Ethiopian musician and #TEDFellow Meklit Hadero. Image via TED Fellow's Instagram.

Always Wanted to Give a TED Talk? Here's How You Can Become a TED Fellow

We speak to the director of the TED Fellows Program, Shoham Arad, about the application process and what TED looks for in a fellow.

We've likely all watched in awe as an impossibly bright thinker delivers an unforgettable TED Talk.

It's no secret that TED speakers are amongst the most compelling, and innovative in the wold. For that very reason, it can feel like the task of giving a TED talk is reserved for an exclusive group of people, one that might seem largely inaccessible. But in reality, that is not the case. In fact, the TED Fellows Program was built to counter that idea.

As the program's driector, Shoham Arad tells us, The process of becoming a TED fellow, and eventually getting the opportunity to grace the TED stage, is far more open and democratic that one might think. What matters most is having an innovative idea, that you believe has the potential to positively influence communities both big and small. Descriptions about what ideas are "ideal" are left indefinite on purpose, because really, anyone can have a TED-worthy idea not just award-winning rocket scientists or world renowned artists. The purpose of the program is to support creative thinkers who might not have the platform or the resources to support their groundbreaking idea.

As the deadline for the TED Fellows 2019 application approaches, we we spoke with the director of the TED Fellows Program about what TED looks for in an applicant.

Read our conversation below for some insight on the program, the selection process, and the work of past African fellows, and remember, your ideas are worth sharing.

Image courtesy of TED Fellows Program

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Damola Durosomo for OkayAfrica: Can you give us a general overview of the TED Fellows Program and its mission?

Shoham Arad: We find people who do incredible, amazing work, who have some kind of proven value, and we give them the support that they need to scale their attack. That's the gist of what we do. The program was founded on the premise that there were people who's voices weren't necessarily being heard or represented inside and outside of the TED ecosystem. We're determined to find them and give them the platform and the access to the tools that they need, as well as access to the community and network that they need to succeed in whatever endeavor they're working on.

We take 20 people a year, sometimes 40 people depending on whether or not we have a TEDGlobal event. Everything is done through a public application process. Nobody is appointed a fellow, and that's really important to us, and we give them short-term and long-term support to scale their impact, and basically, to achieve their dreams. That is really what we're after.

We're incredibly global in our nature. We are gender balanced. We're diverse across every imaginable cross-section, including gender, race, socio-economic, politics, field of work, and domain. We support artists, entrepreneurs, musicians, technologists, medical doctors, astrophysicists. We support everyone who's doing excellent work.

This year we're turning 10 years old, so this is going to be our 10 year anniversary class that we're looking for. Originally, we started a one year program and now 10 years later, we support people for longer than a year because we realize that it takes more than one year to scale and to really have a big difference.

We have an incredibly active and collaborative network of 453 fellows, representing 96 different countries, and we are definitely making an impact. I personally come from an industrial design background, I think a lot about design systems, and the fellows program is a design system and created to highlight missing voices, create support, and maximize impact. So, we have to be structured enough for this hugely diverse group of people to find a way to engage, and to be flexible enough to support that deeply diverse group of people.

The program is meant to intervene at really key, important moments in fellows' lives, so we pick people through this application process, and then we give them a community and a network and a platform that they wouldn't otherwise have access to, and we return this idea of proven value and to proven impact.

What does TED look for in a fellow? What are the specific qualities and characteristics?

We're looking for people who have a proven track record of great work in their field, but who are actually on the brink of something incredible: an incredible breakthrough, an incredible ability to scale, an incredible impact, and who need the extra support to get there. So, like I said, we look for people from all disciplines and we're looking for people not just who have a proven record and not just who have a pretty great resume or proven ability to make and do something and thoughts or whatever community they're working in, but also somebody who's interested in the kind of community that we have, somebody who's collaborative, somebody who is interested in peer support, in mentorship.

It's not just about your resume. We're also looking for people who are kind and who are thoughtful. We care deeply about transdisciplinary work and the kinds of breakthroughs that collaborations can have. So, you'll see that in the fact that we support really creative people. We have a ton of musicians, a ton of artists, but we also have a lot of technologists, entrepreneurs, and overall innovative people.

We have everybody together and by giving them the platform and community, we find that amazing things happen. Through the idea of finding people who are both capable and kind, we can foster collaborations and that's important to us.

Can you give examples of ideas from fellows on the continent and the diaspora that have really excited you in the past?

Yes, earlier, I was putting together an email list of fellows who work in Africa, who live in Africa, who are connected to Africa in some way all over the continent, and it turns out that almost half of our community is in some way connected to Africa. So, that's significant and it's no accident that the program started in Arusha, Tanzania, in a lot of ways, at the 2007 TEDGlobal.

