Highlights from TEDxToronto 2012

Friday, October 26th 2012 marked the 3rd annual TEDxToronto conference in Toronto. Growing from 100 participants to now over 1,300 at the Sony Centre, TEDxToronto has developed into one of the biggest independent TED conferences in the world.

TED - which stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design - is a conference that showcases some of the most thought provoking speakers from across the globe. Highlighting individuals who speak about positive and social benefits, TED carries the tagline "ideas worth spreading", which was front and centre at this year's event. The unique factor of TEDxToronto is that although the name is consistent with the overall TED brand, the event was independently organized by a group of Toronto volunteers.

The theme for this year's TEDxToronto conference was "Alchemy", which can be described as "the magical process of bringing ordinary elements together to make something extraordinary". Keeping consistent to the theme, each presenter had their own spin on alchemy which helped the flow of the presentation. Both hosts, Drew Dudley and Gavin Sheppard kept the pace moving well and actually had moments where they blurred the lines between host and presenter, which is a unique gift as a host can often make or break an event.

Here are some of the highlights of TEDxToronto 2012:

With a strong opening by the Lemon Bucket Orkestra, a self described thirteen piece Balkan-klezmer-gypsy-party-punk-superband from Toronto, the venue got moving and shaking early in the morning.

Vass Bednar was the first to take the stage. Vass asked the question: Why do we strive for jobs in technology companies like Apple and Google when we should be encouraging our youth and thought leaders to be more involved in the public space. Although public policy contains the word public, Vass reiterated that the public has been long forgotten when policy is set.

Angie Draskovic delivered a talk on her journey to use everyday economic activities to alleviate poverty. Her company, Zoë Alliance, helps socially source promotional materials from village producer groups. Sustainable swag is the new buzz word as each care package from a conference can be used to tell a story and employ people in need.

The father/daughter duo of Ryan Henson Creighton and Cassandra Creighton were a big hit with the audience. When Ryan went into Cassandra's grade 1 class, he realized kids were still using the same educational games from the 1980's in the classroom (Oregon trail with a 1 button Mac mouse anyone?). While Cassandra charmed the audience with her adorableness, Ryan enlightened everyone on how kids should be the ones creating the games, not only interacting. Ryan and Cassandra received international headlines when they created "Sissy's Magical Ponycorn Adventure", a game drawn and voiced by Cassandra. If you are wondering what a ponycorn is, well, it's no surprise that it's a pony crossed with a unicorn. According to Cassandra, it's the best combination in the world.

Marcelo da Luz was just a typical guy with a passion that he couldn't shake. He founded The Power of One: The Solar Car Project. His solar car has driven 36,200km using only sunshine as fuel. The best part about his story was that Marcelo was forbidden to drive his solar car in Ontario due to political restrictions. After receiving numerous cease and desist letters, he pulled the XOF1 by hand 503km to raise awareness for the environment.

Isha Datar brought a unique perspective into the cultured meat discussion. With all of the talk about going local and organic, her focus was on educating people about in vitro meat. By advocating for sustainability labelling, Isha believes that by giving people the actual data behind the raw materials (water, feed, etc) used to grow a steak, we may make a different choice when shopping at Metro.

Dr. Joseph Cafazzo kicked off the afternoon sessions with a thought provoking discussion on the divide between technology and health. His talk was structured around using new technologies to benefit people that are suffering from illnesses. He spoke about Bant, an iPhone app that uses gamification to reward people when they input their blood sugar levels at proper times throughout the day. It's been a huge hit with teenagers, who have historically struggled when dealing with illnesses and self-patient care.

Stéfan Danis wowed the crowd with his life story on trials and triumph. When the economy tanked, Stéfan slipped into depression. He needed to find a way out, so he set a goal, to complete the 250km marathon across the Gobi desert. His talk was a great example of mind over matter and how to deal with challenging events in your life.

Laura Reinsborough is the founder of Not Far From the Tree, which is one of Toronto's most unique projects. Laura's idea was to harvest the orchards our city is growing in. Since 2009, Not Far From the Tree and their volunteers have picked nearly 50,000 pounds of fruit from the trees located on property right in the heart of Toronto.

Finishing off the evening with a talk on the alchemy of an artist, one of the most well known Canadian voices - Steven Page - took the 1,300 person audience through a sing-along, which was a fitting end to a thought provoking day.

Last but not least, the Twitter faithful high-jacked the #TEDxToronto hashtag and started filling the twittersphere with stories about bikes being stolen and thrown into a #bikefurnace by the city. Such an interesting clash between social media and inspiring talks can only take place in Toronto.

Lead photo of Vass Bednar

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