How it all started

TEDxBaghdad is a prestigious project that helps Iraq to become a centre of knowledge and optimism once again, and allows Iraqi talents to develop and gain international recognition.  TEDxBaghdad is initiated by Yahay Alabdeli, an Iraqi refugee who lives in Amsterdam. His dream is to bring inspiration to the Iraqi people.

At the first meeting of the Ideas Worth Doing project group for TEDxBaghdad Yahay Alabdeli’s tells us about the beginning of his dream project. How he got the idea. How it all started.

Contribute back

Iraqi people who live abroad support their family in Iraq by sending them money and goods. One day Yahay Alabdeli – at the time an Iraqi student in Sweden – simply stopped doing that. He told his parents: ‘I don’t have any impact on these people. They take the money, buy food and that’s it.’ For the first time he thought: How can I contribute back to my country?

Inspiring TED Talk by Aboutaleb

It took a while for Yahay to get the right answer to that question. It came on the day he entered TEDxRotterdam only one year ago, in 2010. The first person who came on stage was Ahmed Aboutaleb, Mayor of Rotterdam, who is of Moroccan descent. Yahay tells that he was almost crying when he listened to Aboutaleb talking about the importance of knowledge. Aboutalebs dream, when he was young, was to study in Baghdad. In the 1960’s Baghdad was the city of knowledge and education in the Middle East. This news was an a-ha moment for Yahay: ‘This is my country he’s talking about!’ He’s so excited and thanks Aboutaleb enthusiastically. Yahay knows that he wants to do something.

Idea worth doing

One beautiful day Yahay Alabdeli calls Jim Stolze, president of TEDxAmsterdam. They have lunch together – but before they order anything, Yahay tells Jim: “I have a dream to take the TED experience to Baghdad. I want to be in your organisation and take all the experience over there.” Just like that.

A GO from Big TED

At the beginning of this year Yahay sends the application form for the license for TEDxBaghdad to the “Big TED” – that’s how he calls the main organisation. Big TED reacts very surprised: Baghdad? Why? How?

A sparkling eyed Yahay tells about the moment he got the approval: ‘It was a Saturday. I was home alone. I looked at my e-mail and read in the subject “Approval for License”. I thought: “This can’t be true.” I had a black out. I had to print the e-mail, because I couldn’t see clearly. I closed my eyes and visualised what would come. It was a life changing moment. I told my wife: “I’m going to do this.”’

Irene de Waal