First introduced to bring the spirit of TED’s mission to local communities around the globe, the TEDx programme is the ideal project for curious individuals looking to discover ideas and spark conversation in their communities. Coincidentally, University of Limerick is full of such people.
TED is a non-profit devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks. It began in 1984 as a conference where technology, entertainment and design converged, but today it covers almost all topics – from business to science to global issues – in more than 110 languages.
The vision for Limerick’s first TEDx event stemmed from a serendipitous meeting between University of Limerick students and staff as final year students on the BA in International Business programme, Olga Dydykina and Gillian Kelly, had the idea to run a student-led TEDx event.
In looking for advice on how to get the support of Kemmy Business School, they met Elaine Mullane, Personal Assistant to the Executive Dean, who had already been making enquiries about bringing a TEDx event to the university. After just one conversation, the three decided to join forces and apply for a licence, which was granted in October 2018.
The inaugural TEDxUniversityofLimerick event was scheduled for 18 June 2019 and in the eight-month lead-in time the small team worked on sourcing the best speakers, curating their talks and identifying potential sponsors. Tasked with managing the social media and branding aspects of the project, Erin King, Senior Technical Officer in the Department of Accounting and Finance at Kemmy Business School was brought on board in April 2019.
An important part of any TEDx event is choosing the right venue. The production guidelines supplied by TED had very clear instructions on how the stage was required to look and how the event should be recorded, and it became clear to the team in the early planning process that the ideal place to host the event was right here on UL’s campus.
Founded in 1994 by Professor Mícheál Ó Súilleabháin, the Irish World Academy of Music and Dance is a centre of academic and performance excellence that includes two state of the art performance theatres. As well as a faculty of excellent performers and academics, the academy is home to a talented team of industry professionals who willingly gave their time to support TEDxUniversityofLimerick and the organising team.
Technical Officer, Alan Dormer was instrumental in the planning process and his support and management skills ensured that the event ran without a single glitch.
Tickets for TEDxUniversityofLimerick sold out in less than 13 minutes and 100 audience members, including UL faculty, staff and students, representatives from local businesses and members of the Limerick and Clare communities, watched nine speakers address the theme of ‘Current’.
For the organising team, ‘Current’ had three interpretations: an ocean current (a metaphor for direction and movement), an electric current (symbolising inspiration and energy) and current affairs, covering a broad spectrum of topical issues.
First to take to the infamous TED red circle was the MC Stephen Kinsella, Associate Professor of Economics at Kemmy Business School. Intrinsic to the production, Stephen introduced the theme to the audience and called for reflection and deep discussion on the ideas that would be presented on the TEDxUniversityofLimerick stage.
The first speaker introduced by the MC was Kevin King, Director of Design at Limerick-based media agency, Piquant Media. Through his work at Piquant, Kevin has worked on both local and national projects with a focus on human rights, education, culture and social change. Kevin’s TEDx talk was locally focused as he discussed the wave of optimism currently washing over Limerick city with art as its catalyst.
Second to take to the TEDxUniversityofLimerick stage was Dr Patricia Scanlon, Founder and CEO at SoapBox Labs, who spoke about how technology can transform childhood literacy. Patricia holds a PhD and 20 years’ experience in Speech Recognition and Artificial Intelligence, and has been recognised as Forbes as one of the World’s Top 50 Women in Tech.
Next up was Mark Davies, Founder and Chair of Hooke Bio Ltd and Professor of Engineering Science at UL. Mark co-founded and acted as CEO of Stokes Bio, which was sold to Life Technologies in 2010 for US$44m. His talk proposed that the current climate change crisis would be solved by replacing all fossil fuel burning power stations worldwide by Allam Cycles
Wrapping up the first half of the event were Ellen Ward and Máirín Murray, co-founders of Tech for Good Dublin. The pair discussed how digital technology can be used by communities to help solve challenges from climate crisis to homelessness in Ireland and globally.
A 12-minute TED talk video by Alex Honnold, an American climber best known for his free solo ascents of big walls, was shown.
The next speaker to take to the TEDx stage was Fergal Smith of Moy Hill Farm in Lahinch, Co. Clare.
Fergal’s career trajectory took an unusual and unique turn when he went from professional surfing in the southern hemisphere to regenerative farming, and his talk spoke to how we are all part of one community and through a connection with nature and the earth, we can grow and encourage a sense of caring for all things.
Next up was Kemmy Business School’s own Deirdre O’Shea. Deirdre, a Senior Lecturer and Chartered Work and Organisational Psychologist in the Department of Work and Employment Studies, touched on her award-winning research in work motivation and occupational health psychology to speak to finding motivation, passion and energy in our work.
Following Deirdre was Sikhulekile Ruth Ndlovu, an inspiring young woman who gave a moving talk about her identity as an asylum seeker living in direct provision and her journey to becoming a UL student through the ‘University of Sanctuary’ scholarship initiative.
TEDxUniversityofLimerick’s final speaker was Mark Graham, a lecturer in the Department of Creative and Performing Arts in Waterford Institute of Technology. Mark also performs with the electro-rock group King Kong Company and he produces and presents the Irish Music Industry Podcast.
After TEDxUniversityofLimerick closed Limerick-based production company Crude Media were tasked with putting together the individual TEDx talks before they were uploaded to the official TEDx YouTube page and, within two weeks of the event, a global audience could watch the nine speakers take to the stage as viewing figures continue to soar.
Back to Elaine Mullane who told UL Links that the 2020 license has been granted to University of Limerick and the team can now realise their aim of hosting a bigger TEDx event this year. Eager to learn more about TED’s vision and to explore how to improve on the TEDxUniversityofLimerick brand, Elaine and colleagues attended TED Women 2019 in Palm Springs last December and continue to research for a much bigger event.
“Our main focus for 2020 will be to link with the city and hopefully compliment Limerick 2020. We want to invoke discussion of change, given the university’s current status and proposal to move into the city. Our theme will reflect that. The team is already working with potential speakers and sponsors.
I hope 2020 will have a focus on UL alumni and people connected with UL and Limerick.
TEDxUniversityofLimerick 2019 was sponsored by the Kemmy Business School, UL Hospitals Group, Munster Rugby High Performance Leadership Programme, Castletroy Park Hotel and Troy Marketing.
- Andrew Carey