by Catriona Mitchell

 I never thought I’d be moved to tears by a yoyo. But that’s the kind of day it was: hard-hitting yet playful, with twists of the unexpected.

Placing its focus on how we can help one another in ways both wise and innovative in local communities and across the globe, TEDxUbud 2013 had spectacle, it had comedy, it had eye-moistening moments, it had astonishing moments, and it had raw vegan organic chocolate ice-cream. There was nothing missing from this picture.

Held in the jungle-sumptuous, bamboo-built retreat centre Five Elements, where even the bathrooms are really something (the water taps are long bamboo pipes hanging from the ceilings, and they light up the water while releasing it, creating beacons of liquid light – what’s a TEDx venue without design innovation in its loos?), TEDxUbud 2013 featured six key speakers each delivering, with slides, a lecture in under 15 minutes on ideas they are pioneering that are useful to others. They’re the folk with “ideas worth spreading”.

Then there was an eccentric kecak performance by KoBaGi (or “community of crazy bodies”), music by Cozy Street Corner and Bonita (who sings like a shaven-headed angel), a young local dancer (moonlighting as the TEDxUbud Head of Communications), stand-up comedy in the form of the celebrated Ernest Prakasa (giving his “first talk in English to anyone above the age of nine”), a special guest interview with Sri Lestari (a paraplegic who’s just made her way from Jogjakarta to Ubud in a modified motorbike – see our blog about Sri here), animated hosting by the ever-witty Twitterer Daniel Ziv, a vegetarian feast prepared by three different catering companies who’d been at it since 3am, and an unexpected highlight: the world’s number one “artistic” yoyo champion, Black, a pale-faced, spiky-haired, humble-mannered Japanese in dramatic black and red costume who could do things so mind-boggling with his flashy glow-in-the-dark yoyos, accompanied by rousing martial-arts-action-movie music, that he received a standing ovation.

There were plenty of standing ovations during the day.

First up on the speaker list was Erin Michelle Threlfall. After being stationed at a refugee camp in Ghana where she was astonished by the levels of happiness she encountered despite material deprivation and the most severe of life-conditions, Erin now teaches young students “the habits of happiness” at the Bali International School, helping them become emotionally stable and confident, and aware of their ability to help others. “Why wait til we are broken adults?” she asked. Appalled by the rise in youth depression and suicide according to world-wide studies, Erin helps the kids in her classroom through techniques such as meditation, keeping a gratitude journal and “doing something awesome every day” (a new take on practicing random acts of kindness) to the point where “as a community we have become unstoppable.”

“Tropical entrepreneur” Michael Bodekaer then talked up a storm about his “Startup Getaway”. Michael creates “incubator”-like conditions for entrepreneurs of all nationalities, catering to their every need in a villa compound outside of Ubud so that they gain approximately 20 extra hours per week to focus on the things that count – ideas, new business partnerships, creative collaboration, and co-working in community with people who care deeply about the work they do – thereby inspiring a new world of entrepreneurs who can live in a satisfying way while “finding creative solutions for the challenges of our future”. Here was a man who had had a vision and made it a reality; the spark in his Danish-blue eyes was a testament to the inspiration his project is providing.

Born in Germany to Indonesian parents who fled the country in ’65, and inspired by his grandfather who was jailed at that time, Ruici Tio works to raise awareness of human trafficking by sharing stories of survivors courageous enough to share their experiences. Revealing that the average value world-wide of a human life is $90, while in Asia it’s often as low as $5, Ruici told us he works first hand with victims of trafficking, mostly the young who fall into this trap “because their hopes and dreams are easy to manipulate”. It’s young people he pitches his work at. A twenty-something social activist heart-throb who fought tears at once point during his talk, triggering the same across the (conical, cathedral-like, bamboo) room, Ruici said he uses social media because it “creates a space where voices can be heard, where people can feel encouraged and empowered”. His innovations include, for eg, providing a wrist-band recently to attendees at a big concert in Bandung; when swiped, these wrist-bands posted a trafficking-awareness message online, reaching 2.5 million people.

Like Ruici, French marine ecologist Delphine Robbe raised a standing ovation – replete with whoops, whistles and foot-stamping – after her talk about reef rehabilitation at Gili Trawangan. She described coral reefs as “the rainforests of the sea” because they produce 70% of the oxygen we breathe – and yet, unlike with the forests, we don’t see the damage that’s being done. A one-woman ”reef police force” who’s called by local businesspeople whenever they witness bad behavior in or near the sea, Delphine raises $50,000 annually for reef preservation, using the money to pay the fishermen not to fish, educating local people (some of whom believe plastic comes from trees), organizing clean-up days and disposal of marine debris, “reef gardening” (moving pieces of coral to places where they can better flourish) and speeding up the growth of the coral via an electrical stimulation process. Delphine (meaning dolphin in French) is like a beautiful sea-creature herself; sinewy, sun-bleached, salty-haired, fluid in her movements. “I often say my job is a pile of frustration and stress,” she said, “but then I see how the reefs are recovering. If I get tired and frustrated working with humans, I can just go into the sea and enjoy the success of our actions. The sounds of the reef are amazing.”

