In the past we’ve looked to technology to connect us on a deeper level, with mixed results. There’s a huge role in how we design communities of the future to bring back meaningful connection through human-centered design.
CEO of Boma Global, Lara Stein, has significant experience in building communities; from helping lead the worldwide network of TEDx conferences, Women’s March Global, and Singularity University’s global expansion. Managing Editor Areej Mehdi sat down with Lara about her vision for communities of the future.
What would you say is the community of the future?
I believe the community of the future is a decentralized agile emergent community around people who share values, who respect technology, who respect that the solutions that have solved problems in the past are not necessarily going to be able to solve problems in the future. They respect each other’s differences deeply on a local level and are willing to listen and come together in agile ways for discussions around these hard conversations.
People have to connect on a deeper level. We are all human at the end of the day. We all crave these personal connections in a way that when I sit on Zoom all day, it doesn’t necessarily fulfill me.
“So how do we come back together as people to convene in a way that’s meaningful to us”?
And while in the past 20 years we have looked at technology as a means to connect us in meaningful ways, technology has not connected us on that human level that we all need. You see this in the rise of suicide, depression, and opioid use – that is not because humanity’s feeling great about how we are connecting on Facebook or Snapchat or Whatsapp. It’s because we’re really trying to figure out what it means to be human at this moment in time when technology has taken over so much of our lives. So I think there’s a huge role in how we design the communities of the future to bring back some of that humanity and that human-centered design.
How do we design for an intelligent and sustainable future?
A lot of our traditional structures are governance structures of the past, and whether they are government or corporations, have been set up in this way that they’re very top-down command and control. Those same systems that thrived in the past are not going to be the ones that carry this world forward in a sustainable and fair way in the future.
We’ve really got to come up with new systems and ways of both structuring decision-making, and outcomes and action, and that’s what we’re attempting to do with the Boma network. Right now, Boma is in eight countries. We’re hoping to be in 14 countries by the end of the year. These country partners are delivering on the backbone of big events that are action-based solving big global challenges. We also have an open-source community of people around the world that are prototyping Boma circles in their communities around how do we really host debates in countries right now where we are seeing extreme polarization. And so we have to come together to host respectful conversations and debates around how we move our particular issues forward.
What are Boma’s goals?
To host hard conversations AND take action. And where that comes into play is how technology is changing very quickly. We want to get ahead of some of these hard conversations. We want to understand how we allow and how we educate the future technology unicorns, the Mark Zuckerbergs of the future, to get ahead of some of these very hard global and local ethical conversations. And what does that even mean, in a world that’s changing this quickly? While we want to host the conversations about the potential consequences of technology, we also want to find innovation and new startups that are really designing for a more sustainable future and work with them on what it means to be a responsible organization in the future.
People have to connect on a deeper level. We are all human at the end of the day.
How did your work with TEDx inform your decisions around Boma and creating this opportunity?
Building the global TEDx movement gave me respect for the local capabilities and the innovation going on at a local level and how really every community in the world, if given the opportunity, understands better how to solve their problems than anybody parachuting in. I’ve seen so many times how the best intentions of top-down support don’t really solve problems. In many cases, the investments land up not actually solving the local problems, it’s often wasted capital. And so how do we find a bottom-up movement that we can support, one that really goes to supporting the local innovation in a way that it actually allows it to solve those local problems?
A vast majority of people do not have the same level of access that a lot of the developed world has.
How do we develop programs that bridge that gap?
At Boma we want to be inclusive of all communities and we respect the fact that there are a lot of communities right now that don’t have access to the level of connectivity or technology that we have in the western world. We also respect the fact that technology is a powerful tool to connect people and the ability to connect so many people in the world who don’t have access could be very formative. But we have a lot to work out to make sure that it’s respectful of their culture, where they are, who they are, and that it transforms for good. A big part of what we’re trying to do with the Boma Community is to support communities that wouldn’t normally have access to a network like Boma. We give them access to our network so that they are able to host the same kind of community interactions, and are tied into the global Boma community in a way that we can support them, solve their challenges, and elevate their ideas inside the community.
That being said, obviously having run TEDx, it’s much more difficult in the developing world to launch something like Boma because of less access to capital and when you are challenged for some of the most basic human needs. Launching something where it would have the most impact, is often the most difficult to seed. So I’m acutely aware of that fact, having founded and run TEDx, having worked with Singularity University, having run the Women’s March; it’s the places in the world that need these sort of programs the most and need all the support where it’s most difficult to really figure out how to jump start and fund them.
Can technology be used to plan better communities?
I think technology can be a backbone to better communities. But I believe what people crave right now is how do we come together in person to have meaningful conversations? How do we listen to each other? How do those meaningful conversations move forward towards action? Technology can be an amazing backbone that supports that endeavor to protect. But you can’t lead with just the technology.
Putting the technology aside as the backbone, I think how you design for humanity and people to come together in an authentic way, in a way that they again feel like they are hearing each other, in a way that they feel like they are solving local problems, is what we really need to design for. Would that have a backbone of a technology platform? Yes, but I don’t know what that looks like right now. We’re not leading with the technology. We’re leading with how do we get people together in meaningful ways to help humanity design a more intentional, intelligent future.