In addition to being the one to introduce Tedx events to Islamabad, Saad Hamid describes himself as an entrepreneur-in-residence at the National Incubation Centre in Islamabad. He got the licence to organise TedxMargalla, as it was then known, in 2010 but in his day job he works within the startup ecosystem in Islamabad.

Dawn met with Mr Hamid to discuss his work as a TedxIslamabad organiser.

Q: How did you get started organising TedxIslamabad events?

A: I attended TedxLahore in 2009 or 2010 and that is when I found out what Tedx events are. It sounded really cool and after I came back, I went to the Ted website and I wanted to learn how one can organise a local Tedx event.

I got the licence to organise TedxMargalla from Ted and we did that in 2010.

Since then, I have attended Ted three times - in Long Beach, Edinburgh and Qatar. If a Ted organiser attends a Ted event, they can host a Tedx event for more than 100 people which is why our events are big; for more than 100 people.

Q: Is there a learning curve with organising these events?

A: There is a lot to learn from the whole process and how we have built the ecosystem. For example, the reason TedxIslamabad has gotten so big and so difficult to attend for most of the audience is because we really try to focus on quality.

I have a rule of working with speakers on their talks for at least 60 hours. It does not matter if it is someone popular, such as Hamza Ali Abbasi or Dr Umar Saif, they have to go through a strict process of preparing their talk.

People in Pakistan, especially those who are very accomplished, think they can give a Tedx talk just like that. Most speakers come to me and say they don’t need to prepare for it and they usually give the worst talks.

We look at many factors when selecting the audience. One is that they should not have attended a Tedx event before. We do have some funny things as well. For instance, if we find out two spouses have applied together and they will only come if both are selected, we will not select them. If people from the same organisation or group of siblings have applied together, we only select one and if they send us an email saying they want the other people to come as well, we put them out again. This is a place where we consciously try to make you feel very uncomfortable. This is not a family entertainment event. You have to come and make sure what you learn from here you will take back.

It is kind of like you are part of some epic battle and you have to go back and tell the story of the battle to your friends so they can apply for it next year. We got almost 3,000 applications and we had to select 300 people.

There are many other things we have to consider as well such as diversity. We never have an issue with diversity and inclusion. All our speakers are 50/50 male and female and our audience is similar.

Q: Are there any events that have been particularly memorable?

A: There are some stories which are profound and funny at the same time. I have known people who have met at Tedx events and gotten married. There are also amazing stories in terms of the impact. We had a speaker at the first TedxMargalla event in 2010, Sara Adeel who is now a fellow with me at Acumen, and she talked about how she wanted to build this home where orphans and grandparents live together and she ended up doing something around that in the form of Lettuce Bee Kids.

We have had challenges as well. For instance, Umair Jaliawala said a few things against molvis last year which caused quite a stir. We had to take down the talk and think of a strategy for how to put it online and not risk his life.

Q: Are you wary of controversy stemming from ideas shared at your events?

A: That always happens and I think Ted has a very good formula to neutralise that which is that controversy is fine. For instance, people asked why we needed Hamza Ali Abbasi as a speaker when I put his name up. But at the end of the day, Ted says you must have an idea worth spreading.

It is not about your life journey. Motivation can be a by-product of the idea that you want to share, but it cannot be the core idea, and [Ted] is very clear about this. The challenge in Pakistan is that people think that because their story has a little masala and is a bit controversial, they can share it when it is not like that. You have to have an idea worth spreading.

Published in Dawn, August 31st, 2017

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