We have so many incredible stories of people doing incredible and innovative work in Africa. I can think of Steve Boyes; is a South African fellow who started as a conservationist working on the Gray African Parrot, and who now, a few years later after becoming a TED fellow, is finalizing the plans to create one of the world's largest wildlife preserves in the Okavango.

That's one example of the kinds of work that some of our African fellows are doing. We had a fellow last year, Faith Osier, who is working on a vaccine for malaria, but aside from aside from the incredible scientific work that she's doing, which is innovative and cutting edge, she's also working on creating a community of scientists from across Africa who are working on the needs of their communities, and using data and information from the local communities to solve local problems. She's creating a movement of fostering African scientists. I think that's another example of the kind of innovation that we have in our program from the African continent specifically.

We also like to talk about the musicians, the musicians we have, the artists we have, the film makers we have, the kinds of creative energy that we get from all over the continent. I could talk about it forever. I could give you a list of probably a hundred and fifty fellows who are working on something amazing.

Are there any red flags, things that you don't want to see on an application?

Don't use buzz words. The buzzier you are, the worst your application winds up getting.

The more specific you can get, the better. The more you can show us the authentic passion about the work that you're doing, the better. Don't insulate what you're doing; tell us the truth, be your most authentic self. Tell us what's important to you about the work that you're doing in the world.

Don't apply at the last minute. That will absolutely hinder the process. People tend to do everything last minute, and I get that, but there's a lot of emails that we get the next day being like "The application closed on me and I was almost ready to submit," and it's just not something that we can accommodate. Do two days in advance. Do it three days in advance. Give yourself a little bit of time.

Don't lie on your application. We check references. We do a ton of fact checking. We do a ton of vetting. If you are inflating your work, we will find out about it, I promise you. So, don't make stuff up. That's a big one.]

Something that always gets me about applications is the use of character limits on certain questions. I noticed on the fellows application, the section for "More About You" and "Tell us about the ideas that you're working on" have limits of 750 characters, but for the question "What is your idea worth spreading?" has only 150, which makes me feel that the answer is integral and that you want applicants to be as concise as possible about that answer in particular. What are the types of answers you like to see from that type of question?

Use all of the characters, for sure. Go for it, but be as clear as possible. Tell us what you actually mean. The application can be done really quickly or you can really take your time and get into it, and the people who take their time and get into it will have a better chance. You could sit down and do the application in half an hour and you can sort of shoot it off and that would be that, but you are limited in space. We're limited in our resources as we're reviewing the applications for thousands and thousands of applications to go through. We have a less than one percent acceptance rate, so work offline. Cultivate these answers. Be concise and be specific. Again, what's the story that you can tell that no one else can tell. That's the kind of stuff we're looking for.

What advice to you have for those who might be intimidated by the process or second-guessing themselves?

Please apply. If you don't think you're qualified, apply. If you think you're going to need another three years until you get there, just apply. Let us decide. What we find is it's usually the people who doubt themselves the most who are the people that we're looking for. Just put those feelings aside. Send us the application and let us sort it out.


You can apply to become a 2019 TED fellow here.

Revisit our coverage of last year's TEDGlobal in Tanzania, here.

Photo by Abena Boamah.

Photos: Here's What Happened at Daily Paper & Free the Youth's Design Talk for Accra's Young Creatives

Founders of the popular brands discussed all things African streetwear in a conversation facilitated by OkayAfrica and moderator Amarachi Nwosu.

Last week, Amsterdam-based, African-owned streetwear brand Daily Paper and Ghanaian streetwear label Free the Youth held a talk for young creatives at the Mhoseenu design studio in Accra, Ghana.

Moderated by Melanin Unscripted creator Amarachi Nwosu and presented in partnership with OkayAfrica, the design-based conversation explored everything from sustainable practices in manufacturing, to the overall evolution of streetwear globally. The founders of Free the Youth, which was been called Ghana's number one streetwear brand, expanded on how they've been able to build their audience, and shared details about their community-based initiatives.

They event, which took place at the Daily Paper Pop-up Store in Accra last Friday, drew a fashionable and creative-minded crowd ready to partake in a design discussion between West Africa and Europe.

Check out some of the action that took place at the Daily Paper x FYT event below, with photos by Abena Boamah.

Find more upcoming OkayAfrica events here.

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Still via YouTube

#JusticeForGiovani, Cape Verde Demands Answers in the 'Barbaric' Death of 21-Year-Old Student In Portugal

Luis Giovani dos Santos Rodrigues, a Cape Verdean student living in Portugal, died on New Year's Eve after succumbing to injuries from an attack ten days earlier, which many believe was racially motivated.

