Meet the organisers of Think Inc
// August 18th, 2011 // Events
The Freethought University Alliance is proud to be partnered with Think Inc – a one day science and rationalism conference to be held in Melbourne on September 18th this year. The event will be hosted by Josh Thomas and headlined by Astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson with a host of other big names speaking including Christopher Hitchens and Ayaan Hirsi Ali via a video link. The theme for the conference is “In the next 10 years what does the world need to do to survive and flourish”.
Jason Ball, President of the Freethought University Alliance, sat down to have a chat with Think Inc organisers Sean Kwan, Desh Amila and James Gallichio (above). This is what went down.
JB: Thanks for joining me guys – can I start by asking what’s the motivation behind organising Think Inc?
SK: For me, it was very much about looking for a reason to bring down some of my heroes. I’ve spent countless hours on youtube listening and watching Neil deGrasse Tyson and Christopher Hitchens speak.
JG: What’s more, we wanted to do our part to help promote some of the things we’re really passionate about. We’re three young guys who want to live in a smarter, more rational society. Bringing some of the world’s best minds to Melbourne to discuss the future of the planet is our small attempt at advancing that cause.
SK: Yeah… that too.
DA: The concept for Think Inc was to create a conference unlike other conferences with themes in science or rationalism. I’d been to some in the past and personally found them to be a little too dragged out and repetitive. Drawing from my background in entertainment we conceptualised a conference similar in style to a mainstream music event – an intellectual big day out, if you will. I really want to see a diverse and much younger crowd attend the Think Inc conference.
JB: What’s behind the name “Think Inc”?
SK: We wanted a name that was catchy, encapsulated what the conference was trying to achieve (promote rational thought) and accessible. After many days of brainstorming for a suitable name (it was nearly going to be called Smart People) we came up with Think Inc – and I love the name. It plays perfectly to the essence of the conference – an institution of thought and big ideas.
JB: What got you personally interested in science and rationalism?
SK: Ever since my grade 3 volcano demonstration, and the many years wanting to be an astronaut I guess. I’ve always been a tech-geeky sort of guy, and science and science fiction is just so interesting. The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy definitely had a huge role too.
JG: Sean and I also went to a pretty conservative Catholic high school where our view of the world was limited by some, let’s face it, archaic policies and practices. Desh had it worse though.
DG: Yeah, I had it worse. I grew up in Sri Lanka. Rational, scientific discourse was anything but the norm.
JG: Basically we’ve all experienced the dark sides of society, where science and rationalism aren’t celebrated in the slightest. Once you get out of that system your eyes really open up to the world.
JB: Why “Melbourne” as a location?
Sean: Because it’s the best city in the world of course! But seriously, Melbourne is often considered the intellectual hub of Australia. We’ve got some of the world’s leading universities, CSIRO, a great appreciation of the fine arts, and the best coffee. Plus all of the organisers are from Melbourne, so I guess that swayed the decision somewhat too!
JG: And, moreso, because we want to help Melbourne to become the intellectual capital of the world. No small task, but we’re nothing if not ambitious.
JB: The event has been met early on with scepticism from some groups within the freethought community. Why do you think that is, and what would you have done differently if you could go back in time and re-launch the event?
JG: For one, we’re not directly affiliated with any specific freethought groups; we’re not part of any big organisation; we don’t even have a board of directors. We’re just three guys trying to put on a great event -
SK: Exactly. Naturally, and especially within a community that celebrates scepticism and encourages people to be inquisitive and not take things at face-value, three unknown guys coming along with a pretty huge line-up of speakers causes a bit of a stir.
JG: There’s not much we could have done differently though. Sean and Desh have a longstanding background in events management, and we have vast network of agents and management contacts which we were able to use, just like when we put on events of a different nature.
SK: Scepticism comes with the territory when you’re the new players on the block, but it can wear you down when there is just complete disbelief as to how some passionate guys can seemingly put on a conference of this nature and scale. Fortunately, we have had tremendous support from the very beginning from some people within the freethought communities such as Meredith Doig from the Rationalist Society of Australia.
JB: Who’s funding the event?
SK: Initially we were hoping for government assistance from the city of Melbourne. Unfortunately that didn’t come through this year so we’ve had to rely on personal investment and support from our investors of Crisp (our events
JG: It’s quite a daunting task to be on our own so to speak, but hopefully we’ll receive support in future years once we’ve gone out and done it ourselves. We’ve have lot’s of wonderful support from industry and some societies which have been a big help in getting the word out about Think Inc. We’re truly appreciative of that.
JB: What are the plans for Think Inc. heading into the future?
SK: Ideally, I’d personally love to see Think Inc. become a free event for all Australians to attend. I definitely want to have the conference run for many years to come, and to become an Australian events staple. I want to see the event become more and more accessible, and something for younger generations to see as being cool to attend. Science should be cool. I want to see it become larger than TED! I’m just a little ambitious…
JB: What has been biggest challenge you’ve faced in organising the event so far?
JG: We’ve had a very interesting (and stressful) few weeks actually. From our old website getting hacked, to speaker’s being too busy to do press, and the general scepticism around the event from people we were expecting to be supportive, it’s not been a smooth ride to say the least! But we’re pressing on, and lately things have been much, much more positive.
SK: In a way it’s definitely strengthened our resolve to put this event on and make it a big success. We’re incredibly excited about the conference next month and we hope our audience is as well!
JB: Recently you guys announced that all Victorian secondary and primary school science teachers would be able to get a free ticket to Think Inc. That’s an incredibly generous offer?
JG: We had a long discussion before making this decision, and the consensus was this: Think Inc. isn’t about making a lot of money; it’s not about pushing a political or ideological agenda; it’s about the future. We want to promote a world in which the pursuit of science and a genuine curiosity about the world around us is held in the highest esteem. In our eyes, there’s no better way to promote that than by giving our teachers free access to some of the best minds in the world.
JB: I appreciate your time guys, good luck with the event.
Tickets for Think Inc are on sale now.
Head to http://thinkinc.org.au to book or for more information.