Tuesday, 13 March 2012

From creativity to Femininity - TedxGranta part II and No Going Back!

I'm continuing yesterday's post about the TedxGranta conference and reporting/airing my views on No Going Back!  the conference held at Anglia Ruskin to celebrate International Women's Day 2012.

For TEDxGranta's official website, click here. 
Third session: Renewal (continued)
Erik Johansson  was next, not in the flesh but courtesy of a recorded talk on photography and digital manipulation. His photos are quite unique and do have a quirky artistic quality. Don't take my word for it....

Tim Hayward opened with his experience of salvaging a bankrupt food business in Cambridge with a long tradition, Fitzbillies. Having moved to Cambridge before its closure, I could make a comparison on their famous sticky buns, and yes, they are a bit smaller but do taste amazing. I just wonder if lard has been dropped as an ingredient - old-stylee Fitzbillies used to sell a fab lardy cake, a rarity in these politically correct days of nanny supermarkets (supermarkets don't sell that many full-fat products and the lardy cake disappeared years ago). But let's stop my personal gripe here (it must be my Italian upbringing in a restaurant in a region close to France). The good news (Tim said) is that food entrepreneurs are mushrooming everywhere so great food made with high-quality ingredients is making a huge comeback. I heard Tim talk before at a creative writing workshop here and he is a really funny, engaging speaker. He tailored his experience/expertise perfectly to each occasion.

Lunch, as with the coffee breaks in between sessions, was another change to network - even the toilet's queue presented possibilities of intelligent conversation. I discussed globalisation, poverty, homeworking, technology and even got a lecture on molecular biology from a scientist. That's the beauty of TED events, you learn about things you might not be 'interested' in, which are out of your comfort zone but are still very engaging and thought provoking. The third session proved to be very much out of my comfort zone but not less fascinating nevertheless.

Fourth session: Kicking 
Tim Minshall from Cambridge University's Engineering Department gave a graphic presentation centred on what engineers are all about. There is a negative perception of the role of the engineer, especially among children, so the academic intake is falling year after year. He summed up engineers in 10 words: Invent, Do, Improve, Share, Shape, Build, Why, Yes!, Oops and Wow. If you are intrigued, visit TEDxGranta's website and check if they have uploaded his talk. I used his persuasive approach on my daughter, aged four, who wants to become an artist/ballerina/cook and she seemed to be interested in the invention/building concepts. As my partner is indeed an engineer (albeit working in the financial field), we'll see what pans out.

Next was a recorded talk of Kevin Allocca on why videos go viral. I bet the marketing people in the audience held their breath to find out. The bad news is that 48 hours of videos are uploaded on YouTube every minute, so standing out is quite a feat.

David Constantine MBE challenged the audience's view on wheelchair users with his own personal experiences and his social enterprise commitment. He is co-founder of Motivation, a charity that aims to improve the quality of life of individuals with mobility problems in developing countries. This was a very moving and inspirational talk.

Last but not least was Shelley Katz, the director of the Symphonova Project, which aims to bring big classic music productions to all venues, irrespective of size. In practical terms, this involves designing, developing and implementing the world first's high-end digital symphony orchestra. I suppose you can define Shelley not only as a talented musician but as an inventor, even a sound engineer and an R&D man (patents included).

We trooped out, around 150 of us, picked up our coats, bought a last drink, had a last conversation or two and picked up our goody bags. Yes, there was a heavy goody bag in store containing, among promotional material, a reading list curated by the speakers, a Fitzbillies Chelsea bun, a Microsoft tin with non-transitive dice, an Experanto mini course, FLACK and Fire & Knives food magazine. Curiously, there was also a food voucher from Nando's.

If you are reading this and I got something wrong or you'd like to leave an opinion, feel free. I will motor onto the  No Going Back!  conference held at Anglia Ruskin the next day, 10 March. I found out about this conference by googling 'Woman's Day activities Cambridge'. There is always something going on. In the past two years I attended a walk and enjoyed an African drumming workshop for women, but this year there was a wealth of lectures with speakers such as Mariella Frostrup, Prof. Carol Robinson and Dame Anne Begg.  No Going Back!  , running from 9.30 till 2.30 (it actually finished at 3ish) was a free conference with networking opportunities, a few stalls, refreshments (including lunch) and interesting lectures. 

The keynote speech was by Julie Spence OBE, former Chief Constable of Cambridgeshire. She talked about women who made a difference and tried to rehabilitate Margaret Thatcher - she had excellent arguments but it didn't go well with everybody in the audience. The audience, interestingly, was dominated by older women, not many young faces. I wondered why only to be informed, during a Q&A that feminism has a bad name among young people. Some women even precise 'I'm not that kind of feminist' when defining themselves... After the keynote speech, the panel (click on  No Going Back!  to find out all the names) discussed this theme: Looking back at the history of women's struggles and achievements, is there one key thing that you would say should inform women's view of the future? 

We then left the main lecture hall and chose one workshop. The choice: Lessons from early feminism, Ending violence against women and girls, Feminist activism: why, what, How?, Women's equality, Inspirational women and Gathering the threads (about women in Cambridge). I went for the historical one, which jumped to the future with the issues of women in developing countries. It also made me think about when I was a member of Women in Publishing (I was the archivist), which was founded to help women get into publishing (Fay Weldon was among the early members). Now the industry is crowded with women and this talk made me ask: How much was this achieved by the movement and how much was a 'concession' to women as cheaper 'manpower'? As the panel said earlier on, the Equality Act is there but the implementation is not faultless and still needs challenging. 