Cape Verdeans are demanding answers in the "barbaric killing" of 21-year-old student and musician Luis Giovani dos Santos Rodrigues in Portugal last month.

According to various Portuguese reports, Rodrigues was allegedly attacked by a group of men while leaving a party at a local bar on December 21. According to the Portuguese newspaper Contacto, witnesses say a group of about 15 men approached Rodrigues and two of his friends armed with belts, sticks and other weapons. The report goes on to say that Rodrigues was beaten and left unconscious with bruises to his head. He spent 10 days in the hospital before succumbing to his injuries on December 31.

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5 Women Doing Amazing Things Behind the Scenes in South African Hip-Hop

Behind every successful South African rapper of the last decade is a woman helping to get ish done. Helen Herimbi spoke to a few of them.

South African hip-hop had a great run in the last decade. As we start a new era, it's important to highlight the women who have played a pivotal role in the growth of the genre.

​Thuli Keupilwe

Thuli Keupilwe is the founder of LAWK Communications, an artist booking and representation agency that now works closely with the likes of DJ Maphorisa and Kabza de Small.

But she's not all about the yanos. Thuli has worked with urban music brands like Dreamteam SA and Homecoming Events, but in 2016, she cast her booking agent net wider and started LAWK Communications where she worked with DJs Capital and Sliqe.

The following year, Thuli received a phone call that would force her to level up. "Boom," she exclaims. "February 2017. PJay from B3nchMarQ called me. I was the one that pushed A-Reece to get onto his first Maftown Heights around 2014 and we're all from Pretoria so I'd known them since forever."

B3nchMarQ and A-Reece were gearing up to leave Ambitiouz Entertainment and when she agreed to be their booking agent, Thuli hadn't anticipated how much it would stretch her. Partly because the artists weren't initially permitted to perform their own songs—problematic for an agent who is meant to book them for gigs.

"I didn't see that coming at all," she says. "I was going up against the big guys, people I looked up to. I realized I needed to get a lawyer." Eventually, the artists were legally permitted to gig. "I had one of my biggest years with Reece after that. I am still with him till today."

A-Reece had managed to amass an enviable fan base size mostly from his online and streaming presence. Thuli works closely with him and counts using A-Reece's "Rich" song in a sync deal with the gambling website BET.co.za as a milestone in their partnership. "It was a good check," she chuckles. "And he was being himself and that's the most important thing to me."

Kay Faith

Authenticity has been the drive behind Kay Faith's work. The Cape Town-based engineer, producer and budding vocalist began her career behind the boards during sessions for the likes of Yasiin Bey, Nasty C and E-Jay.

She put out her own EP, In Good Faith, in 2017, and in 2018, she became the first female producer in the world to be featured on Apple Music's New Artist Spotlight.

She has also given us hip-hop bangers like "Slam Dunk" by Da L.E.S and YoungstaCPT. The latter is a frequent collaborator of hers. So much so that when his album 3T won the Best Album category at this year's South African Hip Hop Awards, she felt it was a win for her too. Especially since projects she'd worked on had been nominated and lost before.

Read: Meet The Woman Engineering Your Favorite South African Hip-Hop Releases

"When we started [the song] 'YVR,' I had this emotional feeling that it would be something big for Cape Town," Kay excitedly says. "From recording to mixing to mastering and featuring as a vocalist on 'The Cape of Good Hope' and 'KAAPSTAD NAAIER,' I was behind all of 3T. I even co-produced the 'Pavement Special' intro and the 'Outro' with Chvna.

"We spent 11 months crafting and him trying to get it to be perfect so it was a surreal feeling when we won Album of the Year. I even sent out a tweet saying: 'Can we just take a moment to realize that the South African Hip Hop Album of the Year was entirely engineered by a woman?'"

Kay's upcoming album, Antithesis is slated for a 2020 release. "It's going to be the first album of its kind, I believe," she says. "And I'm really trying to play with that idea of being the antithesis of hip-hop. I am a woman, an Afrikaans kid, in hip-hop. When I walk in, people don't expect me to be an engineer or a hip-hop producer and when I roll out my accolades, then they're like, 'damn, Kay's got game.' That reaction is what this album is about."

Phindi Matroshe

For Phindi Matroshe, the outside reaction to her work is not the most important thing. Phindi is a publicist and talent manager who owns At Handle, a PR and social marketing solutions firm. She was there before Nadia Nakai became a Reebok or Courvoisier ambassador and before she had sold-out ranges with Sportscene's Redbat.

She was also there when Nadia bagged a Best Female pyramid at the 2019 South African Hip Hop Awards. And she was right beside her when she scooped awards at AFRIMA 2019 for Best Artist, Duo or Group in African Hip Hop as well as Best Female Artiste: Southern Africa.

