Tuesday, September 28, 2010

TEDx Nairobi

Having NOT secured a Ticket for the TEDx event earlier (since the event had been SOLD OUT way long before I came to get wind of it!). So, I made my way to the venue early and I camped there hoping for a Miracle happen! And boy it did happen. 
Being among the first, I got myself busy by getting checked up by Resolution Health one of the sponsors of the event who had set up tent outside the Louis Leakey Auditorium for guys like us. They checked my blood pressure, blood sugar, BMI, etc. I can comfortably disclose that they found me as fit as a fiddle.

At around 12.50pm guys started streaming in and I got to mingle with some friends and guys that I know from the Internet sphere.

So what is TEDx? And what (no) good are they up to?

TED means: Technology, Entertainment, Design. Their tagline is; ‘Ideas worth Sharing’. 

However, TEDx is an independently organized TED event.

Inside the Louis Leakey Auditorium. Everything was arranged into perfect symmetry with symmetry here signifying order and had that Africa feeling to it more like those reality series held outdoors (Does survivor Africa rings a bell here?)
Masaai Painting

Fit for king

Side view of the stage

Audience view
Juliana Rotich the MC for the day was there to welcome us (Well, I managed to get into the event because some guys who had secured tickets had other engagements to attend) us at 1400hrs and give us the house rules of TED events.

 The theme for this event was ‘Green City in the Sun’ which was Nairobi’s name back in the day before it lost its grandeur. The event was hosted at the Louis Leakey Auditorium which is within the grounds of The National Museums of Kenya.

The first speaker of the day was Su Kahumbu of Green Dreams which is a company that deals in organic farm produce. She was talking about the need to eat the right foods while also conserving the environment. She pointed out that the food in Nairobi has more than 1000 chemical residue compared to other places. One surprising fact that she gave is that corn is contained in most products that we use including toothpaste and shampoo. She pointed out that only Nakumatt has dedicated aisles for Organic Farming produce and wondered what Zuchinni, the Nairobi-based green produce store was doing about the same. The average age of a farmer is increasing as new generations move to cities and has increased to the age of about 45-50 years.

Wycliffe Sande during his presentation
Wycliffe Sande, one of the organisers of TEDxKibera was the next speaker. He talked a bit about Voice of Kibera which is used to get information on Kibera. It works in a simple way in that once can send an SMS and tag it with Kibera which will then be picked up and used to display the information on Kibera. Wycliffe also added that they had so far received 309 reports from reliable sources & 30 SMS plus 8 e-mails during referendum days using the Voice of Kibera network.

The third speaker was Kenya’s second Caine Prize winner; Yvonne Awuor. She did a piece going by the title ‘Engare Nairobi’ which is a prose reading about Nairobi’s Nairobi River from where it starts. It also gives a brief description of the current state of the river. Engare Nairobi means ‘the place of cool waters’ in the Maasai language. Before green was fashionable, Nairobi was green but with all the anti-environmental efforts undergoing, it is no longer green. The city’s local authority body, Nairobi City Council, also has its colours all about the green. Nairobi has a different story from other cities. Yvonne closed her talk by saying “We are a part of the ecosytem that is the city”.

Jon Bohmer
Next up was Jon Bohmer, a Norwegian inventor based in Kenya and my BEST TEDx speaker for this event. Jon Bohmer who is founder and CEO of Kyoto-Energy invented the Kyoto Box which is a solar-powered water cleaner. He stressed on the need to turn to solar as a means of meeting earth’s energy needs. Jon gave a demonstration of the Kyoto Box. He pointed out that in Kenya 90% of the population is not connected to the national electricity grid most of which comes from hydroelectric (about 80%) while the deficit is met by diesel-powered burners and to a very small extent by geothermal energy. He added that 7bn tons of CO2 are released into earth’s atmosphere every year and that currently earth is at the peak of consumption on fossil fuels. 10bn tons of plastic waste lies in the oceans. Jon said that some of these problems could be overcome by making solar energy devices by using recycled plastic material. This is what he does and ends up ‘kills two birds with one stone’. To illustrate this, he gave the following facts:
Kyoto cooking box for you
260mn tons of plastic per year are disposed and this is increasing exponentially.
The world’s poorest nations have the largest land masses and the most sun (Africa)
Kenya has one of the best investment climates for solar products and technology making it a possible leading contender for ‘the country with one of the best energy efficient users’. Jon added that use of the Kyoto Box can lead to carbon savings of up to 750kg/yr.
Kyoto box explained. NB: Notice the solar torch by his waist
The Kyoto Box can also show when the water is already clean by use of a special filter. Other products that are made by Kyoto Energy are:
Turbo is a stove that is made locally by artisans and is energy efficient.
Butterfly is a plastic solar concentrator. It is quite low cost (25% PV). He is also working on a project of utilizing Butterfly which will be set-up in Naivasha.
Cocoon is an algae photo bi-reactor that can be used to grow food.
Hippo Roller can be used for getting water from the river instead of carrying it in jerry cans.
Kyoto Pump used to pump water and can be used either manually or with electricity.
He is also finalizing plans to set up ‘the Kyoto Institute’ which will be setup in Narok University College.
(After this: I think with the current constitution we should give some of those Norwegian Folks Citizenship based on such SMOKING HOT IDEAS!)

Njeri Wangari aka Kenyan Poet, was next on stage. Wangari Njeri is also an author with a book to her name, Mines and Mind Fields which is a poetry book.
She recited a soulful poetry piece on urbanization and its impact on the environment. Mind you the Chinese are constructing some super roads and next to the venue they were doing their thing!

