By Sanidhya Painuli
“Whatever a monk keeps pursuing with his thinking and pondering, that becomes the inclination of his awareness.”
― Gautama Buddha
Can an inclination of a person towards knowledge change the world? If you think “No”, then meet Johannes Bittel, Founder of WikiStage, a free platform for learning and democratic debate.
I met Johannes in a cafe in Berlin where he confessed his passion as a student to search on Youtube for information ranging from Electric Cars to benefits of Vegetarianism. However, he felt a bit lost because he could not easily find quality videos on many topics. As a result, he started to get involved in organizing conferences such as LSE London Development Forum at LSE and he organized the first TEDx event at a French Grande Ecole: TEDxESCP in Paris.
Yet, he felt that something was wrong, that made these conferences elitist and hindered the free flow of democratic knowledge and that obtaining a license for, for example, a TEDx event is very expensive. As he elaborates that to apply to organize a larger TEDx Event one must attend a TED Conference that costs $8,500-13.500.
This became the founding idea of WikiStage, where people around the globe who share the same quest and motivation can fill a simple form on www.wikistage.org and organize free WikiStage events, inviting experts in community to discuss issues ranging from education to refugees or from corruption to free speech. The first conference was organized in Paris in 2013, and since then there is no turning back. The network has seen exponential growth to 45 conferences in 2015 and in 2016, he expects a 100 unique conferences such as the recent conference at École Militaire: Necessity to think differently, where people who decide over life and death discuss what it takes to have such responsibility.
He believes that this flexibility towards organizers combined with democratic and creative thinking of organizers is taking this concept to new heights such as upcoming WikiStage Conference at ESCP in March 2016. The organizers at ESCP will organize 5 conferences simultaneously in Paris, Berlin, Madrid, London, and Turin, where eminent speakers will discuss the “Good of Finance”. Recent events such as the possibility of a Brexit, the refugee crisis and debt woes of Europe, together with anemic growth have threatened or posed serious questions to the European identity and global financial order. As the future becomes uncertain ESCP Europe wants to emphasize on unity and strength of European identity, leading to an idea of 5 conferences.
Christian Wortmann, president of WikiStage ESCP Europe sees a great future for the format of a unique pan-European conference which allows speakers, the audience and those who join the debate online to look at European challenges from five different perspectives. Moreover, he and his team are already working on the third edition in 2017 while organising the conference series of 2016. One team member from Madrid recently said “It is a truly European initiative and it is enriching in terms of personal network, shared knowledge and understanding of other cultures”.