A Conversation With Nate Mook, 2013 TEDx Mogadishu Co-organizer

The X symbol representing the TEDx Mogadishu erected in Lido Beach in the Somali capital, Mogadishu. [Photo / TEDx Mogadishu]

The X symbol represents the TEDx Mogadishu. [Photo / TEDx Mogadishu]

They say the power of the X is back. On Saturday, August 31, the TEDx, an offshoot of the global conference on ideas popularly known as TED Talks, will for the second time come to Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu.

The theme for the 2013 TEDx Mogadishu is “Rediscover Somalia.”

According to the organizers, the conference will feature 14 speakers who will share their story of resilience and to discuss the power of ideas to positively change the world. “We will reflect on the past, present and future, exploring the ideas, innovations and traditions that once built and will again rebuild this country,” the conference organizers said in a press statement.

Sahan Journal interviewed Nate Mook, co-organizer of the 2013 TEDx Mogadishu, about this year’s theme, the method behind selecting this year’s speakers, and the power of positive stories to bring about change.

Q: The theme for this year’s TEDxMogadishu is about “Rediscover Somalia.” What inspired this title?

A: 2012 was the year that peace returned to Somalia. It was largely seen as the “rebirth” of the country, with the formation of Parliament, election of the President, and a cabinet of ministers. For the first time in over two decades, Somalia had an internationally-recognized Federal Government.

Although the peace and stability remains fragile, in 2013 more Somalis are returning to their country than ever before, rediscovering the home they hadn’t seen in decades, and for some young diaspora, had never seen. Even Somalis who have never left Mogadishu are rediscovering their city, swimming in Lido Beach, enjoying new cafes, and attending international conferences like TEDx!

Q: The characters and the stories this year are diverse, and bring together a blend of people including professors, female military commanders, academics and even a laundryman. What method informed the selection of the various speakers who are participating in the 2013 TEDx Mogadishu?

A: We worked hard to include a cross-section of Somali life. TEDx events are always multi-disciplinary and focused on highlighting ideas worth spreading in whatever field. For TEDx Mogadishu, we talked to as many people as possible and asked them what incredible individuals they know or had heard are doing great work in Mogadishu.

Q: Given the fragile security situation in Mogadishu over the last few months, one could be forgiven to say that the city is the last place one would hold a conference to discuss “ideas worth spreading.” What would you say to that?

A: There is a saying that goes “necessity is the mother of invention” and Somalia epitomizes that. Despite having no central government for two decades, life went on. Businesses were built, schools and universities established, and people worked in the most challenging of environments. Mobile phones are everywhere and mobile payments are now the standard here. Internet exists – and is entirely wireless.

Somalis are some of the most entrepreneurial individuals on the planet. Somalia has an opportunity to leapfrog many developmental stages and go to the front of the queue. The world can learn a lot from the incredible work being done in Somalia in all sectors, and that’s what ideas worth spreading is all about!

Q: Almost two-thirds of the speakers at this conference are Somalis from the diaspora who are coming back to the country. How does their story complement the daily realities that has faced those who have lived in the country for the last two decades?

A: TEDx Mogadishu speakers come from all walks of life. A few of the speakers have lived most of their life abroad. Some grew up in Mogadishu and left for a handful of years. And some have lived in Somalia their entire life. The future of Somalia involves all Somalis working together and rebuilding their country together. Many Somalis from the diaspora are now 100% full-time Mogadishu residents. Everyone can learn from the other. One of our speakers is talking about this!

The X symbol representing the TEDx Mogadishu on the back of pickup roaming Mogadishu's streets. [Photo / TEDx Mogadishu]

The X symbol representing the TEDx Mogadishu on the back of pickup roaming Mogadishu’s streets. [Photo / TEDx Mogadishu]

Q: How different will the 2013 TEDx conference be from the 2012 one?

A: TEDx Mogadishu 2012 took place in the very early stages of Somalia’s comeback. African Union troops were still fighting Al Shabaab on the edges of the city. There was no constitution approved, no Parliament yet. Although the streets were largely peaceful, they were empty. Nobody was swimming in Lido Beach, and nobody was out at night. Further, the 2012 event was organized very quickly with a small number of speakers and limited preparation.

In contrast, TEDx Mogadishu 2013 has been a difficult conference to organize, but we’ve been able to feature a bigger lineup, more attendees, and we’ve received wonderful support from the local community and business sponsors to cover costs. We look at the TEDx event in 2012 as planting the seeds for what TEDx can truly become in Mogadishu, which we hope to accomplish in 2013 and beyond.

Q: How do you think the conversation at TEDx Mogadishu contributes to the larger debate ongoing in the Somali community living across the world concerning the rebuilding of this war torn nation?

A: A big focus of TEDx Mogadishu has been engaging Somalis around the world. Not only to spread the stories of those who will be speaking, but also to create a platform for discussion of the difficult challenges Somalia faces. We are working on live stream events in a number of cities, including one in Dadaab, Kenya where Somali refugees live.

TEDx doesn’t have an agenda. It’s not a political conference and takes no position on any issues. It is simply a platform to showcase ideas worth spreading, and hopefully spark deep thinking, discussion, and action.

We hope Somalis both home and abroad can tune into TEDx to hear new ideas and learn new things happening in their country.

Q: Any final words?

We believe in the power of positive stories to bring about change. If TEDx can help move the needle — even just a little bit — towards a better Somalia, it’s well worth the hard work of the volunteer organizers and bravery of our speakers to step into the spotlight.

TEDx may seem like an unlikely fit for a place like Mogadishu where AK-47s outnumber computers. But we believe it’s the perfect location, because in Mogadishu inspiration and ideas can lead to immediate impact and everyone can play a role in the rebuilding process – from the professor, female military commander, academic, to even the laundryman.

TEDx Mogadishu will begin streaming at 10am Somali time on Saturday, August 31. Follow the event live on http://tedxmogadishu.com/live/ and participate in the discussion using the hashtag #TEDxMogadishu.

The interview has been lightly edited for clarity, meaning and consistency.

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