Home > News > Bravery, brevity and belonging - TEDxOpenUniversity 2019: the highlights

Bravery, brevity and belonging - TEDxOpenUniversity 2019: the highlights

TEDxOpenUniversity stage

Bravery, brevity and belonging - TEDxOpenUniversity 2019: the highlights

TEDxOpenUniversity 2019 invited a global audience to broaden their minds and imagine what’s next for our future. It was The Open University’s first ever TEDx event, which brought together a community of curious thinkers spanning the entire globe. The event, hosted at the Berrill Lecture Theatre, was made especially memorable by the fact that it coincided with our 50th anniversary.

The central theme ‘Imagine What’s Next’ covered a whole host of subjects including the sciences, advanced technologies, relationships, mental health, race and identity. Our guest speakers spoke candidly about their life experiences – both professional and personal – and we thank them for their bravery and brevity. After all, they only had an average of ten minutes, which we're sure our speakers would agree could go by in a flash!

The event did not go unnoticed, thanks to the hundreds of you live streaming from the comfort of your home and the subsequent conversations that erupted online. And, yes, the rumours were true: we were trending on Twitter. 

Combined, our live and remote audiences reached an impressive 22,000. Why do we think it did so well? People left the auditorium moved, energised, inspired and humbled, but ultimately, there was something greater at play. The overriding message was one of inclusivity, diversity and empowerment – the notion that our differences must be celebrated was very much a recurring message. 

The tweets and quotes published in this article really do speak for themselves. So, without further delay, let’s delve a little deeper into the subjects explored throughout TEDxOpenUniversity 2019, and hear from the audience. 

#1 The Future is Digital 

Martha-Lane Fox was first to take to the stage with her thoughts on the digital world and how it’s continuously evolving and shaping our lives: “Right now we are facing a mid-life crisis in technology. This, today, is the slowest moment we are going to live through from now; everything will get faster”. 

John Domingue, Nicholas Braithwaite and Dr. Adrian Mallory spoke about the ways new and emerging technologies, such as blockchain and human-centred data, can empower the workforce and wider society. Other areas of focus included the importance of building a diverse team of individuals, and the ways virtual reality environments can help improve overall quality of life.

Helen Lockett explored aerospace design and the future of additive manufacturing: “In the future there will be 3D printed parts in the products we use, in aircraft, in cars and even in our bodies”.

#2 Better Working Lives 

Finlay Games and Victoria Williams stressed the importance of implementing flexible working conditions for employees, especially those with on-going physical and mental health conditions. 

Through her research and lived experience as a woman with endometriosis, Victoria believes that managers should be trained to recognise that biological differences exist in the workplace. She argued that policies and policymakers must evolve with the needs of the workplace: “200 million women of working age are living with endometriosis and it takes eight years to be diagnosed”.

#3 Mental Health Matters 

Jeremiah Osei-Tutu, James Schwanethal and Finlay Games were among those to share their personal stories surrounding mental health.

Jeremiah Osei-Tutu focused on why we must look beyond labels and challenge the stigma attached to long-term mental health conditions. He explained how a diagnosis can be terrifying if you have little understanding of the condition: “The most difficult moment of my life was hearing the diagnosis of schizophrenia”. 

Finlay Games shared his journey as a transgender man overcoming mental illness and addiction. He told us how redesigning his life to accommodate his mental health was life-changing: “The fact I can and want to imagine what’s next is a miracle to me. Not so long ago, my mental health got in the way of any future I may hope to imagine”.

#4 Revolutionise Learning 

Dr. Wayne Holmes, Kate Lister, Clara Gray and Philip Colligan each made a strong case for making learning and education more accessible to the masses. Ideas included implementing positive activities in learning, investing in the future generation and solving social and environmental issues with advanced tech.

 “AI in education is too important to be left to the scientists and entrepreneurs. We need to engage with the educators, focussing on the learners and the learning” – Wayne Holmes

#5 Diversity and Inclusion 

Creating inclusive environments is essential when it comes to ensuring the unrepresented have a voice. Dr. Julie McElroy, David Breakspear and James Schwanethal explained how they became stronger in the face of adversity. 

Julie McElroy argued that the world needs to be more accommodating to people and Assistive Technologies (ATs) need to be part of the mainstream: “Assistive technology can be life-changing and vital to the independence of many. There is a need to address this gap”. 

James Schwanethal explained the challenges he faced following his diagnosis of autism: “When I tell people I’m autistic, people often say I don’t look it. How am I supposed to look? If I don’t look autistic it’s because I mask it. At the end of the day the mask falls off and I’m exhausted”.

#6 The Environment and Climate Change

Both Yasmin Bokhari-Friberg and Derek Jones agreed that we must work together collectively to minimise our carbon footprint. But switching lights off is simply not enough. In Yasmin’s words: “We are past the point of saving the world by turning the lights off. Climate change is the biggest challenge of our time; we are causing it and we need to solve it”.

Derek Jones adopted a matter-of-fact approach to his talk, and alluded to ways we can be more environmentally responsible on an individual level: “We won’t change the world by changing more stuff. We’ll change the future by changing ourselves” – Derek Jones 

What our audiences thought:





You can catch up on the comments and discussions from the day via #TEDxOpenUniversity. 

Finally, we want to say a HUGE thank you to our wonderfully courageous speakers, the dedicated team of staff and volunteers and YOU, our audience, for attending the very first TEDxOpenUniversity – our hotly anticipated event of the year. And we smashed it. 

If you missed the live event ­– it’s not too late! We’ll soon be sharing the talks on the TEDx YouTube channel! 

Share this page: twitter icon facebook icon