After lunch we had another choice of one workshop among: Finding a voice, I'm a feminist, what now?,  Ending violence against women and girls, From Afghanistan to Zimbabwe: (...) feminist activism internationally, Lesbian and bisexual women role models, Say it loud! Djembe drumming. I went for Finding a Voice (I did the drumming last year), which was a workshop with Women of Note, during which we learnt two songs about militant women. I leave you with this great refrain from one song: "I don't want to be a rebel's wife. I'm not going to stand forever on the quay. Waving my hankie and holding the baby. And waiting for my lover to come home and marry me."

But before I sign off, here are a few things I noted down:
  • Sometimes the best supporters are men not other women
  • Women account for 51% cent of the UK population
  • We had plenty of women who achieved, but were is the second wave of achievers?
  • Women are more visible but have less credibility
  • Parenthood is still a woman's responsibility despite men willing to share the load
  • The voluntary sector is mostly run by older women
  • It's not just about being equal but being fair

Monday, 12 March 2012

TEDxGranta 9 March - part one

Apologies for not posting often - my life has been hectic. Despite getting a bit more of childcare through an afterschool club, I have been busier than ever juggling writing/indexing with volunteering and family commitments. I am trying to get a better work-family life balance while being active in my local community (currently at a breastfeeding clinic and at my daughter's primary school). I recently did a course to become a reading buddy (Better Reading Partnership scheme) and am training as a breastfeeding supporter in London on alternate Thursdays. So being able to attend two conferences in two days (TedXGranta and No Going Back! at Anglia Ruskin) was a great treat! I will start with TedxGranta.

For TEDxGranta's official website, click here. 

TedXGranta was on Friday 9 March at the Junction. Ironically my daughter's school was closed for staff training, so my partner had to stay home and look after Michela. I went to the first TedXGranta conference last year (click here for last year's blog - it's in three parts and quite detailed) and as soon as I heard it was going to happen again I snapped the early bird ticket. I arrived just before it started, but managed to register and have a quick cup of tea due to traffic problems. As anybody who lives in Cambridge knows, any street close to the station is impossible at rush hours.

First session: Alive
It started with a short demo by Ross Sargent from Cambridge Kung Fu of mindful movement, where physical activity meets mental concentration and Eastern philosophies (judging from the workshop Ross held in the afternoon, to me it was like a mix of Yoga, Pilates and martial art techniques). Then a recorded TED talk introduced us to creative improvisation comedy - their witty stunts did get a lot of laughs. Check out the Best Buy and No Pants Subway Trip pranks.

Tim Morley, an ex computer programmer who teaches English and French talked about Esperanto. It reminded me of curricula afternoons at my daughter's primary school, where teachers explain why they are using a certain teaching system to baffled parents (in our school why all the children are learning to sign and why they use a system called Numicon to foster numeracy). As with those school talks, it all makes sense when you know what the benefits are - Tim's tongue-in-cheek approach was quite fitting and engaging. I studied foreign languages in Italy (English, French and German, plus as bit of Latin), so this time I knew what he was talking about. Constant memorisation and the slow acquisition of a vocabulary are for sure the main reasons why people are put off by languages.

Next up was one of the most-talked-about man-of-the-moment in technology - a great coup to have him as a speaker! - Eben Upton. If you haven't heard of his challenge to bring programming to children through the medium of an affordable computer, click here. I hope this amazing innovation brings in younger programmer into academia and in the industry. My daughter is a bit young for this gizmo, but at the age of four she can already use a computer, which is staggering to me who in my teen years dreamt of owning an electric typewriter.

Interspersed in the sessions were a few witty ads, where branding meets creativity, wit and intelligent thinking. I won't go into all of them, but here is my pick: Sustainable Farming, Your Man Reminder and a cinematic feat featuring a bear director. A full list of ads worth spreading is here.

Second session: Growing
As one of the speaker couldn't be there, we had a really intriguing recorded talk about introversion by Susan Cain. Click here and find out the power of introverts and why society favours extroverts. This talk made me think: am I an introvert trying to be an extrovert, an extrovert with an introvert streak or a shy individual who sometimes tries too hard and comes out as aggressive extrovert? For Susan, being introvert doesn't mean being shy, so I'm not quite sure where I am...

Ross Sargent from Cambridge Kung Fu explained what mindful movement is and what the earlier demo was all about. As mental health is becoming a major issue in the NHS, a natural way of achieving emotional balance without taking medication is certainly a win-win strategy. Having started Pilates recently I am all for mindful movements, especially if it's not about going for 'the burn' but reflecting about what you are doing (handy for those like me who can't switch off their brain). Yes, exercise makes you happier by releasing endorphins, I did feel the same euphoria after swimming, but Pilates is handier in colder weather.

Next was a recorded talk by Aparna Rao, where art meets technology and humour! From art to music with Gil Karpas, who has indeed a soulful voice as the programme promised. The multi-tracking, looping, techie bit was fascinating to behold, a truly perfect TED fit with his very personal mix of creativity and technology.

Third session: Renewal
Merlin Crossingham opened the third session. A climber and acrobat, he is the creative director for Wallace and Gromit (click here for a BBC interview). He started his career animating Morph. I got to know Morph through videos (yes, we still have a video recorder) my partner bought for our daughter. I particularly like the one with the alien baby... But back to the talk, Merlin was quite 'academic' in his definition of entertainment and animation, mentioning concepts I recently heard at a university lecture discussing why we are moved by fictional characters. It also brought home how animation is pure craft work, slower than I could ever imagine - 2 seconds a day is the aim for a single animator!

Next up was Kirsten Lavers, who launched FLACK with a team of homeless contributors. This magazine is very local to Cambridge and I think it's a much more engaging/involving project than The Big Issue ever felt for me when I was living in London. That was several years ago, so if somebody cares to correct me, do leave a comment!

Come back to read the rest and find out what the Anglia Ruskin's conference was about, but in the meantime, if you'd like to visit TEDxGranta's official website and access recorded talks, click here.