TEDxUCLWomen – Interview

IMOGEN GODDARD interviews Laraib Azam Rajper, organiser of this year’s TEDxUCLWomen: ‘Disrupt’ conference, taking place on 1st December.

The TEDxUCLWomen conference is fast approaching and it promises to be a fantastic day bringing inspirational women’s speeches and achievements to the forefront. It is one of hundreds of independent TED Women’s events which take place all over the world, consisting of talks, workshops and conferences providing platforms for those under-represented in the media. Founded at UCL five years ago by medical student Sujitha Selvarajah, the annual conference is now well established and affiliated with a number of universities. The organiser, Laraib Azam Rajper, studies at Queen Mary’s University. We meet one morning in the Print Room Café, to discuss her plans for the event. From our discussion of this year’s theme ‘Disrupt’, it is clear that it will be an inclusive and accessible space to celebrate all kinds of women, including entrepreneurs, paralympians, and scientists.

Laraib speaks with ease and confidence and builds a compelling picture of the event, its history and her involvement. With just 10 days to go before the conference itself, Laraib is busier than ever but she takes time out of her day to explain her involvement in the project, and show her passion for it. ‘Disrupt’ will showcase numerous inspirational women with various backgrounds and opinions and this is reflected behind-the-scenes of the event as well. Laraib is herself a role-model, balancing her role as Organiser with completing her final year studying Computer Science BSc. Her excitement for the project is evident and the themes and ideas that ‘Disrupt’ promotes clearly resonate with her. ‘Even my intersect’, she explains, ‘as a woman of colour, who is mixed race, and also a computer scientist, working constantly in a male dominated environment, having the strong views that I have’. In her own way, she is disruptive and she inspires us to all make an active difference in our own lives.

I ask Laraib about the structure of the day-long conference. ‘The day itself has talks’, she clarifies, ‘but it’s interspersed with workshops, a marketplace of brands that are trading at our event – female-owned or female-led with a particular focus on women of colour,’ along with an art exhibition. This year’s interactive focus will make for a more experience-based conference, demonstrating the work of the female speakers and their peers. The theme for TEDWomen 2018 is ‘Showing Up’, but ‘Disrupt’ branches off, taking this one step further. ‘This year we want to ask what happens after women have got a seat at the table, what happens after you show up, what can you do in a more active way to make a difference?’ The range of speakers will demonstrate how they make active progress in their various communities.

The team behind ‘Disrupt’ ensures that a range of voices are heard and of the eleven women speaking at the conference, I ask Laraib to pick out a few, although they all embody what it means to be disruptive. ‘We have Anne Wafula Strike, a Paralympian, she will explore what it means to be in that space having a disability.’ Sharmadean Reid MBE will also speak, an entrepreneur and the founder and owner of WAH Nails, whose work explores the beauty business as a form of therapy for women. ‘She’s an entrepreneur and a really, really awesome human who I think could be classed as a visionary’ – this may be who Laraib is most excited for. Her final mention is Munroe Bergdorf, a trans activist and a trans woman of colour. ‘With all the intersectionalities that that brings to light, she just has a lot to say. Her presence is disruptive.’ It is clear that intersectionality and identity are ‘sub-themes’ of this year’s event.

The organising committee is keen to represent those who do not typically have a platform elsewhere, again perhaps stepping away from the more traditional umbrella of TEDWomen, where the focus is more on entrepreneurs and businesswomen. Their audience is  generally older and more corporate, compared to the 18-25 target audience of TEDxUCLWomen. ‘We want to empower people to talk more about subjects that aren’t traditionally explored,’ Laraib explains. The constant drive for improvement and inclusivity is what makes the work of TEDxUCLWomen so impressive. Year to year, they aim to improve the nature of the events and always question if they are doing a good enough job. ‘We try to be very, very inclusive,’ Laraib tells me. ‘I think we are, but I say “try” because I think there is always room for improvement.’ It is this mentality that makes their work so successful and far reaching. The talks are recorded and posted on YouTube and will also be livestreamed, a first for this year. The team is concerned that the ticket price of £20 is not as low as it should be, but they make sure to offer discounted or free tickets to ‘those in hardship’. Again, this contrasts certain TED events where a single ticket can cost £10,000. The motive behind TEDxUCLWomen’s push for affordability is admirable; as Laraib astutely observes, ‘you can have as much representation as possible, but if the people who need to witness it can’t because it’s inaccessible, you’re not really making an impact.’

It is this comment that stays with me at the end of our conversation, and it summarises the motives behind this year’s ‘Disrupt’. The focus behind TEDxUCLWomen is reaching those who need it most. They have successfully created a platform for marginalised people not only to share their stories and opinions, but most importantly to celebrate themselves and others. Under Laraib’s strong guidance and support from her committee, ‘Disrupt’ will do just what it sets out to: create waves of change and inspiration for future generations.

TEDxUCLWomen: Disrupt will take place on Saturday 1st December at King’s College London, Bush House Campus. More information can be found here.

Featured image courtesy of TEDxUCLWomen.