Eric Kigada making his presentation.
Sadly KPLC was there to show us the other side of light
Eric Kigada, an architect with Planning Systems and Services talked on ‘sustainable cities’. His company has worked on various buildings in Kenya, factories and also other projects in Africa. Nairobi was Kenya’s capita city in 1927 after headquarters of the colonial government moved from Machakos. Nairobi had also been envisioned to grow towards Thika and not Athi River as it is at the moment. Eric pointed out that Nairobi’s 1973 master plan has already expired, in 2000 and at the moment we live in a city without any master plan! So this explains why people are building on the bypasses that are meant to help decongest the city. The Nairobi’s metropolitan plan hopes that by 2030 Nairobi will encompass Namanga and Thika municipalities. Nairobi has 3 rivers. Construction in Nairobi must occupy 30% total land area.

Rabia who is a radio presenter with Nairobi’s X FM talked about her efforts to get Nakumatt to stop double bagging and also start using better methods to pack. To this effect she has started a Facebook Group page! This, she said that it came about after she had commented on the about double packaging on Nakumatt’s official Facebook page and asked them to find alternatives BUT the administrators wanted her to get 30,000 other persons so that they could act on this!

John Kasaona’s talk on conservation and nature that he gave at the Feb 2010 TED event in Long Beach, California was screened.  The main part of the talk is that we should conserve nature and also maintain traditions while at it.

Juliana Rotich pointed out that one of the Kenyan conservancies has been profiled as one of those that are the best in nature conservancies in the documentary ‘Milking the Rhino’. This documentary had been show cased at the Goethe Institut which I managed to catch.

Afterwards was a salsa dance by Ian and Nicola. Immediately after which, there was a tea-break where tea, coffee, samosas and vegetable rolls were served.
After the tea-break, kids from Bishop Lawi Imathiu Secondary School in Meru performed 2 pieces. They are part of the generation that has come about after Jose Antonio Abreu who won a TED prize when he decided to teach musical instruments to the poor kids in Venezuela’s slum areas and he trained other trainers. One of the trainers came over to Kenya to start a similar program. Boniface Muturi introduced the team and said that this was their first performance outside of Meru. A wonderful performance it was coming from such a place.

Dr Laila Macharia, the MD for Scion Real which is a real estate company in Nairobi, talked about building green. She pointed out that East Africa has one of the highest rates of urbanization which could portend a problem in later days. Urban spaces when well used and well planned could be used for urban policy making and has a multiplier effect in that many more people could be employed. This will bring about real cash to the real economy. Green solutions should also be set out to be commercially viable from the onset of the project. High standards, aggressive and optimistic standards will push us to the green era and we should also appreciate backwardness.

Mikul Shah from Eat Out Kenya was also on stage to talk about the use of plastic bags when wrapping goods that have been bought. A some what hilarious video was played on how customers can change habits and also force shopkeepers to do the same.

Sasini‘s MD Caesar Mwangi was up next and he talked about the way people look at business. He gave the story of the Mexican fisherman and the American businessman. Another example that he gave was the kind of people who live at the coast. There are two; the simple living, poor and the so-called ‘rich’ yet one of these categories is always stressed. Gratification and poor values is what has caused businesses that were once successful yet are family businesses to flounder once the younger generation takes over. The notion that poverty causes crime was discarded by looking at both South Africa and Ethiopia where Caesar had lived in earlier days. Asked what would be the best value that he would instill in his kids, “Delayed gratification” he said without hesitating.

James Nyoro, the MD of Rockefeller Foundation Africa, was next on stage talking about growth and the economy. Most of the sectors that are growing are those in the service industry which means that only a few people have access to the millions or billions that are in their control. The poor do not get access to these millions and billions. We should be targeting at growing the agricultural and the manufacturing sectors which are more relevant to the poor person. The opportunities that are also around us should be maximized. He also talked about climate change and how to solve problems. One striking note that he gave was that public problems can never be solved by private solutions. Innovation was also encouraged and while at it, people should also give back to society. James added that ICT should also be used for development and not merely for entertainment or just making what we have easier to work with.

Kevin Otieno, the founder and organizer of TEDx Kibera, came up next and said that they had formed that as a platform for them to discuss new ideas. They have also organised other TEDx events in Mathare, Kangemi, Korogocho and Kibera.

Julie Gichuru was one of the last speakers (You know what they say; they save the best for last). Julie is the first African woman to receive the Martin Luther King Salute to Greatness Award for Advocacy of Active Non-Violence and Peace. She described herself as an African, a woman, a wife, a mother and a dreamer. Africa to her is a metropolis but it is actually a green, thriving Eden. She foresees an Africa where protection of the environment is vital, human-wildlife conflict is addressed, eco-tourism thrives and a culture of value for environmental causes and smart utilization of the environment are addressed. Africa has the potential and they can do it especially when it comes to food. She stressed that the youth have the key to develop Africa. Young people need to be transformed to do much more than just wielding weapons that will destroy their present and Africa’s future. For these, Julie showed grisly images of young men holding weapons in some of Africa’s failed states and said that “A weapon in the hands of the most disciplined soldier is still dangerous.” Julie also said that leadership is meant facilitate and we should all be working instead of focusing on the leaders.
Julie makes a point

Ifran talked about TEDx Cinema Nairobi which is being organised and for which the details will be given out later on.

Al Kags talked about his book Living Memories which he authored after interviewing 196 people about their experiences. He also talked about how communities are going back to food sustainability. Communities are growing organic food by getting the water, use the whole plant, using old technology (terraces) and also by storing the food.

One of the organizers blogs

The event came to an end with an introduction of the organisers and a performance by the Akala band.


We were treated to some more coffee, tea, vegetable rolls and samosas after it came to an end.

  *Photos from: Zulu Safari

  1. TEDx Nairobi
  2. Kyoto Energy

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