Why I want to attend Spark.me?

Sunday, February 28, 2016

Natalie Portman is not just an actress, she also holds a major in psychology. Talk about dedication—she has earned her degree while acting in major Hollywood movies! She once said that she hated studying, but loved learning. Learning is beautiful, she said. I have to agree with her.

I was on the nerdy side of the spectrum in school and college. Of course, there were subjects I loved and those I despised; but I never took the liberty of not studying. I studied everything because I had to, and because it felt good to be a straight A student. But I guess I was always looking forward to the time where I would stop studying, even back when I still wanted to pursue a PhD path.

And maybe now I have stopped. But if someone had told me that I would still find joy in learning, in a subject completely irrelevant to my major… I don’t know what I would have thought of it. I’d probably have found it funny, if not highly unlikely. And I’m not talking about learning in a “life experience” kind of way. I’m talking about watching webinars, taking notes, reading bunch of articles online. Learning, put simply. Not learning how to bake a cake (though god knows I would use that skill!), nor how to do a perfect smokey eyes look (I don’t even know how to do a less-than-perfect one). I’m learning how to write a better blog post, how to have a catchier headline, how to make someone click and see what I have to say. How to make them stay and not go away and never come back because I talk nonsense. (Well, I hope I don’t!)

I refer to myself as a baby blogger. My blog was born when I moved abroad, and as in many cases, it was an outlet to post pictures from my new home and travels so I don’t flood peoples’ Facebook feeds. In terms of age though, it’s a toddler now and is speaking proper sentences—you should trust me on this, I’m a linguist. It outgrew its primary audience and let me share my thoughts and experiences. What’s even better, it connected me to some wonderful people, both at home and abroad. Some of them I’ve met personally, some of them I plan to—one day. And that would have never happened had I just posted photos on Facebook. This is a cliché, but it is true, and every blogger knows it.

So what does it have to do with the title of this post, anyway? Spark.Me is a tech/business conference in Montenegro—one of the biggest such conferences in Southeast Europe, actually. This year it will spark :) for the fourth time, and it’s a really big thing, with speakers from Microsoft, WordPress, Skype, DropBox, about.me, Prezi… to name the few. Even though Southeast Europe is not seen as the primary online market, it really started blooming recently. Spark.Me has done a great job by making the conference so relevant and innovative. Can you imagine how awesome it must be for us coming from the region to actually hear and connect to some of these prominent speakers? Not to mention the networking among ourselves, of course. The online business, the marketing, the industry, blogging—it’s all changing rapidly and nothing beats learning firsthand from successful people in the field.

Spark.me conference has hosted some amazing and inspiring speakers so far, such as Christopher Fabian, the co-founder of UNICEF’s Innovation Unit, a pooled funding vehicle focusing on connecting those with good ideas to those with the funds to make them real. What does that even mean, you might ask? The Innovation Unit has developed a number of large-scale open source tools for improving basic health and communication in low-infrastructure regions. For example, it has helped build the world’s largest mobile health system in Nigeria, which has reported on—watch this!—more than 17M births by SMS. Before this venture, Fabian founded and successfully exited startup technology, media and design companies in Africa and the Middle East. Talk about good ideas and putting technology to use! Then there was the cofounder of about.me, Tony Conrad, as well as the person who says he works mostly with projects that can change society: the cofounder of The Pirate Bay, Peter Sunde Kolmisoppi. And I only mentioned a few!

According to the announced speakers for this year, it is certainly going to be a treat. One of the speakers is a former intelligence officer for MI5, the UK Security Service—Annie Machon, who is currently “using her intelligence”, as she put it. She is a recognized international public speaker on a variety of issues: security and intelligence, the war on terror, the war on drugs, internet freedoms, press and media freedoms, civil liberties…, as well as discussing her personal story of being ‘on the run’. I mean, how awesome is this?! That's almost like hearing James Bond speak, but probably better. ;) Another speaker is Danica Kombol, a managing and founding partner at Everywhere Agency, a leading social media and influencer marketing firm specializing in social media strategic planning, crisis management and blogger relations. Danica has more than 20+ years experience in communications, and one of her major achievements was breaking the Guinness World Record for the most socially networked message in the cause campaign #Beat Cancer, led by the Everywhere Agency. Of course, such a conference could not pass without the exciting world of startups, so the organizers of Spark.me made sure to include some really big people from the field: Marvin Liao—partner at 500 Startups, a startup accelerator based in Silicon Valley, and mentor for several startup accelerator programs in Europe, Asia, Israel and the US—and Jon Bradford—the cofounder of F6S, a startup community where startups grow together through startup programs, deals, jobs, discussion and events. The rest of the speakers are yet to be announced—I am honestly pretty excited to see the lineup, because this definitely sounds promising.

So this year I would love to have a chance to become an official Spark.Me blogger. I know it would make me even more motivated to learn, blog and tell people about it all. :) And how immersed in the conference would I be normally? A lot! As someone once said, learning is beautiful. The amazing energy at the conference reported by the previous group of lucky participants is not a bad reason either. Words such as ‘life changing’ and ‘must see’ have been thrown around a few times. Oh, and you know what: I’ve never been to Montenegro. What a first impression of a country it would be if it got to be sparkly!

Hope to see you down at the seaside!


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