Journey Across Imagination: TEDxAUBG 2017
A total of 11 stories and ideas were brought together from guests of nine different countries to one destination – the Dr. Carl Djerassi Theater Hall in the ABF Center. On April 8, the sixth edition of TEDxAUBG welcomed passion, interaction, and inspiration on topics, varying from community psychology, fashion, entrepreneurship, and innovations to media to relationships, education, and economics. The team of 27 AUBG students worked relentlessly to take the audience on a journey under the motto “Across Imagination”.
The TEDx conference began with Ronald Harvey, Assistant Professor in Psychology and a two-time Fulbright Scholar with a Ph.D in Community Psychology from DePaul University, who shared his belief that the future belongs to international community research. His speech touched upon the subject of community psychology as he gave a historical background with examples of a few researches. According to Harvey, all people belong to a community and as “we affect those communities, they affect us.” He noted that not living in an ideal community can lead to psychological issues and substance abuse, and that when receiving treatment, people should not be treated as individuals, since that does not cover the larger systems, which may be causing these issues.
Harvey emphasized on community psychologists with the fact that they are not distant scientists, so they want to work inside the communities as collaborators. „We want to be agents of social change,“ he said.
„When people have a say in what goes on in their communities, they own it. When people design their own interventions, they buy into it much stronger, “ clarified Harvey.
He further analyzed Bronfenbrenner’s ecological system theory. According to him, a successful way of rehabilitation is the Oxford Houses system – one that is based on safety, support, mutual care, and democratic principles.
“One of the strongest predictors of staying clean in a Oxford House is when you make a friend there. After two years 90 percent of the people in Oxford houses are sober, whereas only 45 percent with usual care are clean,” said Harvey.
He also talked about his Oxford House project in Varna, Bulgaria, which was his first one in continental Europe. Harvey emphasized on the importance of context, learning from international work and understanding what affects people.
Milena Stoycheva, the CEO of Junior Achievement, Bulgaria, delivered the next TEDx talk in the first session. For more than 20 years she has worked in the fields of entrepreneurship, business, and economics. Her speech was about the disruptive innovations in education. She also shared a story about her daughter and her child’s care for the environment. One of her anecdotes about her child included a moment when her daughter had unplug every technological device at home to save electricity only moments after watching a movie about polar bears.
“We have to save electricity or we will kill all the polar bears,” said the girl to her mother.
Stoycheva said that early childhood education forms kids’ personality and that innovations create a feeling of comfort in the face of changes. She talked about how the industrial years from 40 years ago were the time to work and be successful. Children used to enjoy being at school, a place which nowadays has lost its charm. She thinks that the dean of students should be a person who believes in education and who is moreover open-minded.
“We should all be feminists,” was the statement written on Jeanine Glöyer‘s T-shirt at the time of her speech. Starting with her personal story, which shattered her conventional passion for fashion, she explained what she learned after volunteering in India in 2008 and meeting with women, working in textile factories. She talked about the strenuous working conditions, the exploitation of female textile workers. Referring back to her T-shirt mark, Glöyer touched upon the issue that women, who produce these trendy T-shirts with feminist messages do not receive much in return.
“The term fashion victim developed a totally new meaning to me,” said Glöyer. She described her bewilderment for having the majority of people in the factories as women, whereas the tailors are only men. According to perceptions in the textile industry, women are not skilled enough and the patriarchal structures attribute to the idea that working women are only supplemental to men’s duties.
“Have you ever wondered why you can buy a T-shirt for the same amount you pay for a beer?,” asked Glöyer. Relying on history, she explained that the easiest way for companies to overcome competition was to find workers, who would be paid the least but would still deliver the same quantity and quality. As an example she gave the low income and the lack of social benefits of women in Bangladesh, India, and China. Stuck between the textile companies and the patriarchal structures, which reinforce each other at the expense of women, women’s work becomes invisible, women as a group get excluded from contractual relations while their integration stays neglected.
Glöyer believed that a different approach to producing apparel is possible, so she founded the fashion label “Jyoti- Fair Works”, in collaboration with an Indian NGO, which aims at bringing joy and fair wages to employees involved in the production. Such projects make women more open to actively participate in the way they want to work.
“Work itself is not the problem, but it can actually constitute an important step on the way to individual liberation. If only it isn’t build on structures of exploitation and oppression,”
What the regular consumer can do, according to Glöyer, is to choose the brands which he or she supports.
