TEDinArabic: Inspiring Ideas from the Arabic-Speaking World Worth Sharing

Aug 3, 2023

A theater of inspiring ideas and stories and an opportunity to speak to an audience from around the world, all while possibly making a lasting impact on people’s lives. 

All of this makes standing on the TED stage an aspiration for anyone who has a message that they want to deliver to the world. Arabic speakers – whether they are thinkers, innovators, artists, or simply people with inspiring human stories – who may have watched TED Talks and were affected by them one day, searched for a similar platform that embraced them and helped them unleash their ideas. But once, that was just a dream.

However, in 2020, that dream came true, when TED’s belief in ideas worth spreading met with Qatar Foundation’s mission to unlock human potential, its dedication to opening up new opportunities to people, and its commitment to preserving, enriching, promoting and celebrating the Arabic language. The result was a partnership that led to TEDinArabic: an initiative that provides Arabic speakers a platform for expanding the value and the exchange of knowledge, allowing them to express themselves to a global audience, and reigniting amongst today’s generation a flame that kindled the minds of their ancestors.

So, what is the legacy of TEDinArabic?

"In your hands is this platform. Speak so that the world can hear you. Combine our thoughts with our voices. Leave a mark. Leave a footprint."

- Dr. Mohamed Ali Bahri, Arabic Language Coordinator at the Translation and Interpreting Institute of Hamad Bin Khalifa University, a member of Qatar Foundation, at the first TEDinArabic regional event, held in Doha.

The partnership between TED and Qatar Foundation spanned three years, during which regional events were organized across the Middle East and North Africa region. The first of these came in Doha, the capital of Qatar, in 2021 during  the WISE Summit, Qatar Foundation’s biennial gathering of expertise, ideas, and innovation in education.

From Doha, TEDinArabic headed to Canada, being part of the TED 2022 Conference in Vancouver; to Amman in Jordan, where its second regional event took place at Al Hussein Technical University; and then to Mohammed VI Polytechnic University in Ibn Jarir, Morocco, for the third in this series of events.

In search of new ideas, and in an effort to provide opportunities, TEDinArabic launched Idea Search, which opened the way for those with unique and inspiring ideas to present them. And 16 of these idea generators were chosen to participate in 2023’s flagship TEDinArabic Summit in Doha.

And the lasting impact of TEDinArabic is reflected through its digital library, housed on its website with content designed to arouse curiosity and stimulate thought, enhancing the status and role of the Arabic language as a language of knowledge. A source of inspiration and a home to pioneering ideas, the library has attracted 2 million visitors since its launch.

Hend Alqaderi speaking on stage

The impact continues…

Inspired by the words of Mahmoud Darwish's poem - "The butterfly's effect is not seen...the butterfly's effect does not disappear” - the partnership culminated in the TEDinArabic Summit, which brought the TED experience to the Middle East for the first time. Its theme – ‘The Butterfly Effect’ – mirrors what TEDinArabic represents: just as the flap of a butterfly's wing in China can cause hurricanes and floods in America, so the efforts of each of us to drive change and help shape a better world can create impact that goes beyond the individual to the collective. But where do we see TEDinArabic’s legacy?

We see it in the inspirational human stories it has allowed to be told, such as the story of Adnan Barq. He experienced "trauma inherited through generations", and decided to channel his experience into creative works as a form of catharsis after suffering an accident that caused a pulmonary embolism and almost took his life.

"Open your hearts and minds to Palestinian and Arab stories, in them there is inspiration for you, and psychological treatment for us. I am Adnan Barq. I am two years old. I fell into a hole, and I found myself here on this stage."

- Adnan Barq, TEDinArabic Speaker

 We see it in the story of Ahmed Habib, whose own disability made him realize that creating accessibility  for those with disabilities is something plausible and in our hands; and that when we are designing communities, spaces, content, places and events for people with disabilities, the challenges they face can be overcome without medical intervention - or a miracle.

Ahmed Habib speaking on stage

"My disability existed in the imagination of the person across from me in the way he only looked at me ‘as a person in a wheelchair’ - who didn't know anything about me. My disability was there, and when I got out of this prison, when I broke it down, my disability was gone."

- Ahmed Habib, TEDinArabic Speaker

We see the legacy of TEDinArabic in the story of Mahdi Mansour, who, with his passion for Arabic poetry and physics, embodies the importance of reinforcing the role the Arabic language plays in the fields of science and knowledge.

And we see it in how the impact of TEDinArabic has not been limited to what its speakers have presented on the  summit stage, but has reached an audience that stretches to all corners of the Arabic-speaking world.

“ When you take care of Arabic poetry, you take care of Arabic science, and when we teach generations to love poetry and the depth of thought, we prepare the next Arab algorithm, and when we think in Arabic we create, rise, and innovate. You are a small body, and enclosed in you is the greater world.”

- Mahdi Mansour, TEDinArabic Speaker

The focus that TEDinArabic placed on technology, science, and innovation has shone through the initiative. At the TEDinArabic Summit, speakers recounted stories and events in their lives that pushed them towards achieving greater things and making a difference in the world. Dr. Hind Al-Qadri, who studied the role of saliva in detecting infectious diseases; Muhammad Al-Shaker, who was inspired to help the fight against climate change following torrential rains in Jordan; and Lama Shasha'a, whose own experience in educating her children motivated her to bring about transformation with reimagining the education system.

Mohammed Al Shaker speaking on stage

"Fighting climate change and finding ways to protect the earth and the environment is a very important matter. It is not a side issue, because it affects our industry, our security and our food. It is an existential issue."

- Muhammad Al-Shaker, TEDinArabic Speaker

All these stories, and more, that were presented at the TEDinArabic Summit exemplified what we mean by ‘the butterfly effect’ -  stimulating the imagination of people from different parts of the Middle East and North Africa, and the world, urging them to follow the example of the speakers – by sharing their ideas with the world. 

So, if you ask whether TEDinArabic has left an impact and a legacy, the answer is a resounding ‘yes’. And this impact and legacy is still being created today, as Arab minds continue to pulse with inspiring ideas, and Arab voices continue to share stories, hopes, and dreams – in the Arabic language. 

The TEDinArabic Summit talks in Arabic can be viewed here.