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Lara Stein's Keynote speech at withstella design jam

Why the World Needs Both Artists and Scientists

My background is I am originally from South Africa. I grew up in South Africa during apartheid. And I started off as a ballet dancer and an artist. I think it wasn't till much later in life that I began to value all the incredible skills that my early upbringing gave to me - I had this great education, and I was deeply immersed in the arts. Having been brought up during apartheid, I also saw how lack of higher education or lack of education was the main tool for oppression. And I also grew up sort of in the third world, which was far less structured, and often the rules made absolutely no sense. And therefore, I grew up really believing that rules were made to be broken, or at the very least improved. And so often, throughout my life, I've used that to get around limitations.

I think about our systems today and how broken they are and how we've destroyed our planet, many other living beings and species. And I've seen how our systems are often designed for the few - for those benefiting and for those in control. And so when I think about reinventing these systems, for an inclusive cross-stakeholder future, we have to use our imagination and technology. But our imagination first: we must envision how these systems might be different and how we might be more inclusive. And for that we have to turn to our artists, our visionaries, and our futurists. And we have to grow cross-stakeholder leaders with a real moral imagination and real courage. And we also have to reinvent our education systems, which are for the most part optimized for either the arts or the scientists - not for educating for both.

For my inspiration, I often turn to William Blake, who was an artist and a scientist. And in fact, he was very much an outsider to both the intellectual milieu and the artistic movement of his own time. Blake lived at a time of real political oppression. And he pried himself loose from the narrow confines of these initial systems, visions and creations. And for him, he really believed that imagination was the most important tool in a human being's arsenal. In fact, my son Blake, is named after William Blake. He just returned from college last night, and we were sitting in the living room having a conversation. He's studying engineering and piano. He said that a lot of the kids, especially the students in the engineering school, tended to be really nerdy and didn't really respect the creative process and the arts. And what I explained to him is, you know, I brought him up by design to love both the arts and the sciences, and that's not a given.

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In public schools, this was often non-existent. It was a pathetic token to what the creative process actually should be. And so if we are going to reinvent a better future with better systems, we need scientists and engineering students to come up to be able to think more like artists. And we need the artists to understand that science is an opportunity to radically collaborate. And so after creating TEDx, after creating this worldwide movement of 3000 events, and then going to Singularity and building their global expansion, which mainly focused on how exponential technology will save the planet, I sort of came back to the space of how do we really think about designing systems that are inclusive and cross stakeholder to build a better planet?

That’s why two years ago, I launched Boma with a single ambition of cross stakeholder convening of educators, technologists, scientists and artists to really think about how we design a more intentional, intelligent future. Everything that we design needs to include this diversity of inputs. We are living at this really complicated time where it's not just COVID. And it's not just climate change; it's geopolitical change, it's exponential technology that is speeding up and disrupting how we think, how we live, how we eat, how we sleep, how we learn. And these global problems can no longer rely on a single input, we can no longer solve it as just America or just a community. We need the complexity and the inputs from stakeholder groups and communities both top-down and bottom-up around the world. And that's what Boma is all about.

We are trying to think through how we build systems and products that really allow for this cross-stakeholder input. Initially, pre COVID, we were doing this through events that included cross-stakeholder artists, scientists, heads of industries, governments, entrepreneurs. We were going into companies and working with them on courageous and moral leadership; on ‘what they need to know’ and ‘who they need to be’ to lead sustainably and purposefully. And then we were designing a bottom-up system where communities could find their own social impact innovation by bringing together these diverse stakeholder groups. And so I'll end with a quote from William Blake:

I must create a system or be enslaved by another man’s; I will not reason and compare: my business is to create.’

And so Boma is really grateful for this collaboration withStella. And we are really excited to see where it all goes.


withstella is an “inclusive innovation” pilot being led by Underestimated People of Purpose (UPOP) with BOMA Global and diverse organizations across 5 U.S. cities. The process is geared toward humanizing the Future of Work through the art and science of creativity, curiosity and wellbeing. UPOP supports this process with empirical data. The goal is to CO-CREATE A GLOBAL ARTISTS TO BUSINESS (A2B) INNOVATION PLATFORM capable of surfacing new, sustainable solutions for leaders seeking to align innovation with culture change. Ultimately, withstella will expand opportunities for professional artists who want to collaborate with business and industry while lifting the hearts and minds of people at work.


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