-day event.

The venue, the grand Belmond Copacabana Palace Hotel at Copacabana Beach in Rio de Janeiro, featured multiple networking-friendly spaces where attendees and speakers could gather between sessions.

Conference participants could choose to attend any or all of the more than 70 presentations live, in a spectacular temporary auditorium erected on the beach for the event, or in small groups on screens placed in gathering spots throughout the hotel.

Blair said the size of the conference was large enough to accommodate as many attendees as possible, while still maintaining a sense of intimacy, allowing for the forging of long-term friendships.

“I met a group of people from all over the world that I definitely plan on keeping in touch with,” he said, adding that it was easy to form bonds because “everyone there was sort of on the same wavelength.”

Blair was raised in Nova Scotia and moved to Wilmington, North Carolina in the early 1990s to start a business. He met his wife Laura, a North Carolina native, there, and their two children were born during their 17-year stay in Wilmington.

The family relocated to Bethel after a first-time visit to Sunday River with friends several years ago convinced them it was the perfect place for them.

Blair, who grew up cross-country ski racing in Canada, had missed the winters and the changing seasons, and the rest of the family had also become avid skiers during visits to Nova Scotia.

“We love the great alpine skiing and the terrain for cross-country skiing,” he said. “And it’s within striking distance of Nova Scotia, so we can go there to visit family.”

Blair travels back and forth to North Carolina, where he still has business interests, and also does some business consulting.

He took some extra time before and after the TED Global Conference to get to know Rio, Brazil’s second-largest city, even having the opportunity to tour its main operations center on the day of the country’s presidential election.

A member of Bethel’s Rotary club, he attended a Rotary meeting while in Brazil, and brought a Bethel Rotary flag to exchange with the Rio club.

Of the city’s rumored high crime rate, Blair said, “As long as I followed common sense, as you would anywhere, I never felt in danger.”

He said it impressed him as one of the cleanest cities he had ever visited, and the people were friendly, with “a very vibrant attitude toward life.”

The beach was used nightly for sports like beach soccer and volleyball, and “a lot of infrastructure projects are underway to improve the standard of living,” Blair said.

Brazil is the world’s fifth largest country, with the world’s seventh largest economy, and he said that in recent years it has made great strides toward improving economic disparity among its citizens.

Many of the conference presentations focused on improving the quality of life for inhabitants of the southern hemisphere, addressing issues of culture, infrastructure, and economics.

“I was inspired by how inspired many of the people there were, particularly the presenters,” Blair said. “There were activists and entrepreneurs doing absolutely amazing things, impacting entire societies with their work.”


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