TEDxWomen returns to Antwerp with a focus on momentum


The upcoming edition of TEDxWomenFlanders will address the toll of our sky-is-the-limit approach to life and work on our health

All talks in English

Six inspiring speakers, 10-minute power talks and an audience of 150 women – Huis Happaert in Antwerp is gearing up for the second edition of TEDxWomenFlanders, which will take place later this month.

TED is short for technology, entertainment and design. What started in California as a one-off event in 1984 has grown into a host of independently organised TEDx events around the world. TEDxFlanders, for instance, was founded in 2009, making it the oldest TEDx in the Benelux and the sixth oldest in Europe.

The first TEDWoman talk was held in Washington, DC in 2010 and co-hosted by US media pioneer Pat Mitchell. Three years later, TEDxWomenFlanders was born.

“I used to volunteer for TEDxFlanders and TEDxYouthFlanders, but felt I could do more for my peer audience: women,” says Ellen Wezenbeek. As the manager of the stately event space Huis Happaert, she had the event location sorted right away. “I teamed up with five great women to organise the first talk. Together we chose six speakers and spread news of the event.” The 150 tickets sold out in 24 hours.

Even though TEDxWomenFlanders is organised independently, it takes place on the same day as TEDxWomen talks around the world and follows the same themes. This year, the focus is on “momentum” and the speakers include Accessible Art Fair founder Stephanie Manasseh; hockey player Sofie Gierts; Isabelle Lenarduzzi, founder of Jump, a company that promotes gender equality at work; doctor and therapist Paul Koeck; and Bradley Moore, one of 100 finalists in the Mars One programme to establish a human settlement on Mars.

“We chose speakers who will appeal to an audience of mainly women, of all ages. Last time, a few men showed up as well. They’re more than welcome,” Wezenbeek explains. “Every speaker will have 10 minutes to give a powerful talk. We ask them to come without PowerPoint slides or other attributes, so the focus is entirely on what they say.”

A red flag

One of the topics that will be returned to throughout the evening is stress and burnout, which Koeck calls “a very large problem in Western society”. “We believe in a Cartesian ideal where the sky is the limit. This way of thinking has generated great inventions and progress, but unlike machines, humans can’t always move forward and be better. Things need to be in balance,” he says. 

Humans can’t always move forward and be better

- Speaker Paul Koeck

But this perpetual rat race will eventually take its toll, he warns, because unlike our muscles, our brains don’t have pain receptors. Admittedly, other symptoms can be a red flag for stress and tension, and when spotted in time, people can recover in about three weeks. “But when you suffer from a burnout, you can be out for several months,” he says.

To help as many people as possible, Koeck developed 15minutes4me.com, an online test and self-help programme. Over 400,000 people have taken the test since the website was launched in 2008. “And while therapists usually see a lot more women than men, there are relatively more men who enrolled for the online self-help programme,” Koeck says. 

A welcome break

The TEDxWomenFlanders event mixes motivational speeches with streams of the official TEDWomen video cast. The programme also includes several breaks to allow the audience to mingle and relax at the bar. “With so many women gathered in one place, we need to have a break every now and then,” Wezenbeek laughs.

The upcoming event will also feature a natural wine tasting and an exhibition with drawings by Laura de Coninck, daughter of late Flemish writer Herman de Coninck, and items from the erotic store De Erotische Verbeelding will also be for sale.

And as with the previous edition in 2013, the organisers have also embraced a good cause. “We’ve invited documentary maker Nic Balthazar to teach us his Climate Song and even write our own lyrics for it,” Wezenbeek explains. “He was so smitten with the invitation, he will even be giving a mini-talk at the end of the evening.”

If you couldn’t get tickets to the sold-out event, fear not. “As with all TED events, we can count on a group of volunteers to film, edit and upload the talks to our YouTube channel.”

17.00-22.00, 29 May at Huis Happaert, Happaertstraat 25, Antwerp

Photo: Attendees at the TEDxWomenFlanders in 2013
Photo by Niko Caignie