“We’ll be hearing more from Ernest again later, unfortunately” Daniel Ziv said, after Ernest Prakasa – one of Jakarta’s best-loved on the comedy circuit – had delivered his routine. And we did.

A first-time father, Ernest combined humour with fact during his talk about the formula milk industry, worth $1.1 billion annually in Indonesia alone. “Forgive me for being too sensitive”, he said, “But if you’re trying to harm my baby I do take it personally.” Apart from the health hazards of the formula, he propagates the message that breast-feeding improves the emotional intelligence of a baby. Research indicates that 98.1% of mothers choose to breast-feed if their partners are supportive, and that’s where Ernest has a key role to play: there’s no man better placed for the job. He uses his innate sense of comedy to convey his message to people who wouldn’t normally hear it, taking into consideration a clear, no-nonsense assessment of the male psyche (that men are logic-driven, and perverts). Under a giant slide projection of a cleavage in red bra, he told us how he gets results: ” ‘If you stop using formula milk for 6 months,’ he tells his peers, ‘you’ll have enough money to buy a new iPhone….’ This gets them right away.” Ernest runs an 80,000-strong Twitter campaign and his organization, Ayah Asi, has a book out called The Milkmen Diaries.

Nila Tanzil, the fifth speaker on the list, “loves nothing more than leaving libraries behind… I’ve made it my responsibility to give books to as many kids in Eastern Indonesia as possible.” Nila has set up 26 libraries in places where books would otherwise be unavailable; she has a reach of 3000 kids across 11 islands, creating “rainbow reading gardens” in consultation and collaboration with local elders and school teachers, in order to gain real insight into how the community works and provide for the project’s lasting impact. If the government installs a library, she said, it’s put into an imposing building that intimidates the local people; they don’t feel well-dressed or well-heeled enough to go in. Instead Nila places her libraries in local people’s houses where kids can reach the books “at any time and in a more casual way.” The books are rotated too, so the collections never grow stagnant. “Our library staff are all educators,” said Nila, “even the ones who are fishermen,” and results are measured by the enthused responses of the kids. “I like the little victories. They taste the sweetest.”

Former video journalist for CBC Canada and Hubud founder Peter Wall was the last speaker in the line-up. Peter was all about entertainment. “I want to tell you about my secret fantasy life,” he began. Dreams of being a big-budget Hollywood movie director were dampened by his unwillingness to embark on “20 years in the trenches as assistant, assistant, assistant, 3rd director…” so he decided to shamelessly exploit the willingness of his five-year old twins to star in home-made, high-octane genre movies instead. With productions now under their belt such as “Bad Boys are Bad”, “The Search for Golden Wedge” and the critically acclaimed (by the grandparents) “Little Chef”, Peter and family bond over a common goal – the next big movie – every time they travel. His kids are learning important life-skills this way, “for example they figured out how to shoot in Tiananmen Square without getting busted,” and recently they’ve started directing their father with more innovative ideas than he can come up with. “Sometimes, I will admit, I’m a little more motivated than the kids” Peter said; he’s been known to shout “If you aren’t dedicated to this project then I’ll find someone else!”, but even his teenage step-son has decided it’s a cool thing to be part of. Peter had a serious message to deliver under the banter: “movies and stories are not just to be consumed. They’re a creative process that we can all take part in. Film-making and storytelling are too much fun and too important to be left to the studios.”

Peter’s effervescence brought the talks to a close, and despite promises of “wild salsa dancing by the pool” to conclude the event – a call to action I rarely resist – my head was so full of ideas that I really needed to be alone in order to process them all.

A cool drive on the back of a motorbike through the rice-fields into Ubud had me feeling grateful to be in a place where ideas of this caliber were lauded – and grateful to everyone (all volunteers, and particularly Director Daniela Burr and Co-curators Daniel Ziv and Mila Shwaiko) who spent month after month working together to make it all happen.

Keep your eye on our site for TEDxUbud 2013 videos – they’ll be up in about 2 weeks’ time!

And if you missed our interview with TEDxUbud’s Co-curator Mila Shwaiko (who’s also organiser of TEDxMakassar) in the lead up to the event, you can read it here.