“Well, we learned our lesson,” said Robert Sasso as he watched waves of latecomers from his massive audience filter back somewhat sheepishly to their seats. “During the next coffee break, we’ll start calling you [back to your places] as soon as you get up so that you get back on time… This has really grown, and it got complicated.”
The audience slowly broke into applause – not because of tardiness, but in honor of the way that the TEDxPuraVida conference has expanded. Held this year at the Parque Viva Ampitheater in Alajuela, rather than the much smaller Children’s Museum venue of years past, everything was bigger: the space, the distances between sections of the venue, the glimpses of the mountains from the stage. And, of course, the audience, which totaled 1,500 on the first of two conference dates, March 3, and 2,500 on March 4. The second day of this year’s conference was devoted to youth (TEDxPuraVida Jóven), the first time the adult and youth events have been paired in this way.
Now in its seventh year, Costa Rica’s TEDx – the name for independently organized versions of TED, the nonprofit global community best known for the short, thought-provoking talks presented at its conferences – is going strong. This year’s event featured 40 speakers, up from approximately 20 the year before; they ranged from a mountaineer to the minister of public education, from international tech pioneers to a beloved news anchor.
In a phone interview a few days before the event, Sasso, a renowned business and technology consultant and the founder of the Club de Investigación Tecnológica, told The Tico Times that each edition of the popular conference is a full year in the making.
“There’s a curation process that goes on throughout the year. I’ll start preparing for next year probably next week,” he said, adding that he draws from many sources to get ideas for presenters: the Internet, former speakers, the growing TEDx community.
“I follow down so many leads you wouldn’t believe it, and I turn down a lot of people,” he said. “I look for a powerful idea, something different, something they’re passionate about. I don’t like self-fulfillment stories. I’m after valuable ideas and that people really believe in. And they may not be really great speakers, but I’ll work with them.”
A small segment of the event on Thursday afternoon gave an example of the wide range of speakers. Former Costa Rican First Lady Henrietta Boggs, 98, delighted the audience with one-liners such as, “I’ll tell you a secret: I think he [her ex-husband and three-time President José “Pepe” Figueres] started the 1948 Revolution just to calm me down.” She also discussed the progress Costa Rica has made in women’s rights since that time, and the barriers left to break down.
After Boggs came a speaker 84 years younger: Fabricio, 13, who talked about how he overcame a hyperactivity disorder and nodules on his vocal chords to do what he loves best: singing. (He then treated the crowd to a song.)
Other speakers talked about the importance of stimulating imagination to stay competitive; the need for “political innovation” in Latin America; and how people and governments can prepare themselves for a world where artificial intelligence has radically changed our work and private lives.
“I believe when you share ideas, everybody grows, everybody benefits. The knowledge economy is different,” Sasso told The Tico Times. “If I share an apple, I don’t have it anymore, [but] sharing ideas is not like sharing things. When you share ideas, new ideas are created.”
According to Leonardo Gutiérrez, a project director who spoke to The Tico Times during one of the event’s swag-filled coffee breaks, Sasso has accomplished that mission.
“This helps us to break out of our day-to-day routine,” said Gutiérrez, who who was attending his first TEDxPuraVida. “It shows us that with just a little, we can achieve a lot. We can make big changes if we start with what’s right around us.”
“When you go to a rock concert, you entertain your ears,” said attendee Karl Schmack, the director of the Costa Rican North American Cultural Center (CCCN), who has been to six of the seven TEDxPuraVida conferences. “Coming here is entertainment for the mind.”
Jill Replogle contributed to this report.