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The Boma COVID-19 Summit drew from the very best of our global network of country partners and community members.

The Boma COVID-19 Summit drew from the very best of our global network of country partners and community members.

How We Were Tested to Live Up to Our Name

The coronavirus pandemic poses a challenge unlike any other in modern history to communities and corporations around the world. But for an organization like Boma, it also poses a supreme test - and a rare opportunity - to fulfill its primary purpose.

Boma, named for an ancient gathering place for important communal conversations, is dedicated to empowering people to shape a more intelligent future. On Monday, March 23, it delivered on that mission by staging one of the most ambitious, illuminating and multidimensional discussions to date about the pandemic and its impact around the world.

Drawing from the very best of its global network of country partners, experts, scientists, healthcare professionals and business leaders, Boma created a truly transformational learning experience aimed at driving meaningful action to combat the virus.

More than 60 speakers from 20 countries convened a wide-ranging virtual summit that explored every facet of the pandemic - from vaccine research and predictive modeling to food supply shortages and racial stigmas. During a continuous 24-hour period, the discussion moved around the globe, moderated by 11 different Boma country partners, conducted entirely on Zoom, and livestreamed from start to finish on Facebook.

“The pandemic has affected all of us personally in some way, and many of us professionally. Three weeks ago, our colleagues and partners around the world decided to step up and join together to create this amazing, important, one-of-a-kind experience,” said Lara Stein, cofounder of Boma. “They not only built something new and uniquely powerful, they did it during a time of great stress and uncertainty. I’m proud of our accomplishment, and deeply grateful for the work that went into it.”

Boma’s three other cofounders - Michel Lévy Provençal, Kaila Colbin, and Stephan Balzer - first lit upon the idea for the Boma COVID-19 Summit during a regular company meeting on Zoom. The World Health Organization had just classified the disease a pandemic, and the partners brainstormed ways to convene a virtual gathering of experts to help shed light on its many unknowns. They contacted Zoom about the idea, and instantly found support from Harry Moseley, the company’s CIO, who assembled an internal tech and operations team to assist Boma with the project.

To effectively address the early anxieties and misinformation spreading about the pandemic, an aggressive date for the summit was set — Monday, March 23. This gave Boma’s 11 country partners less than 10 days to recruit the most established and relevant experts in their respective countries. But as word spread about the ambitious project, speakers began signing on enthusiastically.

Boma Poland’s Ralph Talmont brought on Agnieszka Gaczkowska, a medical director in Warsaw. Juliana Elorza secured Celso Granato, head of virology at Grupo Fleury, for Brazil. Ellen Cheng signed up Jason Xu, mindfulness meditation coach for China. In Canada, Jessica Weisz got Julia Hanigsberg, CEO of Holland Bloorview Hospital. Marconi Pereira, who ran a session in Portugal and Kenya, got Nivi Sharma, COO of BRCK in Nairobi. Todd Porter brought on De Kai, Google AI ethics council, for Japan. Deep Bali secured Prashant Mehta, global chief delivery officer, Dentsu Aegis Network for India.

In the United States, Lara Stein recruited Daniel Kraft to co-host a session featuring renowned medical experts Larry Brilliant and Divya Chander, as well as Peter Diamandis, founder of the XPRIZE Foundation.

Over the next several days, Boma’s partners secured dozens of other guests for the online summit. Because Boma is structured as a decentralized network of local partners, each country set its own agenda, format, and topics to cover. Canada hosted a 2-hour debate. China invited teenage students in Beijing to share their experiences. The Kenya session ended with a moving performance by artist Muthoni Drummer Queen. [See the complete list of speakers and their topics here.]

As the program took shape, moderators and speakers were trained by Zoom’s team on how to use the video-conferencing platform and best practices on equipment set-up, what to wear, and best backgrounds to use. Boma also turned to two trusted agencies for its creative and technical needs. Big Monocle, a Utah-based design firm, created a compelling series of posters and social media graphics, while Cheesecake, a web-development company in Brazil, built a minisite to house the summit content.

With only a week to go, Boma contacted Facebook executives about the project and sought advice on best practices for livestreaming. Piyush Mangalick and James O'Connell provided key insights and support, joining the project at a critical moment and collaborating with the Zoom team to ensure smooth transition between livestreams throughout the 24-hour summit.

Speakers and moderators staged rehearsals right up until the night before the summit was slated to begin. With the intensity of topics covered, the tight scheduling of sessions, and the range of technology being relied upon, the odds of a mishap weighed on every member of the Boma network.

But on March 23 at 7 p.m. in Christchurch, New Zealand (2 a.m. EST), Kaila Colbin kicked off what became a seamless — and profoundly illuminating — global conversation about the coronavirus that unfolded across 5 continents over 24 hours.

Thousands watched the sessions live, and the moderators and panelists took hundreds of questions from Facebook users in real time. [Read the top takeaways from the summit here. And watch the clips and full session archives here.]

During the event and in the days that followed, hundreds of people around the world were inspired to take action and pledged to do what they can to help those most affected by COVID-19. They registered their readiness to act on, and have joined the growing Boma community.

What began as perhaps an impossibly ambitious idea to convene a global conversation about a pandemic that had just been declared, turned into a true team effort that not only succeeded in shining a light on a disease with frightening unknowns, but also spurred meaningful action from people around the world looking for a way to be part of the solution.


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