Kiruba Shankar—Brain Behind TEDx Chennai


Kiruba Shankar wears many hats. He runs a blogging company, sits on the board of Rang De, and is director of Wikimedia, India. To add to this, he teaches at Asian College of Journalism and gives talks on blogging to students in IIM Bangalore, Anna University, and various colleges. He has now donned one more hat. He has initiated TEDx to Chennai.With a bunch of 25 eager volunteers and four months of hardwork behind Kiruba, TEDx Chennai did come alive on 29 November 2009. Kiruba made TEDx different from the word go. The participants were served breakfast! (whoever suggested the idea deserve our applause). After idli, pongal, and vada to heart’s desire, the audience got in to witness the speakers who inspired with their own stories. His anchoring of the event was fantastic. Chinmayi, the playback singer and Kiruba’s long time friend, was roped in as a co-host.

Kiruba is a truly multifaceted human being with a touch of grace. His story of how he brought TEDx Chennai is a lesson in entrepreneurship for young entrepreneurs.

Kiruba was driving on a highway. He was fascinated to see tree saplings on the road. He wanted to know who had kept them, perhaps by mistake. This led him to Mullai Vanam, who was keeping them on the highway for people to “steal” them. Why? Mullai lost his wife a few years back and she loved trees. So whenever Mullai gets to meet you [or anyone for that matter], he asks for your birthday and wedding anniversary, records them in his diary, and promptly plants a sapling on each of these days. He then calls you up to inform you that saplings are planted and you can visit them anytime! Mullai Vanam was recognized at TEDx Chennai when Kiruba told the audience about why three plant saplings were kept on the stage. Kiruba is such a person that he brought an unsung hero to limelight. No wonder he also brought TEDx to Chennai. After TEDx Chennai, he tweeted: “I've found my lifecalling. Unearth and discover inspiring people from various fields and make them meet each other.”

He was kind enough to share his calling and to talk to us about TEDx Chennai on the day of the event.

Kiruba started with TED conference at Long Beach, California. To emphasize how inspiring this conference has been, he says each of the 1000 seats costs about Rs. 3 lakhs ($6600). Furthermore, all the 1000 tickets for the 2010 TED Long Beach is sold out. And the tickets for 2011 is about to be sold out. When TED reached a level of popularity, the organizers did two important things. First they opened up TED conferences free to audience through the Internet through live web streaming and then by featuring recorded videos of the shows on the TED website to be viewed by anyone. In fact, a couple of TED videos were played during TEDx Chennai. Second, according to Kiruba, “they did something fantabulous,” when they open sourced the event to willing organizers who can bring in amazing people to present ideas worth spreading. This gave birth to TEDx where x stands for independently organized events.

How did Kiruba manage to organize the event with a team? There are no formal members for TEDx Chennai. He too open sourced the volunteering part. Any young, aspiring, passionate person willing to meet someone who has achieved something in life is welcome to be a volunteer. Every one of the volunteers signed up just with fire in the belly and a touch of inspiration to contribute to something that could transform people’s lives. Kiruba’s high point is that he was able to get in 25 willing volunteers and guide them, pivot them, and finally make TEDx Chennai happen. If you look at the composition of volunteers, they are not senior executives in a big company, except for David Appasamy of Sify. They all are eager, young, passionate people (Benedict Gnaiah, advertising professional, 51 years old, included). With no history of organizing an event behind them, they worked as a team to realize the event. They did have teething problems. In the end, they accomplished their mission in an admirable way. In the postevent meet, some volunteers lamented that they didn’t get to eat breakfast and lunch. Such was their commitment.

The objective of TEDx Chennai, according to Kiruba, is to get amazing people from different walks of life, be it movies, technology, mobile, medicine, or you name it and hand pick them to be speakers of TEDx Chennai. He feels “When great people come together, amazing things happen.”

The word about TEDx Chennai was spread mostly online—blogs, Facebook, Twitter, and of course, they have a website ( Don’t you think this is an amazing lesson in marketing? You have less time, and limited space as TED is largely an unknown concept except for people who have known TED India that happened in Mysore recently. Still you are able to create a buzz in Chennai.

With a mission to bring TED India experience to TEDx Chennai by enabling people to get TED India-like experience (for who could not make it to TED India), Kiruba finally was successful in finding sponsorship. Although initially there were less sponsors, less tickets sold, the situation turned around with a week of the event. Sponsors started approaching the organizers and had to be turned back and the 240-seat capacity of IC & SR auditorium at IIT Madras was full to the brim. And then all eager ticket seekers had to be turned down.

Kiruba credits Chris Anderson of TED as the person behind the success of TED all over the world. And we credit Kiruba for being the brain behind this amazing event in Chennai. TEDx is here to stay. The next year’s event is slated to be on 10.10.10. And Kiruba promises to bring this dose of inspiration and ideas worth spreading to Chennai every year. YourStory wishes Kiruba the very best in his endeavor.


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