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The power of online communities: how a Northampton student reached hundreds through TEDx

JUL 22, 2020 • 15 min read

“I always like to remind students that sometimes the greatest initial impact we have can be on our local community,”

- Crimson Education Strategist, Dylan.

Caroline Chisholm student Charlie, planned to make a significant impact on young people, with the launch of a virtual TEDx Youth event, TEDxYouth@CarolineChisholmSchool with the Theme “Ignite!”. With the help of his Crimson Education mentor Dylan, a strategist who guides Charlie through his capstone projects, the virtual conference secured over 500 attendees from multiple countries.

The passionate student who has his goals set on studying behavioural economics with a dream to one day work in consulting, spoke with us about the process he undertook to bring this virtual event to young people around the world amidst the coronavirus pandemic.

Since our initial story, Charlie has developed the platform, Inspire Your Future that features 30 minute live talks – each featuring a Q&A session to help engage and involve students, allowing them to communicate with top academics and leaders who they would not have met otherwise.

Read on to discover Charlie’s journey so far, the online community he has built from his home town of Northampton and the mentoring that he received from Dylan to take his idea to action.

Charlie

What first sparked your project idea? Are there additional projects / issues you are passionate about?

TEDx events are independently organised events, which bring TED-like talks to our local community. I wanted to find a platform that gives students the opportunity to view a wide range of topics - empowering them with knowledge and the curiosity to learn, outside of the classroom. I feel motivation and ambition are incredibly important in education and wanted to help students develop their passions - which is especially important during lockdown. To continue this mission I have started ‘Inspire your Future’ to bring together leading academics, students and leaders to help inspire young people worldwide.

How did your initiative fit in with your high school workload? How did you balance your ECL project alongside your academics and other pursuits?

I used some of my free periods to work on the project. As it gathered momentum I recruited a team and we now work together to plan and organise the event. Especially while we are in lockdown, calendars are great, I can schedule time for meetings or to work on different aspects of planning the event, as well as time for academics and other projects.

Can you please quantify the impact this project has had? This could be on other students, the wider community etc

We hope that the event is going to have a broad reach*. While our in-person event was limited to 100 attendees, by moving online we are looking to reach as many students as possible, we are offering something new, for around one hour out of their day, where they can watch our incredible speakers talk about a vast range of topics. We hope that while empowering students with knowledge, they will go off and investigate different areas further - while in lockdown students can use this time to their advantage to explore deeper different areas they are interested in through reading or an online course for example.

*The event went on to welcome over 500 live attendees with the talks receiving over 2,800 views on YouTube following the event.

Where do you envisage taking this project in say, 1 - 5 years from now?

I am in Year 12 now, I hope that next year I can help another student re-apply for the licence. I hope students can continue and that I can help them in some way to make sure these have as positive an impact as possible. This goes outside the confines of the normal classroom, moves away from the specifications and allows students to learn about new, interesting ideas, or talks which question their current beliefs. This is not only beneficial for those who watch but the event curators - my team and I have also learnt a lot while organising the event. I hope that not just for my school, but that I can inspire students to go on to organise their own TEDx events or start their own initiative to help students in their community.

What obstacles have you faced and overcome in taking your project from an idea to its current stage?

I think coronavirus has been our main obstacle. We had to decide whether it would be possible to hold an in-person event or whether we should move to an online, live stream only. We chose the latter, we also decided to move our event forward so have had to work quickly to bring the event together. Moving the event online had also raised new questions, like how to keep a virtual audience engaged?

What resources and tools helped you to maximise the impact of your initiative?

We have used a range of resources to help organise our event. By moving online we have been able to reach an unlimited audience and are working to share the event with as many young people as possible. TED has also produced many great resources and the TEDx community is brilliant. I love the weekly hangouts with organisers from all over the globe.

What valuable support and advice have you received from your Crimson ECL mentor, and any other role models in your life?

My Extracurricular and Leadership mentor has been great in helping to plan, we devised a month-by-month plan of what needed to be done and how I could do it. They also provide a unique perspective, with recent experiences completing their own projects. When it comes to marketing for example they have their plans and materials and can help to advise on what works best and what you can use.

What advice would you give to other students who are looking to make an impact and also, who have ambitions to study at a top-ranked university after high school?

I would urge anyone to look into organising a TEDx event. Organising an event is not only great for the audience but is very beneficial to the organiser as well. I think these events are great - learning outside of the classroom with new, surprising ideas that spark discussion. I hope that more students look to organise such events as the benefits are unlimited. I would say don’t try to do as much as possible, instead undertake projects, academic or extra-curricular, because you are genuinely interested, and then the time you spend doesn’t feel like hard work; especially when you are striving towards a greater goal.

What goals and dreams do you have for your future beyond school?

I’m passionate about behavioural economics, and this is something I want to explore further at university, through an undergraduate and hopefully a masters degree. Following this I am looking at a career in consulting, I have a particular interest in marketing and sales. I want to be in a position where I am able to have an even greater impact - besides my career aspirations I am also passionate about education and would love to undertake more projects that improve education and increase ambition and motivation among students.

Dylan

What has surprised you about Charlie's attitude compared to 'most students'?

What I look forward to each time I meet with Charlie is how he isn’t just thinking one step ahead — he’s thinking two or three! He sees his ideal outcomes, and as his strategist, it’s a pleasure to provide him with the roadmap to achieve those outcomes.

How do you see Charlie's event having an impact on other young people?

As technology has allowed for an increasing global-interconnectedness, Charlie’s TEDx event should certainly inspire a new generation of students to reconsider how they define their surrounding communities and ultimately galvanize them to seek out new ways to engage with others and create their own networks.

How would you describe the way in which you work together?

What I love about working with Charlie is how ambitious his goals are and how clear his visions are for how he sees his outcomes. Each time I meet with Charlie, he has a new vision for his future — an even larger goal to accomplish — but Charlie is incredibly motivated, and it’s truly rewarding to provide him with the support to fulfill, and even surpass, these goals.

As a Crimson tutor/mentor, how would you describe your role?

As a Crimson strategist, I would describe my role as providing students with the roadmap and continued support to not only achieve their short-term and long-term goals, but to also help them see beyond their potential. When I first meet with students, we often spend some time discussing how they define success; from there, we are able to set forth a series of short term and long term goals. As Strategists, we are here to support students each step of the way and provide personalized support to ensure students are heading in the right direction.

What advice would you give to other students who are willing to make a difference but may not feel they have the tools / platform to be heard?

I think one of the greatest resources we have is our community. I have often heard students voice their concerns about reaching a wide audience and being able to express their voice on a global scale — it is certainly daunting! — but I always like to remind students that sometimes the greatest initial impact we have can be on our local community. When working with students on larger capstone projects, we often begin by engaging with and utilizing the immediate resources around us, which almost always leads to bigger endeavors. It’s through our local community that we may begin to grow and discover the platforms to have our voices heard.

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