Despite Financial Distress: TEDxAUCollege Returns to In-Person Events

By Hazal Karaagac

Collage by Mari

On 14 May, the UvA Science Park Campus welcomed the 9th annual TEDxAUCollege event, the committee’s first in-person event after two years of COVID-19 restrictions. Nine speeches, topics ranging from plant-soil interactions to becoming an entrepreneur, from gaining financial freedom to performative activism. This year’s theme: Brought to Light.

The Head of Speakers, Izabella Martin-Kovacs, a second-year Humanities student, was a part of the committee last year as an Acquisitions team member. This time, her team was assigned to contact the potential speakers, review their applications, set up interviews and choose “who not only just fits the bill, but those who would mesh well together.”

Among the speakers her team picked, Saba Askary was a familiar name to those who had seen last year’s TEDx event. Askary, a writer and researcher, agreed to give her speech “The Tale of Two Spoons: How Ancient Artifacts Still Shape Our Present” for the second time since the bigger TEDx platform approached the team and stated that the recording from last year was not “the best quality”. She says, “It was much more memorised, much more relaxed, and I did not have as much of an imposter syndrome because they invited me back. And this time, it’s proper filmmaking. So they have a nice, not shaky video, and that means that there is a good potential that TEDx will spread it even further.”

Roxane Mbanga during her TEDx talk. Photo by Hazal Karaagac

Although Martin-Kovacs expresses that last year’s event was a little messed up with COVID-19, she adds that the end product was still fulfilling and made her curious to experience TEDx without the regulations. “Last year, we only had the committee members sitting in the audience. It was nice. The talks were great, but this feels more like a home here. We’re here in Science Park. We’ve got all of our friends, some of our teachers and the family of speakers,” she says.

There were no effective regulations at the time of the event indeed. Still, during the event’s organisation, fluctuations in COVID-19 cases and restrictions put extra financial pressure on the team. Silvia Luthi, the Head of Acquisitions, explains that because of COVID-19, the committee faced a lot of uncertainty and apprehension from the sponsors at the beginning of the year. “It was until February, once things settled down with COVID-19, that more companies were interested. But of course, there was more pressure because it was much closer to the event.” 

Tabe Olde, the treasurer of TEDxAUCollege, reveals that the committee struggled to come up with a realistic financial plan in October. Olde states that the team had initially expected 11,000 euros from sponsorships. In the end, the committee only received 2500 euros. “We have two forms of income: sponsors and ticket sales. Because there wasn’t a real treasurer involved, I wasn’t the treasurer yet, and the budget that we had made for tickets was wrong. We thought we would sell 300 tickets for 27 euros, which made our budget ridiculously high.” He states that they noticed the mistake, that things would not go according to this plan. The board thus adjusted its agenda.

Luthi stresses that the difficulty of finding sponsors resulted in depending on sponsors that TEDxAUCollege had worked with in the past and rarely new ones. A combination of financial burdens shifted the event’s location to Science Park. She says, “The logistics team was looking at venues that were at the higher end of the spectrum. We are happy with the final venue that we got. I think it served its purpose”. “Next year, it will be much more manageable and easier to find companies”, she adds.

The two hosts of the event: Tariq Hassen and Diederik Zuurmond. Photo by Hazal Karaagac

Another consequence of the financial situation was observed in the relatively high-priced entrance tickets, which the team managed to lower down to 20 euros. Stemming from the ambiguity of COVID-19, Luthi explains that promoting and selling tickets at a student event was difficult since companies don’t make a monetary profit from these events aside from networking with students, which makes them even more hesitant to fund it. She says, “We really pushed hard and eventually found sponsors that contributed enough money so that we could bring the ticket price down. We would have liked it to be much lower, but given the circumstances and the type of budget we were on, it was kind of the lowest.”

The committee had to cut some corners to keep their spending within the budget. Olde says that they had 100 euros to finance the catering. Team members prepared most of the food offered in the event, and the committee also collaborated with Pangea by offering them money to bake a cake.

Olde’s advice to next year’s team reflects the financial stress they went under as a team. He suggests, “The way of approaching sponsors needs to change. It needs to be more active. It was a bit too passive this year. Also, as Lawrence [Ong, who also participated as a speaker in this year’s event, ed.] explained in his speech, securing money gives you financial freedom and eliminates the stress of selling tickets for cheaper.” He admits that the most stressful part of the event for him was that they did not sell enough tickets.

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