A Comprehensive Recap of #TedxPP
I attended TedxPhnomPenh yesterday. First, I want to tell you that the organizers hit it out of the park. It was an incredible blend of thoughts & cultures. We entered the conference to Keeda Oikawa, a Japanese artist, doing a live large-format painting while Kung Nai, the “Ray Charles of Cambodia”, sang and played the chapei dang weng (a traditional Cambodian lute). With a kickoff like that, we were bound to have a great day.
The conference consisted of 13 live presentations & 3 previously recorded Ted talks that were projected on screen. The speakers and subject matter were diverse, but some common themes arose including the importance of sharing information (so appropriate at a Ted event!), engagement (especially of the target community), innovative solutions, and execution of great ideas.
What struck me most about the conference was the strong presence of Cambodians. I’d guess that half of the attendees were young Khmers, many of whom are entrepreneurs & students. Half of the speakers were Khmer, a few of whom grew up outside of Cambodia due to the Khmer Rouge but returned in their adult life.
This event was so thoroughly steeped in Cambodian culture and tradition. Beyond the performance of Kung Nai, there were two other presentation that resonated profoundly with the room. (I feel comfortable making such a strong statement because I was live tweeting the event + had the benefit of seeing the reactions of my fellow participants in real-time.)
One was the Tiny Toones presentation. Tiny Toones is a local NGO that helps kids find their voice, a safe space and release through dance. Their team of teenage dancers delighted us with hip-hop theater: a mix of popping + locking & bboy tricks partnered with passionate storytelling. They opened up their hearts and showed us their struggles – from drug & alcohol abuse, sexual orientation, and being orphaned. These kids have found family + safety, and it was truly inspiring to witness their stories.
Phloeun Prim talked about returning to Cambodia. After living in Cambodia for ten years and working at Artisan’s d’Angkor, Phloeun returned to the spot where he was born and, “realized for the first time that I belong to this land.” Woah. Powerful. Since then, he’s been working at Cambodian Living Arts to find the living masters of the traditional arts (who weren’t wiped out by the Khmer Rouge) in order to pass on these honored traditions.
One of the major themes of the day was the power of the arts. The power of the arts to transform a nation. How release through creativity can empower. And, the importance of preserving tradition for future generations.
Phloeun Prim captured this power when he said, “The Khmer Rouge could not eliminate art; it’s the soul of the nation.”
Yes, the Khmer Rouge was discussed. (As it needed to be.)
Typically, Cambodians do not discuss the Khmer Rouge and when they do it’s in hushed voices and small snippets. The country remains painfully silent, which is surely a barrier to healing and justice.
Sambath Thet, one of the filmmakers behind Enemies of the People, discovered that telling the truth –acknowledging what happened– is cathartic to both the perpetrators and victims of the Khmer Rouge. Enemies of the People is a documentary chronicling Thet’s quest to understand why his family was killed.
Theary Seng argues that the only true peace is that which includes justice. “Peace with justice is a human value with universal yearning.” While the Khmer Rouge Tribunal can offer limited political justice, its true value is as a court of public opinion capable of providing horizontal and restorative justice, which is encouraging dialogue. Cambodians are beginning to break their silence.
Both Sambath Thet and Theary Seng are looking for ways to heal the nation. The Khmer Rouge traumatized everyone, perpetrators and victims, so this push for openness is encouraging.
The need for a more open society was echoed by Kounila Keo and Teac Sachak Reahou (the winner of the Lift essay contest).
Kounila Keo uses blogging to encourage social discourse on topics that previously remained closed to commentary. She’s joined the movement of Khmer Bloggers (Khloggers) who use the medium to drive social change. Her blog is the epitome of freedom of speech in action.
Teak Sachak Reahou dreams of creating an education watchgroup. This is desperately needed here in Cambodia. A place where teachers frequently skip class and charge their students for outside tutoring on the lessons that should have been taught during school hours.
Naturally, there was talk about community. Especially, how to leverage different communities.
Sithen Sun, a passionate advocate (dare I say evangelist?) for self-education, implored the audience to create their Mastermind Club – a tribe of mentors and colleagues who can offer emotional, personal and professional support.
Mike Rios talked about the importance of investing in people to create long-term sustainable solutions. “You don’t need to be a superhero to change people’s lives; all you need to do is invest in people.”
Channe Suy reminded us that no one knows a problem better than the local people. Those directly affected most intimately know the parameters of a problem. They know whether a new technology is accessible. Great technology means nothing if people don’t use it. Those directly involved are invested in finding workable solutions and therefore need to be part of the process.
Ideas and communities are important, but action is everything. Everything.
Chris Brown got to the core of the issue, “An idea is worthless unless you have the capacity to execute it.”
Execution is hard. It can be costly and time-consuming. What can you do to make it easier? Cheaper?
First off, you need to Start With Why. If you’re unfamiliar with the phrase, watch the Simon Sinek video below immediately. (I’ll wait while you watch.)
So happy that Chris Noble introduced this to everyone. You need to get very clear and very specific about why you do what you do. Boil it down to the lowest common denominator. Once you know why, you can figure out what (the product or service) and how (marketing & selling).
Now that you’ve figured out your why, tackle the what. What product or service is a natural outpouring of your why? Before you commit to developing the product, Chris Brown recommends testing the market. He argues that customer development should always precede product development. Why develop a product if no one is willing to buy it? Why invest big money on something that may not sell?
So, invest small money in testing. Find the cheapest way to see if a product is viable. Use a website or Google adwords to drum up interest and test response. Ask people to sign up for notification of the product release (even if there isn’t a product to speak of at the moment). Do people want what you hope to sell?
If they don’t, and you haven’t already begun development, then failure is cheap. You spent some money on a website and adwords. Or whatever test you utilized. Fail fast. Fail often. Fail cheaply.
And, trust that small gestures can turn into big movements. Chris Noble founded The Footprints Network, technology for ecommerce businesses that allows their customers to make micro-donations of $2 to fund community development projects. $2 seems like peanuts, right? Well, over 418,000 people have made small donations to raise more than $1,000,000 to fund 65 projects. In my view, that’s a big deal. That’s a movement!
Central to all of these ideas and techniques is the need to innovate and experiment.
It’s what Colin Wright articulated so clearly: a willingness to envision your perfect lifestyle or solution then putting in the work to make it happen. It’s a way of looking at an ideal end result, then working backwards to plan for it. A strategy that focuses on measurable results.
TedxPhnomPenh was a full-day intensive on leadership. An immersion into creating and working for meaning. A lesson on intentionally impacting others in sustainable and helpful ways.
We talked. We rallied. We dissected. We challenged each other.
Channe Suy stunned the room when she asked, “are you willing to give one hour to pass on your expertise and inspire the next generation?” Who can say no to that?
The event was courageous and humbling. Heartfelt and provocative. Intimate and expansive.
I’m already looking forward to next year!