Myanmar Memories at TEDxInyaLake

On my birthday, I received a note from a former supervisor and a mentor, in a Tyra-Bank style email as follows.  She had then just gotten the organizer license for TEDxInyaLake.

Your mission May, should you choose to accept it, is to be the Communications, editorial and marketing director of the inaugural TEDxInyaLake event.  In this mission, you lead the creation of a strong online presence of the event, including website content, a blog and social media, and promote the event to the public.

Your additional mission, should you choose to accept it, is to be a Curator as part of the curation team to set topics, select, invite and prepare speakers.

This email will self-destruct in five seconds.

Good luck, May.

A year later, here were are, with TEDxInyaLake videos, just edited and released over the weekend.

Ours was not even the first TEDx event in Myanmar.  There was one a few years ago, but I hear there had been some equipment failure and the videos from the first TEDx event did not come out, which is SO charmingly Myanmar.  But for TEDxInyaLake, we had secured funding partnerships and could not afford to drop the ball, which we miraculously did not.

Our team met regularly for the nine months prior to the event, even though they were some of the busiest times for a few of us.  Our event logistics director had been planning for her beach wedding during the same time she was planning for TEDxInyaLake.  I was stressed out with GMAT and school applications in addition to other commitments.  All of this coordination was done in addition to our day jobs and holiday travels over December.  Our lead curator is a journalist, and as you know November saw the historic landmark election in Myanmar, which Myanmar-based journalists were clamoring for months and making trips to the nation’s capital, Naypyitaw.

As the most junior member of the organizing team, I felt touched to see that the strong, successful, and smart professional ladies were also a wonder team to work with.  When I had to focus on my exam, other members took things up for me, and vice versa.  We were able to give and receive feedback openly without feeling like we were walking on eggshells.  We respected each other’s perspective and expertise.  We even celebrated each other’s big moments during the project.  I felt like I could achieve anything if this team dynamic were present in the rest of my life projects.

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Dream Team to work with

Now, a lot of you may have reservations about TED and TEDx (this one person initially was skeptical, too).  When we were recruiting a keynote speaker, the celebrated writer Amitav Ghosh gently turned us down on one of his trips to Yangon, saying that TED is simply not his thing.  You can say whatever you want on TED, and a few business leaders use this platform to promote themselves or their organizations.  And then, there’s the hefty price tag to the ticket.

All of these reservations are valid.  To me, at the heart of TED and TEDx lies expert storytelling.  At a time Myanmar is changing drastically, we need to capture human stories, and not just what the world usually reads about in terms of its new role as a frontier market, its poor human rights performance, or the Burmese cats and pythons that ravage Florida.  Myanmar is all that and more.  If you look at the TEDxInyaLake 2016 lineup, the majority of the speakers are unheard of, perhaps with the exception of Ma Yin Myo Su and Debbie Aung Din Taylor, who often travel for speaking engagements in big girl conferences.  For this, TED and TEDx serve as an excellent platform to capture a changing moment in Myanmar and people living in this period.

As to the hefty price tag of US$ 85 ticket, we dedicated 50 free tickets to students, startups and staff working at Community-Based Organizations (CBOs) and nonprofit organizations.  Compare this whole day event ticket price that includes a buffet lunch, refreshments and simultaneous interpretation services to US$ 150 charged for Thingyan Water Festival party passes, for which people paid without much complaint.  You put money in what you believe in, and you get what you pay for.

Here are some of the highlights from this event.  Debbie’s talk had a touching moment when the audience applauded for the world’s first affordable solar pump made in Myanmar.  U Aung Soe Min of Pansodan Gallery chatted with our curator on the TEDxInyaLake stage about the need to preserve collective memories of Myanmar and his archive of historical documents, which even the leading papers rely on for fact checking.

(1)  “A Nation of Hackers” by Yan Naung Oak

Ko Yan Naung talks about the changing tech scene in Myanmar, and what people here do things differently or hack themselves out of inadequate infrastructures in a cleverly arranged presentation.  If you like his talk, you might want to check out Zach Hyman’s blog about low tech ingenuity and book called Yangonomics.

(2)  “I Like to Think Negatively” by Steven Sui Uk Thang

This Myanmore article on TEDxInyaLake and I are in agreement on this one.  Steven was in my gender studies class when I volunteered at his school in Chin State.  Without much preparation or the luxury of time, Steven delivered his talk without breaking a sweat.  His talk is in Burmese language (his mother tongue is Falam), and his experience is typical and relate-able for most of us who grew up in Myanmar or were enrolled in public schools.

(3)  “Love Poems” by U Nay Oke

What a heartfelt reminder of how literature feeds the human soul in this distracting world!

These are the volunteers working behind the limelight:

1. Adam N., music director
2. Andreas S., speaking coach
3. Aye Aye Cho, event management
4. Aye Aye Nyein, event management
5. Aye Myat Mon Oo, event management
6. Aung Thu Hein, event and ticket management
7. Caroline San Kyi, Smart Phone Ninja and Treasurer
8. Diane V., event management
9. Demelza B, stage management
10. Gipsy, volunteer coordinator
11. Griffin Hotchkiss, event photography
12. Htet Htet Aung, event management
13. Htun Khaing Lynn, event management
14. Keith, event management
15. Marisa, event management
16. May Phoo Kywe, event management
17. Myo Pa Pa, event management
18. Nay Aung Khine, stage photography
19. Nay Shine @ Sai, event management
20. Swan Htet Naung, event management,
21. Thu Htet, simultaneous interpreter
22. Tricia C, event management
23. Wai Yan Win, event management
24. Yamone Phoo, simultaneous interpreter
25. Yasmin Padamsee, partnership

Some of the echos of the event:

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And personally, another item checked off from my life list!

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Just another reason to fall more in love with Yangon!

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