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Students describe their projects at the Boma ECU Pitch event on Feb. 5 in Vancouver.

Students describe their projects at the Boma ECU Pitch event on Feb. 5 in Vancouver.

Photo credit: Annie Dong

A conversation with Boma ECU founder Scott Mallory Jr.

Boma Pitch Competitors ‘Dreamed Up a Future You Would Not Believe’

Scott Mallory Jr. is an artist, musician, speaker, professor, veteran organizer, and serial creative. He is also the founder of Boma ECU at Emily Carr University of Art + Design, which recently held a Boma Pitch Event with the theme ‘Climate Action’ to showcase student projects to a panel of experts and local participants.

Projects ranged from a gravity-based filter combining ceramics and nanotech to purify rain water into potable drinking water, to a program that would sponsor products and artwork co-created in elementary schools to increase youth awareness and advocacy for pollinators.

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What made you decide to hold a Pitch as your inaugural Boma ECU event?

After going through the Boma formats and talking to Lara, we started to think about what Boma could mean to an educational institution and asked: How do we map an event as tightly to our community as possible in a highly curated way? What is happening in our school — which is an art and design school — at the cutting edge? The answer is innovation, cross-disciplinary experimentation, and students dreaming up the future in ways you would not believe. At our grad show there are about 100 projects, and probably a third of them — if you put them together and activated them — could transform Canada. So the Pitch format caught my attention.

I didn’t want to have an event where we share innovation and talk about it. I want to bring stakeholders to the table who can take projects to their next steps or tell us how to take them to the next steps. Not people brainstorming. I saw the pitch as that opportunity.

What was the atmosphere like at the event?

It wasn’t doom and gloom and focusing on all the barriers in the way. The feeling was, “Here is the way things work. It’s not working perfectly yet. Here are opportunities we are just now discovering. Here are opportunities we’ve discovered but haven’t explored yet — and here’s how we explore them better.”

What insights did your experts provide during the event?

The panelists were excited. They were there to have fun and they wanted to have this important conversation. One of the panelists said it was great to have this conversation between government, business, policy, and science because the rules are still very much created by individuals and businesses. From the government’s perspective, they want to extend the rules, to adapt the rules, so it’s less about cost and profit. And the way that starts to happen is by bringing together those stakeholders in a setting like Boma.

Our science panelist ended up speaking about the projects from the perspective of science communication. Saying that climate change actually represents one of the biggest failures in science communication — and that these projects succeeded in that communication.

Who won the pitch?

The winner was Moni El Batrik, who pitched the "Om" project, which is a gravity-based nanotech ceramic filter that turns rain water into potable drinking water and can serve as personal decorative pieces or large scale public art.

Although “Om” won, and Moni El Batrik will present at a Boma Summit, all the participants will all be provided with customized ongoing action-focused strategic support through workshops, micro-gatherings, online groups, and relationship building.

While a winner was chosen at the pitch, all participants will receive ongoing support. Why did Boma ECU make that decision?

Part of the philosophy of it is that if you are by yourself and you have a project, that is extremely hard. If you have a community around you, that’s a different story.

What advice do you have for someone who’s holding their first Boma Circle event and is new to organizing?

I think that, in a big way, Boma as an organization is a school of stories rather than a school of facts. So look at case studies. Dig up what other Boma organizers have done in a comprehensive way. Look at some of the biggest events Boma has put on and some of the smallest.

I’ll give you an example:

We had to create our Boma space physically, for our format. To do that we combined the Boma Tokyo Salon — a conversational, yet very personal event. Semi-casual, but still sophisticated — with what we saw at Boma Momentum, which had a Boma circle on the stage, behind the speakers.

Without seeing those, I can’t imagine how I would have gone about solving where I placed the panelists for event so they could: see a screen, face the audience, be comfortable, and be on camera. So looking at the Boma Tokyo Salon and Momentum, helped me create this space.

What advice would you give someone looking to create a self-fueling community?

I don’t know if I should say something more philosophical, but: Have a shadow. Have someone who works closely with you, that you bounce ideas off of, so they can see how you think and work. That makes them stronger, because they augment how they think with the way you work. They gain more perspectives by having a window into your process. Share with them what you’re doing and how you’re doing it.

It’s not just as a form of succession planning, or as back up. You need a sounding board, you need someone to give you feedback. Even if you have experience, you never know, when you bounce it off of someone, what else you might come up with.

Listen to the community. Every question you have about what you are going to do next, look to the community to answer them. Because it’s all for them, at the end of the day. Not that you should follow what they say in a robotic way, but try to make the organization for the community and by the community as much as possible.

When I recruited the panelists for the pitch, I asked the participants who they would like to see in the room. I didn’t start by inviting people or promoting. I started with a spreadsheet, and said, “Put the people in here that you would like to see your presentation.”

In your own work, and at Boma, we focus a lot on the idea of being cross-disciplinary. On breaking down information silos. Why do you think that’s important in this day and age?

First, if you want fresh outcomes — which are now necessary, not just desired — you need fresh approaches. And one way to get that is to take two things that aren’t related, and put them together. Something will emerge that you didn’t know could exist.

Second, no one can be the ultimate soldier: an expert in everything. You need expertise from multiple areas. You can’t be great at one thing, and good at another and get it done. You need to identify what you are great at and then you need to build a team around you of people who have expertise in other areas. Working with people from other disciplines creates experiential learning.

No matter who you are, if you’re in Boma, you can’t stay who you are the whole time. You have to be growing, because Boma grows too. It learns from things. It drives change, it reacts to change, it takes the next step.

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