How Marrakesh got its own TED conference

The seventh TEDxMarrakesh, an extension of the popular TED Talk series, will kick off on March 2 under the theme, “We are the World—Identifying Identity.” When it does, one woman will be at the helm: Andrea Bury, the founder of TEDxMarrakesh as well as the guiding force behind Design Hotels member property AnaYela, a luminous three-room-and-two-suite palace in the Moroccan capital. Bury is perfectly placed to pilot such a project, having lived for more than a decade in Marrakesh, where she launched her passion project, Abury Foundation, which brings international designers and local artisans in Morocco together to create a collection—with 50 percent of the profits going into education projects in local communities. We spoke to Bury recently to find out more about TEDxMarrakesh, the challenges of bringing it to fruition, and some of the challenges facing young Arabs in today’s globalized society.

Q: How did you choose this year’s theme?
Over the last two decades, digitalization has accelerated globalization in an unknown way. Five billion people have access to the internet. We (especially in the West) like to say we’re world citizens when asked where we come from. But what does that really mean at the end? In the last few years in Europe and even the US, there is an immense fear of the unknown, making people cling to the comfort of the “known” and their possessions. It is kind of a contra-movement to globalization.

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Q: In what way does the idea of identity within a global context take on special meaning or importance in Marrakesh?
Today, there are more cross-cultural marriages, people are moving all over the globe, and children are learning four languages at the same time. What does identity mean to them? The concept of sexuality is opening up—how many sexes can we have? The more we move together, the harder it gets to differentiate ourselves. Especially for the young generation in the Arabic world, this is a major topic. They are Muslim; they want to be “cool” and be seen as world citizens as well… but at the same time they know that half of the world is afraid of them and their faith… how do they identify and with what?

Q: What obstacles have you faced in curating TEDx?
The concept of “ideas worth spreading” and freely discussing your thoughts in public is not really part of Arabic culture—rather the opposite! So, at the beginning it was difficult to get the local community involved. We started TEDxMarrakesh in English and not French—the official language apart from Arabic—which made it even harder to get Moroccans involved. We started a student contest and that made TEDx go viral within the student community! And also, we got some local heroes like Hindi Zahra (singer and actress), Kamal Hachkar (director), Najat Kaanache (TV host, chef, and human rights advocate), and others as speakers, which again attracted more local guests and is making TEDxMarrakesh a truly intercultural happening.

Q: What do you think is the through-line between AnaYela, Abury, and TEDx?
My mission is to create platforms where people from different cultures can meet in a positive, open, and authentic way. “Together we make it fashionable to care,” is the red thread between all the projects! AnaYela is a place of inspiration, run by Moroccans (except for me), who have been with us from the beginning. Our guests are from all over the world and are welcomed like in a Moroccan family. We give our guests an exclusive insight to the country and offer tailor-made programs and trips that invite them to dive into the culture and local customs. Abury connects international designers and traditional craftspeople. We provide a grant to designers to spend six to eight weeks with the local artisans to learn from each other and work together. And finally, TEDxMarrakesh is a truly intercultural exchange platform for ideas.

TEDxMarrakesh will take place Saturday, March 2 at Es Saadi Palace. Get your tickets here.

Sunday, February 24th, 2019