Young and Full of Ideas: Sajjad Kamal, Organizer for TEDx Al Ain

By Stefanie Peterson

Published: Thursday, March 01, 2012    

In 2011, Sajjad Kamal helped bring TEDx to Al Ain. In the days and weeks prior to the event, he didn't get much sleep, but in the end his efforts were rewarded. The first TEDx event in this city was a success, and Sajjad managed to accomplish the major goal that he had set for himself. He's looking to do it all again this year, only he'll have a bit more help from others in the community this time around.

Sajjad grew up in Al Ain, but it took some time abroad to kindle his sense of community and his hope to inspire his fellow Al Ainites. "I moved to Canada in 2005, went to university and worked there. And I saw that, out there, people get together. With a purpose and a cause, they can turn the city inside out, and people volunteer their time. Al Ain was a great place to grow up, but we really didn't have that community experience. There aren't many outlets to do things here, so I thought, 'Why don't we try to do something like TEDx in Al Ain?' since I was involved with two TEDx events in Canada. It was kind of a crazy idea, and I had no idea how to pull it off. Barely any of my friends were around here; my parents were the only people around that I knew. But I figured I would just come back. So I quit my job [in Canada] and decided that I wanted to go down an entrepreneurial path."

It was a risk for Sajjad, but sometimes you have to take a big risk for a big reward. Though only 22 years old at the time, Sajjad was determined to bring the renowned TED name to his hometown. "I started talking to people about it. I first asked a friend of mine about it, and he thought it was crazy, but said he'd love to help. The idea just started from there and it took off. The way things happened here, I had to dedicate two months of my time entirely to this. I'm a victim of trying to do too many things. This is something I do in my spare time, but it takes up most of my time."

Last May was the debut of TEDx Al Ain. Prior to the event, no one really had a clear vision of what was going to happen, except Sajjad. He knew the purpose, the vision and the feeling that he wanted to impress upon people – to create a ripple effect, stirring inspiration in those in attendance and creating a common bond between neighbors.

"Last year, we were trying to do an event out of thin air. When I was going in to companies, they were asking about the motive behind it, and there were a lot of naysayers. We were showing videos from other TEDx events or posters we had created. But now when we go to people, we can show them videos from our event last year and our press releases, show them our website. They actually see that we've done it, and it gives them more confidence to support us this year. We had some pretty strong partners last year. As soon as we say Mubadala Aerospace, Al Ain Municipality or Etihad Airways are sponsoring TEDx, other companies are more confident in supporting us."

Sajjad is gearing up for the event on April 14, 2012, arranging notable speakers and aiming for an even bigger and better event than last year. This year's theme is "Discover: You, Community, Ideas."

The speakers at this year's event will include: Jalal Luqman, an art curator and mixed-media artist, who will be discussing creativity and sharing his innovative ways of thinking with today's youth; Abeeb Sulaiman Al Balushi, an 8-year-old child prodigy, whose invention to help his father living with polio is sure to inspire the audience; and Nasser Ali Aziz Al-Sheraifi, founder of the Al Ain Private Center for Care and Rehabilitation, who, along with his son, will be speaking about starting the center that focuses on helping individuals with disabilities. When Al-Sheraifi's son was diagnosed with autism, and the only option for treatment was located in Abu Dhabi, he decided to start the facility to cater to families and individuals in Al Ain.

At last year's event, 300 people were expected, but over 1,000 people turned out. Sajjad wants to be better prepared this time around. "I'm leading the whole initiative in Al Ain," he says. "There are about 25 people helping us now, and we have a leadership team of 11 people. Last year, it was more like, 'Chop chop, get the work done.' This year, we have a group of people, and we have to pass down the vision and passion of everything. Everyone is excited and energized to work. It's been fabulous having a stronger team with everyone coming up with different ideas. There are a lot of students involved from UAE University and Abu Dhabi University to help us plan the event. Even larger companies are excited about getting involved. In the last seven months, I could write a book about the number of people I've met, the good, bad, challenging experiences … it's been a whirlwind."

Sajjad is not looking to move mountains, simply to stir something inside at least one person:

"The best comment I received last year was from a volunteer. He said, 'Thanks for everything. I have one item on my dream-list now, and I will do anything for it – I'm inspired to do something in my life that is worthy enough to be a speaker, to share my idea.' If we are able to touch one person's life, I think that is a success. It's hard to tell if a community event is successful or not. I was at peace, later on, thinking that we may not know how successful our event was, or what the result was, but if someone decides to start their own business or follow something they love in their life, then it was a success."
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