09/10/2014 04:06 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

TEDx 101: Intro to TEDxMaui

"Hawai'i has so much wisdom and so much innovation in our own back yard that needs to be shared with the world," gushes TEDxMaui speaker liaison Emma White. "There are unique perspectives here about sustainability and about the way we see and get along with the world that can benefit everyone."

White speaks in a series of exclamation points, giving a behind-the-scenes look at preparations for this year's event and it's organizers. As with all of the TEDxMaui staff, her service to TEDx is voluntary, an obviously enthusiastic labor of love.

Photo by Peter Liu

"People say 'oh my gosh, you look so professional'," White relates, "'I can't believe you're a nonprofit!' It's funny, we don't look grassroots in the way that we present ourselves but it's because everyone in the team has worked really hard. It's really just the four of us."

The four she mentions are formidable, bringing mad skills and an insane level of commitment. Peter Liu is a 30-year veteran of the computer industry whose new career in photography and digital media led him to Maui. Sara Tekula produces the event, bringing heavy-duty video production, organizational and PR abilities. White and Sarah Ruppenthal (community liaison working with sponsors and donors) both teach English at UH Maui, crafting the copious verbiage needed for an event of this scope. One look at the website,, confirms the core team's professionalism.

Behind the core team is an advisory board that shapes the event and helps to choose presenters.

"TEDxMaui started because our founder Katie McMillan attended TEDWomen," White explains. "Elizabeth Lindsey was speaking there, the National Geographic fellow, who is from Hawaii. She was watching Elizabeth speak, and she thought, we need to do this in Hawai'i!"

McMillan began assembling allies in 2010 and fielded the first TEDxMaui in January 2012. She is serving in an advisory role this year, and has assembled the impressive TEDxMaui advisory board: Kit Thomas is an Emmy-winning filmmaker and musician. Jen Chirico runs sustainability company Susty Pacific (with former TEDxMaui Advisor Kainoa Casco), staying abreast of new ideas and what's working. David Fisher comes from the world of tech entrepreneurs, now dedicating his energy to innovations in community development. Kainoa Horcajo has a Hawaiian Studies background and brings extensive cultural knowledge to the table. Philanthropist Donna Howard rounds out the board.

"She is a real patron of the arts," White says. "She's always turning us on to new artists. I get an email from her probably once a week saying 'this person's so exciting! Look what this person is doing in Hawai‘i!'"

The organizers and advisers search near and far for presenters, send out a call for applications, and from dozens of possibilities, assemble a theme and roster for the event.

"We look for a connection to Hawai'i," White explains, "something Hawai'i can share with the world or that the world can share with Hawai'i. So we do try to focus on people from Hawai'i or who have a connection to Hawai'i. An example would be Sam Ohu Gon, who is a living treasure of Hawai'i. He's the senior scientist and cultural advisor for the Nature Conservancy. He blends two worlds, of science and biology with the indigenous Hawaiian perspective, and he goes around the world connecting these two poles."

White runs through highlights from the roster, a list of fascinating people with brilliant and crucial ideas to share. In fact, the theme this year is "A Brilliant Life." The TEDxMaui 2014 promotional video has just gone up at Beyond the superbly moving talks, though, is a process with potential for lasting effect on the community.

"We really want to be an incubator," White explains. "You have incubators and research centers being established in Hawai'i and this is another way of doing that. We want to provide a place where intellectuals and people who want to embrace new ideas and innovations can get together and do that in Hawai'i. It's already happening, and this is a place to get together and shine a light on that."

TEDxMaui also includes a strong music component. Performers and presenters include Alfred Darlington, who performs as Daedelus, currently working with UNESCO going around the world doing a sound portrait of humanity. Taimane Gardner will share her amazingly innovative work on ukulele, and Hawaiian musical treasure Robert Cazimero serenades in addition to sharing stories of his own brilliant life as a musician and as a key figure in the Hawaiian Renaissance and the revival of kane hula.

TEDxMaui is nonprofit in the truest sense. No salaries are paid, and nobody is squirreling away bank from the process. Ticket prices go to paying for the MACC venue, a professional lighting, sound and video team, and to lunch and coffee along the way, but the primary product is the video repository, edited and available online afterward.

"I always feel like I'm donating to elevate these ideas to the global stage," says White in closing.