Istanbul, the capital of the new silk road!
An interview with Ferhan Cook, the curator of the TEDxSilkRoad
A one day inspirational conference TEDxSilkRoad as an independently organized TED event took place in Istanbul on April 11th. Referencing the historical Silk Road, the conference took the participants on a journey into the future of innovation: borderless creativity, commerce and the role of mobile and internet technologies in empowering communities. Here is an interview with the mastermind of the event, Ferhan Cook telling us her story.
TEDxSilkRoad makes a reference to Silk Road, the old route of innovation and commerce between the East and the West, could you please elaborate on this?
We used the Silk Route as a metaphor for our conference because it fits perfectly the spirit of TED conferences whose mission is to change the world through sharing and spreading ideas just like the old Silk Route. Silk Route also stands for Journey. Long arduous journeys that people took on the backs of camels for months and months. The Silk Route journeys resemble the journeys that entrepreneurs of the modern day have to go through to reach their goals to success.
Lastly, this represents also my own personal story and journey. I took on this idea of doing such an ambitious event, in Istanbul, Turkey, my home town and country, after 35 years of living abroad. I had made my journey from the East to West, in 1975. And I started going back to Turkey with this idea, in 2009, but it took me 2.5 years to accomplish my dream. I found that even though I graduated from top schools in Istanbul, I did not have meaningful networks any more after all these years, that could help me, and get me going in this new and changed culture which I could not recognize any more.
There are musical performances and music has a special highlight within the event, could you please tell us about it?
We chose special music from the Silk Road Region—Tibet, Azebaijan, Iran, and Turkey and Pakistan to give the ambiance to the whole event. As live music, we invited Mısırlı Ahmet who gave us an amazing percussion performance and said that we needed to feel the Rhythm of a culture to reach an understanding. We also had a live fashion show in the end, featuring hand made Silk Dresses, adorned with sensors and LED lights, which could be remotely controlled and interacted with. We had designers, artists and sculptors speak as well. Next time we would love to invite Yo Yo Ma, the renowned Chellist, who put together the Silk Road Ensemble which tours around the world.
What are the main topics & themes that were discussed in TEDxSilkRoad?
The theme of TEDXSILKROAD was Borderless Creativity & Commerce. One of the key messages was that the New Silk Road is DIGITAL. It is the Internet. It is the mobile phone in your pocket. The internet and especially the Mobile Internet, allows us to go beyond our borders instantly, to learn to trade, and the meet each other. So Digital Silk Road, helps us go beyond our borders. But we need to trust each other and we need to use it in the right way to help societies, with learning, education and communication, to help human life.
So we had 3 modules:
a) The Route of Innovation and Borderless Creativity
In this module we heard about the meaning of the Old Silk Route and the lessons we can take from it. We also heard about Creativity and going beyond your creative borders to innovate. We learned that the true currency of the New silk road was purpose and creativity. The speakers in this module were, Mark Norell, the curator of the American Natural History Museum in New York, Arvind Gupta, Head of Design in IDEO Asia, and Joey Ellis, an American sculptor in Beijing.
b) Reach out and Empower:
This was the second module… Here we featured, how technology can help us go beyond our borders.. We showcased the stories of amazing entrepreneurs, who used technology to help people’s lives and create new opportunities for them. We featured an amazing community activation Platform called Ushahidi, we featured the founder of TarimsalPazarlama.com which connects 700,000 farmers via the mobile, and we heard from the head of Endeavor, Turkey, a worldwide entrepreneur mentoring organization.
c) The Connected Future
This was the third and last module, during which we discussed the future of converged networks, how we will have a global living room in the future, and how social TV will connect us, how we will carry lots of devices on us which will communicate with each other and help us manage our lives and body data, and finally now connected clothing will also change the way we relate to what we wear. Among the Speakers that were featured here were MIT’s social TV researcher Marie Jose Montpetit, Orange France’s innovation director Patrice Slupowski, and and Cute Circuit the fashion designers who combine silk and electronics.
Tele_Trust from Hermen Maat
TEDxSilkRoad speaker Karen Lancel, together with Hermen Maat, explores how in our changing social ecosystem we increasingly demand transparency, while at the same time we increasingly cover our vulnerable bodies with personal communication-technology.
Did you encounter any difficulties in terms of finding sponsors and partners while organizing such an event in Istanbul?
I met with a lot of resistance for my project got lots of rejections from potential sponsors, and those people whom I considered my friends, did not help me much as they did not understand my idea. I decided to invest in it myself, and kept it going. But toward the end, when people saw, what the idea was and the potential of it, they started jumping in, and then I found sponsors – at least last minute partial sponsors who at least took a leap of faith in me.
So I made my meetings, got some small and partial sponsors, and the rest, I paid for it myself for this first time around. I was the biggest sponsor. But I consider it an investment, into a new market. I am excited about the future potential.
We now did the event, and everyone was very happy. I could not believe that it finally happened. As an entrepreneur I had reached my dream, after all the hardships. But as Steve Jobs used to say, the Journey is the Reward. And I agree. My reward was that, this journey brought me closer with my own culture, and closer to my own true identity that I had put in the back burner for 35 years.
How would you place Istanbul on the map of world cities?
Istanbul is an amazing city, a unique bridge between the East and the West. Its spans 4 civilizations and it fit perfectly the context of our conference, where East meets West for innovation and borderless creativity. Istanbul is the capital of EUROASIAN continent, and independent pole between Middle East, Europe and Asia. Istanbul can be the regional hub for a lot of new projects and innovations from the West to the East and East to West. Istanbul is the capital of the New Silk Route in my mind!