"Winning awards was never the mission," Phindi confesses. "Honestly, we have never done things to try and get awards. Nadia truly loves what she does and it feels great when that is acknowledged and someone pats us on the back for work we've done. I really love and respect what I do and don't see it as a job."

Having handled publicity for the likes of JR, Tumi Masemola (of Gang of Instrumentals), Shane Eagle, Major League DJs and more, Phindi pivoted to managing Nadia. She says: "Seeing the things we talk about come to life or when we're in the boardrooms signing those deals, those are personal milestones for me."

​Ninel Musson

Ninel Musson has been brokering some of hip-hop's biggest deals for over a decade. She co-owns Vth Season, a boutique full-service entertainment marketing agency with Raphael Benza.

A former party promoter and publisher of the wonted.co.za website, Ninel helped start a record label wing of Vth Season where AKA was their first signee. Together, they turned AKA into a mainstream success that the artist could bank on when he started the now defunct BEAM Group independent record label with Prince Nyembe in 2016.

Recently, Ninel and Benza, together with the Sony Music team, presented AKA with diamond and platinum plaques for several songs at a surprise dinner. "The music we went on to create became some of the best-selling records of all time in South Africa," Ninel says matter-of-factly. "When we started with him, the major labels said SA hip-hop would never go this far. We said we believed it would and then we did."

​Sibu Mabena

Cassper Nyovest seems to make it a point to work with women. In addition to Cassper's sisters running his Family Tree store, several Fill Up dates have seen PR maven, Sheila Afari at the helm. And while it's clear that the Fill Up series was always the brainchild of Cassper and his longtime friend and business partner, T-Lee Moiloa, bringing it to fruition has also included the skills and power of women behind the scenes. Women like Sibu Mabena, a multi-hyphenate creative entrepreneur who owns the Duma Collective.

"The day I landed back home from the EMAs, I went straight to The Dome," she remembers. "I said: 'yo, T-Lee, give me a job. I want to work on this thing.' He was like: 'bra, there's nothing for you to do.'" Sibu stuck around at the Dome, watching the production come together when a lightbulb went on in her head.

Read: Sibu Mabena Works Behind The Scenes in South African Hip-Hop, And She's Kicking Ass

"I thought: 'Cassper has 11 outfit changes. Who is helping him with those?' So Gareth Hadden from Formative, who was building the stage, said they needed someone to help with those changes. I forced myself into the Dome, and the next year I pitched to T-Lee to run the stage at Orlando Stadium. The following year was Fill Up FNB Stadium and there, I got a bigger job to run the talent operations. That's how we started doing the Fill Up Intern Search."

In the next decade of Mzansi hip hop, Sibu has her heart set on parties with a purpose. "All the things I have learnt along the way have led me to contribute to AKA's Fees For All Mega Concert," she shares. "I'm not coming on as just a creative or event organiser or marketer. It's demanding all of me. We're all tapping into a more philanthropic and less commercial role than we usually have so the pressure is that much greater."

There are plenty more women who've got game. From Lerato Lefafa, who has been a part of the team that brought us the SAHHAs and Back to the City to Bianca Naidoo who is a big part of Riky Rick's triumphant trajectory to women like Spokenpriestess, Caron Williams, Azizzar The Pristine Queen, Loot Love and way more who have, in the last decade, used their media platforms to lift up Mzansi hip-hop. In the next decade, women will still be a huge part of hip hop. It'll be interesting to see where that contribution takes the movement next.

Photo courtesy of CSA Global.

In Conversation with Congolese NBA Player Emmanuel Mudiay: 'I want more African players in the NBA.'

The Utah Jazz player talks about being African in the NBA, supporting basketball in the DRC and how 'everybody knows about Burna Boy'.

Inspired by his basketball-playing older brothers, by second grade, Emmanuel Mudiay already knew that he wanted to play in the American National Basketball Association. Then in 2001 his family, fleeing the war in Democratic Republic of Congo, sought asylum in the United States.

In America, Mudiay saw basketball as a way for him to improve his situation. After impressive high school and college careers, he moved to China to play pro ball. Picked 7th overall in the 2015 NBA draft, the now 23-year-old guard has made a name for himself this season coming off the bench for the Utah Jazz.

Mudiay attests to the sport having changed not only his life but that of his siblings. Basketball gave them all a chance at a good education and the opportunity to dream without conditions. Now he wants to see other talented African players make it too.

We caught up with him to talk about his experience as an African player in the NBA, his hopes for basketball on the African continent and who he and his teammates jam out to in their locker rooms.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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