CN&CO chief señor Carel Nolte just got back from TEDGlobal in Arusha, Tanzania. TEDGlobal is an annual conference that celebrates human ingenuity by exploring ideas, innovation and creativity from all around the world.

I think it is vital to pause. To take a few steps back. To breathe. To get perspective. To challenge and to be challenged by new viewpoints. To disrupt your routine. In doing all of these things, often just for a brief period, I believe one comes back invigorated and refreshed to do even more, even better.

And so for the past few years I have been attending TED or TEDActive (a simulcast event held at the same time), finding it an opportunity to immerse myself in worlds and ideas I may never have accessed otherwise. The cost is big – both monetary and in time invested (getting to the North American west coast from Johannesburg is not a simple hop, skip and a jump) but the rewards in terms of ideas, conversations and friendships forged, have made the investments worthwhile, in the extreme.

At the end of August I attended my first TEDGlobal, in Arushua, Tanzania – 10 years after the first TEDGlobal, in the same venue. Subsequent Globals have been held in cities as diverse as Edinburgh and Rio de Janeiro. Yet again I was blown away by the innovation, courage, humour and sheer brilliance of the human race. And this time, most of the speakers – and much of the audience – were African. Beautiful, vibrant, loud, smart, wise, powerful, talented, passionate, gorgeously paradoxical Africans (check out the TED Flickr page to catch a glimpse of quite how bloody good-looking Africans are!) And I felt at home. Truly, perfectly at home.

Perhaps I should not have been as surprised. After all, my first tattoo was of this magnificent continent. The subsequent cut it suffered when I dropped a block of ice on it at Burning Man a few years ago made it even more special, for me. However, I was surprised. The past few months (years?) in South Africa I, like many of my (white?) fellow countrymen and women have perhaps come to accept that Zupta was what defined the Cradle of Humankind. Arusha jolted me back into the reality of this continent being not one where corruption and greed rule, but one where innovation, history, style, knowledge and technology abound.

TEDGlobal Fellow Kyle DeCarlo’s talk was one of the highlights

I think the point of life, as a good friend of mine once said, is simply to live. And to live it as best we can. And in doing our best to influence others to also reach their best. And TEDGlobal2017 gave me so much to assist me on my journey. Watch out for the talks as they are published over the coming months ( if you haven’t yet signed up!)

One of my favourites (a little birdie told me this at the farewell party) will be first – the talk by Kyle DeCarlo, a TEDGlobal Fellow who blew me away. A superb communicator (despite/because of) his deafness, Kyle’s content was fascinating. So much so that I am hoping to do work with him. You’ll see what I mean when his talk is published …

So, rather than presenting a précis of the talks (an impossible task with more than 90 formal talks, various workshops and informal conversations – with some of the world’s brightest and best minds) I want to highlight a few key themes I took away:

  • I am not a “greenie” – sometimes much to my embarrassment. I don’t want to harm the environment, believe in climate change and do my best to not do obvious things (like litter). But I am not a big user of solar or other technologies that move away from old-school, planet-destroying effects. That will now change. Not only is solar vital in keeping our planet alive for future generations, the innovation this sector drives has massive, positive side-effects and in getting cheap, safe solar power, people can climb the energy ladder – unleashing endless possibilities
  • I need to do more to support and work with organisations like Acumen, which raises charitable donations to invest in companies, leaders, and ideas that are changing the way the world tackles poverty. Collaboration with organisations and people like these means that 1+1 can (far quicker) = 22. I love working with and learning from diverse people and organisations – but I have been thinking way too small. The continent – and world – abounds with organisations that can help me – and South Africa – break out of our inward-focused malaise
  • Entrepreneurship is what is required for economic success. Educate for entrepreneurship, curiosity, empathy and lateral thinking. A number of the speakers blew me way with their achievements – an African vehicle called Mobius II, packaging Fonio grain (which I had never heard of but which is delicious) and taking on the food market, engineering feats in Nairobi and Zipline in Rwanda are but a few
  • Africa’s population will, in the near future, be around 2,4 billion – that of China and India combined. With many of these people being young (our average age on the continent is 17) we have massively exciting opportunities

But all these themes, talks, conversations and experiences are pretty pointless, I think, unless they are translated into action – into affecting lasting, positive change. With our African market worth trillions, and with South Africa – to my mind – needing a wake-up call as our fellow Africans overtake us on many fronts (and look to us with expectation as we navigate our political turmoil), I was moved to anger at first, and then determination, about my country.

South Africa can and must be one of the leading countries on earth, by any metric. We should stop focusing on minor red herrings (tragic as they are) and look to a hundred years and beyond – and what we can achieve.

White South Africans must – all of us – acknowledge our immense privilege, inherent bias and work on our identities. That means reading African novels, listening to African music, buying African fashion, learning African history, travelling in Africa, engaging with African intellectuals – simply put, actively being a part of the African culture. All of it. As a white, Afrikaans South African, I am proud of what constitutes my identity. But I am sad that I only read my first African novel in my first year at university. That I travelled to Europe to see architectural genius long before I marvelled at rock churches, centuries old, in Ethiopia. That I am largely unaware of the intellectual giants in East Africa. Our African diversity is our strength. Own it! Celebrate it! Influence it!

Black South Africans must actively fight corruption, push for meritocracy and vote for long-term interest, not short-term gain.

Of course, many of us are already doing a lot of good. But a lot more remains to be done. A lot. And of course talking race is challenging for some. And naturally we must also fight discrimination based on gender, class, disability and sexual orientation –with many more role-models from these constituents needed in positions of power.

Post my Africa tattoo I got the skyline of Joburg, Table Mountain and a few other iconic South African images inked on my body. I am, proudly, an African.

TEDGlobal 2017 re-awakened this pride. It helped me to make sense of many of the paradoxes in my country, on my continent and in my genes. These paradoxes – and our many African challenges – excite me. Building a better future with all of you is what gives me energy and makes me happy! Africa is rising. And she’s rising at speed, with glorious beauty and smarts ….


All photos courtesy TED Conference.