Strawberry-Blue Olive believes in the power of “ideas worth spreading.” This heartfelt belief in the TED tagline—plus her love of innovation, creativity, and community—made her an apt fit to carry the mantle of TEDxOmaha when original license holder Brian Smith stepped away after 2017.
If you’ve never “met” TED, it’s a nonprofit aiming to spread knowledge and ideas, most notably in the form of TED talks (mini-lectures clocking in at 18 minutes or less) and conferences. TED began as a 1984 conference co-mingling topics of technology, entertainment, and design, but it has evolved into a sprawling network of projects and communities worldwide. The TED mission is ambitious yet simple: to build “a clearinghouse of free knowledge from the world’s most inspired thinkers—and a community of curious souls to engage with ideas and each other.” TEDx events, which launched in 2009, are held locally in communities worldwide.
“Giving a TED speech is unlike anything else. It’s not a motivational talk, not a conference speech, not a keynote speech. It’s something very different. It’s very prestigious and life-changing for people who deliver them,” says Olive, the executive producer and license-holder for TEDxOmaha. “[The aim] is to elevate what’s great within the community, because the [speakers] will inspire the audience to go and do great things themselves or to reach back to us and with their own idea worth spreading.”
Olive, who has a background in business, organizational leadership, and education, hails from the United Kingdom and spent 11 years working in Germany prior to moving to Omaha five years ago with her husband, Al Cagle, when his role in the U.S. Air Force transitioned to an Omaha-based job. The pair originally met at a Harley-Davidson rally in Norway.
Olive says because she’d attended TED events elsewhere, she immediately looked into TED’s Omaha presence as a way to tap into the community. She later joined the effort as a volunteer. When Smith announced his departure, she stepped in to ensure TEDxOmaha would continue.
“I said to the team, ‘We cannot let Brian’s legacy go. We owe it to the community to continue this,’” says Olive, whose first order of business after securing the license was reaching out to all past volunteers and partners to gauge their needs, glean their knowledge, and understand how/if they’d like to be engaged in the future. “That’s something that’s never scared me—taking things over and setting up from scratch. As I’ve moved countries and changed careers, each time I’ve been thrown into an area I’m unfamiliar with, I have had to hit the ground running at top speed. So, that’s never phased me.”
While there are thousands of TEDx events around the globe, Olive says the Omaha area is particularly rich with them.
“We have TEDxLincoln, TEDxOmaha, TEDxUNO, and TEDxCreighton,” she says. “A lot of communities don’t have the richness and diversity of ideas within their own community [to support multiple TEDx events]. We do.”
In addition to the main TEDx events, Olive says Omaha also has TEDxSalons and TEDxAdventures throughout the year to help “keep the momentum, ideas, and engagement going” year-round. Salons are held the third Monday monthly at KANEKO and Adventures occur throughout the community—everywhere from Kugler Vision to Joslyn Castle.
One important challenge that Olive strives to address is achieving inclusivity. To her, that means creating community-wide awareness of TEDx events and ensuring a multitude of perspectives are at the table.
“Our vision is to promote positive interaction through the sharing of ideas,” Olive says. “Beyond providing events, our focus is to be of the community—to engage with others, participate, and collaborate within our community. So, if we are truly of the community, then we must work to be inclusive.”
Informed by her interest in education, and in an effort to include young people, TED-Ed is another program Olive would like to bring to Omaha in the coming years. TED-Ed is TED’s youth and education initiative, which brings the TED model into schools.
But for now, Olive and her “fabulous” team of volunteer leaders are busy planning TEDxOmaha’s 10th anniversary in 2019, which ultimately means choosing a theme and format, auditioning and coaching speakers, marketing the event, coordinating with partners, tackling logistics, and more.
Olive says they want to create “something special” to honor the decade milestone. Her other hope for TEDxOmaha’s future is to see the conversations sparked at the main event gain traction and create change within the community.
“We want to use the talks as a platform to start more conversations. I’m hoping we can build momentum around these conversations so they can take on a life of their own,” Olive says. “We have to explore where the synergy is in the community and how we can facilitate conversations to help the speakers elevate their ideas and bring in others to further discuss and move these ideas forward. And it doesn’t have to belong to [TEDxOmaha] all the way through, but if we can be the catalyst to start these conversations, that’s fantastic.”
Visit tedxomaha.com for more information.
This article was printed in the March/April 2019 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.