“Wearing a T-Shirt that states ‘We should all be feminists’, but at the same time it has been produced through exploiting women’s oppressed situation, does not help at all,”
Madina Demirbash, a family relationship expert, phychologist, and a business trainer came up next on the stage. She addressed common relationship questions of whether there is truly happiness in intimate relationships. She shared the part of her life when she experienced a double job rejection and was fired from five places in a roll in the span of two months. Her brain started experiencing physical pain. She said to herself, “I don’t need a prince, I need a chair.” That’s how she wrote the book “The Art of Mature Love: Connecting to Others by Being Connected to Yourself” and published it in London. She used the chair as a metaphor for the relationship.
According to her, there are three ways to sit on the chair – on one side, where the two people are sharing the chair but are not feeling comfortable, the second – taking the whole chair, so that there is place for only one, or simply sitting on the man’s lap. The question then would move to seeing how long could he put up with you being on his lap. Demirbash also shared how she met her husband who was at first friend of her. They were sitting in different chairs but when they fell in love they started fighting. She said that to be happy one needs to develop their own chair. One should try to sit on the other person’s chair and understand them from their position. That is the way to develop a relationship with someone and be happy.
Jovanny Varela-Ferreyra, who was born in Mexico but emigrated to the USA at the age of ten, opened the second session of the event. At the beginning when he was not fluent in English, he expressed himself through his art. He started uploading his artistry work online which then gave birth to the Artidote, a combination of antidote and art – the social media platform that cultivates self-awareness and empathy through storytelling. It is a safe environment where people share their stories, bond with each other, and receive help in order to go through their struggles. Artidote and its Snapchat turned into a worldwide online support group.
Varela-Ferreyra, who has gone through having suicidal thoughts, spoke about how this community has helped people in real life. He shared the stories of two desperate girls, one pregnant at the age of 20, carrying the baby of a stranger, and the other one who could no longer bear life and just wanted to overdose. By posting them on Snapchat, he received thousands of messages from people wanting to support the girls and they got through their issues because of the power of this community.
“The comfort [is] knowing that, even though we are mostly strangers to each other, we are all in this together”, said Varela.
Santra, one of the popular Bulgarian hip hop and R&B singers, was the next speaker on the stage. She put emphasis on keeping one’s individuality on the road to success. She admitted that people still perceive her as a different persona, despite the peer pressure of the music industry. To present her key of staying true and relevant to yourself, she highlighted three main concepts – individuality, courage and adaptation, which all lead to her actualization.
Santra highlighted the importance of always sticking to the personal list that makes you who you are and accept that there would always be hate and oppression from people. “I will never do anyone else better than I can do me,” stated Santra. She emphasizing on the much needed bravery to deal with rejection and move forward, without succumbing to outside influence, in order to achieve your goals. She also coined the term adaptation, emphasizing on its application to one’s background and individuality.
She further compared human actualization with computer updates – “If we don’t update our systems, they will crash. But in order to update correctly, you have to know your systems.” Her last tips before giving the stage to the next speaker were to make that formula your own and be yourself in this reality.
Andras Baneth, a strategic communications and public affairs expert, an international speaker, and a trainer with a work experience at the European Court of Justice and the European Commission was TEDxAUBG’s next talking guest. After a starting reference to the movie “Back to the Future”, he explained why technology today is different to that of the last century. The speed of the spread, the depth at which it affects us, and the ease of use are the key reasons, which lead to the question of what are the social side effects of innovations.
By giving Airbnb protests as an example of the social consequences of technology, he also analyzed why a company should care about such impact. He relied on the moral and business arguments and said that “If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu”, which is why companies have to be engaged. Then he continued by naming the several strategies companies could opt for to address these issues. They should show empathize and name the problem, compromise on the short-term, gain on the long-term and sponsor third-party programs.
The first speaker of the last session was Kerim Ture, the co-founder and CEO of Modanisa. His passion for entrepreneurship made him develop a website giving Muslim women “choice in style”. The goal of the company is to make these women look and feel better. He identified the the dillema of what to wear as one of the most important questions for them. According to Ture, it is not about money or size, but about the dressing code. What is the new season’s color? It’s black. It has never been another one.
The idea behind Modanisa is to split Muslim women into different age groups because they currently look at the same choice without targeted significance on choice. The platform has over nine million visitors per month. Ture is working with more than 300 brands and designers in 100 countries. The idea of democratic fashion was recognized all over the world. In 2016, Modanisa created the first modest fashion week in Istanbul and in 2017 another one in London followed. Now Muslim women are able to express themselves and show the world they care about fashion.
