While so many people in their 20s enjoy living their lives one day at a time, Sath Sodane struggles to go beyond the norms. At 22, he juggles his time studying in two different universities while trying to change the world through small but influential ways. And with his new goal to create a platform where people can come together for learning and encouragement, Sodane is set to stage TEDx ‘What If’ – the first locally-organised TEDx in the country. Sodane shares his ideals with Eileen McCormick.
Good Times2: What inspired you to organise a TEDx event?
Sodane: I want to help the society in ways I know. I realised that I can use my ability to organise youth events that can benefit people. I came across TEDx and became an instant fan. I studied how the event is organised in other places, and how to get a license to do it here in Cambodia.
I got really excited when I realised that there are a lot of great ideas Cambodians can share. These ideas are more than just about innovation, culture or art. There’s so much more. But sadly, there is no platform for Cambodians to engage in these topics. I haven’t seen these topics tackled in social media or in newspapers. All I see are traffic accidents and strange news that do not really benefit the society. That’s why I thought of staging TEDx. I have always wanted to expose the country to the international stage, and my event will veer away from sensational news to things that really matter. While I acknowledge the fact that I cannot create a miracle and go up on stage to hold my country’s flag, I thought that I can help others do it.
Good Times2: Why TEDx?
Sodane: I want to bring the mission and vision of TEDx to Cambodia. I value what they have done in creating a common stage where people share knowledge and ideas around the globe. The style and set up are done so well that the event and the speakers seem to command the audience to listen attentively.
Good Times2: Did you get support from any of your professors?
Sodane: No, I did it all by myself. No one helped me in this endeavor. I just sat there and read through the rules of TEDx for about three days. And it took me three months before I was given the license to hold a TEDx event here. For some people, getting the license can be really fast. But in my case, I was not always clear on my goals and plans. TEDx people had to help me redesign my proposal several times.
Good Times2: How did you handle the rejections?
Sodane: I never gave up because I know this is something I really want to achieve. There were times that I got discouraged, but TEDx staff encouraged me to go on. They didn’t reject my proposals for no reason. They provided me with a clear understanding on what I needed to improve. Honestly, I tried to focus on a theme that I thought TEDx would like, which is why I chose motivation. However, TEDx is not just about one theme and by trying to over-please them, I got rejected. They want abstract ideas and I found it very hard to understand what an abstract idea was. It took me three months to come up with an actual abstract theme. In the end, I came up with the “What If” concept.
Good Times2: Was it difficult to find speakers?
Sodane: Yes. I found so many people with really great ideas but had no skills in public speaking. And there were also those who love to talk in front of a huge audience but do not really have good ideas to share. And even if I find people who are great in both aspects, they have no time for the event. I found out that people get very busy with school and work, and that they are not really into sharing of ideas with others. But I didn’t give up despite the challenges. I really want to expose Cambodia to new ideas from good local speakers. I believe Cambodia has a great potential to be an active player in this international community.
Good Times2: How do the speakers fit in to the “What If” theme?
Sodane: That’s what I love about TEDx. You can get people from any background with any idea and it will intricately fit into the theme. The speakers will be talking about psychology and critical thinking, thriving and surviving through music, and personal growth. Speakers cannot talk about the same topic. Most of the speakers will be giving their talks in English, but there will be one who will use the Khmer language. It’s not that I don’t want people to listen to Khmer, but we have to acknowledge that his is an international stage. In order for ideas to be fully understood and shared, we need to use English. I want Cambodia to be able to contribute to the world because we have so many great ideas in us.
Good Times2: How did you motivate them to volunteer?
Sodane: I let them know that they’re not just helping Cambodia or one small community, but the world. Without a platform to share their ideas, they would remain hidden. Most of the people I met agreed since they are also fans of TEDx. The real challenge is getting sponsors. TEDx has very strict rules when it comes to sponsorships. TEDx only allows a small spot for premium sponsors in videos we create. But the money we receive from the sponsors will be used for future events.
Good Times2: What is your hope for the future of TEDx in Cambodia?
Sodane: I plan and hope to host as many events as I can in the future. I plan after this event not to disband my team but see if some of them will continue to volunteer and help maintain this new TEDx hub. I would like to be named as the Cambodia TEDx ambassador. It is my hope that I can be a good resource for other Cambodians who also want to set up their own TEDx events. I don’t want anyone to suffer from limited support.
I also believe that through events like TEDx, the youth will be more motivated to learn new things outside of their classrooms. Some of my professors even encourage us to go outside and learn from others. They tell us to not be lazy but be inspired by life instead. Also, there are a lot of events organised by youth organisations that people can take part in. These activities will help the youth develop skills and eventually help society improve.
With these kinds of events, Cambodians will be able to hear different ideals from people with different backgrounds and experiences. This will give them more reasons to be active members of the community and take responsibility of the developments rather than waiting for others, including the government, to fix problems in society.