A 36-year-old computer engineer established TEDx Khartoum - a vibrant international platform of conferences and lively debates about a new Sudan three years ago.
Anwar Dafa-Alla introduced Sudan, its people and new ideas to the world with the international YouTube success of his own version of Technology, Entertainment and Design – a global video conferencing phenomenon called TEDx.
Dafa-Alla and his friends are now telling the story of Sudan – and publicizing ideas that he says are worth spreading – by sharing the thinking of Sudanese people about the complex nature of their nation and the power of positive thinking in a country struggling with economic and political transformation.
Starting in Seoul, Korea
It all began when Dafa-Alla was studying for a doctorate in data mining in Cheongju, Korea. In his spare time he performed some online translations into Arabic of the work of Oxford mathematician Peter Donnelly and hundreds of others. His Korean friends were impressed by his translations and in 2009 they invited him to Seoul to talk about his work on one of their TEDx programs.
“I was so moved and touched by the experience,” says Dafa-Alla. It also inspired him to create TEDx Khartoum.
Listen to Nabeel Biajo's interview with Anwar Dafa-Alla
His first three TEDx conferences were a success. He says the teleconferences “evolved to become one of the internationally recognized conferences out of 9,000 TEDx events around the world.”
“We had the first TEDx conference in Khartoum to give voice to the local people, people who otherwise have no voice through the conventional media,” says Dafa-Alla.
Dafa-Alla’s series of TEDx events in Khartoum allow youth and other age groups to talk about issues of importance to the Sudanese, subjects that often have created misperceptions about the war in the country, economic insecurity and government repression of public expression.
“We touched the identity issue that’s critical to Sudan and the Sudanese people,” he says. Speakers from all walks of life shared their ideas: artists, businessmen, school teachers and marketing executives.
TEDx Khartoum became a movement for social change in the hands of Dafa-Alla and a large team of volunteers who helped with production.
“It was a huge success that inspired the whole community …” he says. “We started with a hundred volunteers, and now we have over 7,000 who are volunteering for TEDx Khartoum and they’re [now] part of the community of ideas worth spreading.
A New Sudan is born on TEDx Khartoum
“We had an amazing youth speaker, a student at the university,“ Dafa-Alla said of his second production. The speaker name was Wafa Elamin.
“She spoke about the importance of positive thinking to Sudan and the Sudanese in order to change our situation in Sudan. “
Elemin’s TEDx talk was so successful she was invited to represent the youth of Sudan at a UN meeting in Doha where she spoke about Youth Can Be The Change and met Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon.
“Conventional wisdom tells you that Sudan is a place of negativity, war, famine, poverty and all the negative stuff,” said Dafa-Alla, “but we deeply believe that our community has lots of positive stuff that we have to share with the international community.”
Because of Sudan’s new presence on the global platform that is TEDx, Dafa-Alla was recently in Washington to share his recent activities at TEDx Khartoum and other social volunteer activities he has spearheaded.
Taking his Sudan to the United States
The TEDx conference has became a movement worldwide and Daffa-Alla was invited to give a TEDx talk at Sidney Harman Hall at The George Washington University. The audience of more than a thousand people included 50 speakers. “Businessmen, congressmen, the ambassador of South Sudan ... lots of people came and shared their great ideas,” he says.
During his presentation, Dafa-Alla shared the story of “Our Sudan,” a 12-minute film inspired by a TEDx Khartoum lecture given in May 2012 by Sudan political scientist and democracy advocate Tariq Hilal. Dafa-Alla worked as executive producer on the film.
Hilal's lecture recalls the narrative of older generations of Sudan who inherited the relative prosperity of colonial times and calls on Sudan’s next generations to dream a new dream.
Dafa-Alla said the spirit of the dream portrayed in Hilal's film was embodied by the "nafeer" movement, which brought out hundreds of Sudanese volunteers last August, to provide aid to more than 300,000 neighbors displaced by a flash flood that took the lives of 50 people. Dafa-Alla was one of the movement’s organizers.
“It was an amazing experience that all the community came together, and they helped where the government was paralyzed," he says. "I shared these stories and I was so happy that, you know, it was well received by the attendees.
He received a standing ovation at the Washington show. “It was really fascinating how lovely the TEDx mid-Atlantic community is here in Washington.”