The event continued with this year’s student speaker – Mile Grncarov, a second-year student from Macedonia, majoring in Political Science and Business Administration at AUBG. He worked with Youth Educational Forum and he is passionate about blogging and web design. In his speech Grncarov covered the topic of fake news and showed an experiment to the audience on how you can create fake news, which can reach thousands of people in a limited amount of time.
He based his talk on the US elections and also shared his personal story about how he, as teenager, has profited from fake news.
“All other speakers are talking about the amazing things they have done. I am going to talk to you about the bad things that I have done,” admitted Grncarov.
He clarified spam posts and the advertising in fake websites, all with goal to generate clickbait and make money.
“Before and after the results of the US elections, 10 000 websites were said to be fake news websites,” explained Grncarov. Such websites contain no factual information, but only very exaggerated claims, capitalized letters, and photoshopped images, yet they influence people.
For him fake websites were the “easiest way to make money online”, when he was younger. “I got hooked. My logic back then was that if someone was gullible enough to believe me, a teenager, and share that news with friends, they deserved to be lied to,” said Grncarov.
To prove the impact of fake news articles, Grncarov put the audience to the test with an experiment from the previous night, when he set up a blog, made a Facebook page, and boosted a post in order for people to see it.
“For 3 dollars and 24 hours on Facebook, 55 839 people saw my post. Out of those, 2 791 either commented, liked or reacted in some way to my post, 3 370 of them clicked on my post,” he shared.
He relied on a research of the Stanford university, where 82 percent of young people were not able to recognize which articles were real and which had false information in them. Grncarov then gave some tips to the users how to check the legitimacy of an article. His main checkpoints for identifying the truth included checking the source, searching for the same information on the internet, reverse image search, and taking down personal biases..
“I wanted to do something out of my comfort zone and when I saw the application for TEDx, I avoided it as much as I could. Eventually I just decided to go for it,” said Grncarov about his decision to participate. As for the choice of topic, he added: “It seems like everyone is talking about fake news. I think that me being personally involved in that gave me a bit of an edge on this topic.”
The conference followed with Vu Nguyen, born in Vietnam but later raised in Bulgaria. His speech choice stopped on how to build a successful life. Like a lot of teenagers graduating from high school, he decided to live away from his parents, so he went to the USA, not even knowing what to study or what are his strengths. Changing universities and majors from Computer Science through Fine Art to Business Administration, he ended up in Seattle where he met his Bulgarian wife, which followed with the birth of his son. Having a successful career, he decided to quit his job because of valuing family more than earned money. He came back to Bulgaria where he participated in the TV show Master Chief. After finding out cooking was his passion, he opened a restaurant. Today, he enjoys watching superhero movies with his son while he is also the head of a product at an IOT start up and runs “The Bulgarian Way” – a photography project showing life in Bulgaria.
Mieke Meurs was the last speaker of the conference. She teaches at the American University in Washington D.C. (AU) and is a visiting AUBG professor of Economics. She is also an Executive VP of the International Association for Feminist Economics and has a B.S. in Political Science and a PhD. in Economics. In her speech she talked about how people have become selfish, self-seeking, and behave like “homo economicus”. However, at the same time, they are neither “economicus”, nor “homo” and more like “socialem personarum” (social persons).
Tsvetiana Zaharieva, a fourth-year student, was the host of the event, for a second year in a row.
“There were a lot of challenges, but I really enjoyed being the host for TEDxAUBG. This is the second time I did it. It takes quite some effort to be an efficient host, but I very much enjoyed the whole process and the audience was responding very well to what I was saying, which gave an additional boost to my overall performance,” commented Zaharieva.
The event was separated into three sessions between which the audience and speakers could enjoy lunch and coffee breaks. The team also organized different games to engage the audience and entertained the crowd with a performance by the folklore ensemble “Svetlina”.
“I enjoyed the event itself the most, but I was so worried that after all those amazing speakers I would be a bit on the boring end,” admitted Grncarov. “Honestly, I didn’t know what to expect but the team of AUBG students was so professional and so dedicated, you could see that they had put in their hardest work for the last year or so and that for me was a 10/10 inspiring thing.”
“It was really inspiring. Speakers were well- prepared and gave very thoughtful speeches. The event was perfectly organized,” commented Ralitsa Asenova, a first-year student at AUBG.
After 11 thought-provoking, entertaining and empowering speeches, TEDxAUBG concluded its 2017 edition.
This article was a joint effort of AUBG Daily’s owls Nikoleta Mancheva and Kamy Stefanova.