Report by Mary-Rose Shand (Dec. 2012)
Last Saturday, December 2, Fukuoka hosted the only TedxWomen event held in Japan, titled “The Space Between”. TEDxFukuokaWomen, which combines the international TEDx conference with local events based on similar themes, was held at Fukuoka Women’s University, staffed by a team of 40 volunteers and attended by 100. Its aim was to participate in the international forum that TED facilitates whilst using the opportunity to present unique ideas from Fukuoka to the world. With impeccable organisation, a diverse range of uplifting and inspiring speakers, and a dynamic after-party, it was a fantastic event for anyone interested in TED’s objective: “ideas worth spreading”.
The first half of the conference was a live screening of the “The Space Between” in Washington, on the topic of “Poverty and Plenty”, followed by a series of presentations from local residents on “Ambitions” (which were also broadcast online). To begin, four American women and three African women offered their insights on how to reduce “the space between”. A theme that emerged was the urgent need for investment: Gayle Tzemach Lemmon, from the US, pointed out that women represent a bigger growth market than India and China combined. Although the rhetoric about the inclusion of women is profuse, it is not represented in reality, and although talk may be cheap, inaction is all the more costly. Jacki Zehner, from the US, formerly of Goldman Sachs but now CEO of “Women Making Millions”, stated simply that it is time for us to stop viewing women’s issues as problems to be solved, but as opportunities to be embraced. Her message was clear and concise –gender inequality is a global problem; gender equality its global solution. She also urged women to see every financial transaction they undertake as a powerful movement of financial capital, and to therefore shop intentionally and thoughtfully, considering exactly who benefits from our custom. As we live in a world where money equals power, we need better financial rewards and tougher economic consequences for organisations, predicated on their inclusion and treatment of women. Final speaker Rosie Rios, from the US Treasury, also emphasised that investment in human capital is the most worthwhile investment that we can make. She believed that the culture of the US treasury was changing, becoming more inclusive, and optimistically pointed out that women and minorities now form the overall majority in the US Congress.
Malehlonolo Maleko told us of the numerous problems she encountered when starting up her own cafe and convenience store in South Africa – she regularly failed to balance the books, and had to rely on her brother to bail her out at the last minute on numerous occasions. Eventually she was able to enrol in business management classes, and with the invaluable instruction she received, she managed to turn her business around and make a profit- now she can proudly afford her son’s college education. For her, women need a hand up, not a hand out, and investment in education is crucial if we want to reduce the gap between poverty and plenty. Dr. Musimbi Canyoro, a linguistics professor from Kenya, drew on three major themes – the need for the media to publicize women’s success stories; the need to reassess whether GDP is the best way to measure a country’s wealth; and the need to celebrate local institutions that work effectively for and with women. Emily Peal used an energetic local chant from her native Liberia to instil motivation in all women watching. She thought that women should be given the space to carve out their own role – as it has been done (with success) in Liberia, it now needs to be done globally. Maya Azucena, from the US, a singer-songwriter and activist, uses music as a medium for her messages of social justice and women’s empowerment, and her uplifting song “Cry Love” consolidated the powerful and thought-provoking evidence and ideas put forward in the first half of the conference.
After a break, where all attendees were treated to complimentary Red Bulls, the second half began. Aoi Maeda told the audience of the issues she encountered when she had her first child. She urged everyone to avoid judging others, to be yourself, and to question dogma and the prevailing “common sense” view; a clear theme of this half of the event was possessing the self-confidence to escape conformity. Machiko Inoue also wrote of the importance of escaping conventional routes and allowing yourself to connect with others by simply trying different things. Traditional Japanese florist Kenichi Shimazu told his story of his move from rebellious student to successful florist. After being a troublesome high-school student in his youth, and then an adult who struggled to hold down a job, he began flower-arranging originally as a method of meeting women(!). But, he found that he enjoyed it far more than he expected, and now organises events in order to personally improve and to network with others. He encouraged the audience to simply do what you enjoy; you should not feel that you have to follow conventional routes into adulthood.
Yukari Murayama also discussed the value of diverging from traditional aspirations. Her message was that traditional aspirations can quash individual creativity, and that it is creativity that changes society. Finally, 18-year-old high school student Momoko Abe reminded the younger attendees that they should remember that the world that we live in has been created by adults – it is now our generation’s turn! Japan is not “over”, as many seem to believe, and she ended with the message that we should always value the local, which was a fitting way to end an impressive host of speeches connecting a global vision with experiences and ideas from Fukuoka.
The conference closed with the beating of rice to mochi on stage, which was served at the after-party. A wide range of food was on offer, from omelettes, hot soups, enormous plates of vegetarian sushi, and chicken wings, with cake treats courtesy of “The Chocolate Shop”. There was no shortage of Coronas as well as wines and soft drinks, as the attendees mingled. There was agreement that the organisation of the event had been faultless – staff were unfailingly helpful at every stage of the day, even helping to translate sections for those (such as myself!) with limited Japanese. Professor Waguri (from the Women’s University and host of the first half) thanked all volunteers and attendees, and commented that she felt that this event had been successful in combating the spreading suspicion that Japanese students have become less passionate.
TEDxFukuokaWomen provided a safe, unique, uplifting and powerful event that was a great opportunity to meet like-minded foreigners and Japanese residents. Overall, it was a successful event that most definitely fulfilled TED’s remit of “ideas worth spreading”, connecting the international to the local.
Report by Mary-Rose Shand for Fukuoka Now (Dec. 2012)
Photo credits – @TEDxFukuokaWomen