Courageous leaders can save the world: A conversation with TEDx founder Lara Stein – WRAL Tech Wire

Posted: September 8, 2021 at 10:18 am

Editors note: Donald Thompson, a veteran entrepreneur and investor, writes a weekly column exclusively for WRAL TechWire about leadership as well as diversity and equality.

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK Lara Stein grew up white and Jewish in apartheid South Africa, an experience that gave her a personal lens on systemic change, education and oppression. Later, she went on to found the grassroots initiative TEDx and build Singularity Universitys global expansion and implementation strategy.

Now, she is founder and CEO of Boma Global, an international network of local partners that offer transformative learning experiences to help people be more intentional and intelligent about the future. As she told me, I spent the first half of my life in the for-profit sector, and the latter part sort of straddling the two: nonprofit and for-profit. Now, Im working on systemic change that could bring the two together.

TEDX Raleigh logo

A few weeks ago, I was privileged to interview Lara for my podcast. Lara and I share a guiding belief that education is key to solving big, global problems, and we each work to show other leaders whether business executives or emerging professionals how to be ready for the future. Through Boma, she is democratizing global problem solving. At The Diversity Movement, my team tackles the same work from within organizations, teaching people how to nurture diversity and inclusion for better innovation and stronger decision making. Lara and I have a lot in common. Our conversation left me feeling energized and hopeful.

Heres an excerpt that I hope will make you feel the same way. Listen to the full interview on The Donald Thompson Podcast.

DT: Tell me about Boma Global and its mission. Why did you start this firm, and what are you looking to accomplish?

LS: In ancient Africa, the Boma was a wooden enclosure where the tribe would come together to have hard conversations and then, ultimately, take action. The world right now is so complicated. There are all these vectors coming together: COVID, climate change, geo-political change, social change. And as COVID has shown us, we need local solutions, or at least alignment, to roll up globally if were going to move forward as humanity in a way that matters. It doesnt matter what zero admission rules you put in place in the U.S. if we are not aligning with China. So, we have to think about these big, global problems and how we solve them through both bottom-up and top-down systems.

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The original vision for Boma, just symbolically, was this idea of humanity coming together in both bottom-up and top-down ways, using community circles to design emergent and agile outputs for some of these big global challenges. Essentially, Boma Global is a decentralized network of partners all around the world that are designing and implementing solutions and learning journeys for how we get leaders to think more intentionally and intelligently about the future.

Were doing that primarily through large-scale impact events that focus on some of our big-level challenges, then working with corporate leaders on what they need to know and who they need to be to design a more intentional, intelligent, inclusive, and sustainable world.

DT: That is really, really powerful. I want to drill down a little deeper. Tell me about a specific line of instruction or an event that someone would go to.

LS: Yeah, sure. We recently did an event in New Zealand on regenerative agriculture and the future of food systems.

It was called E Tipu 2021. We had 600 people live in the room, and we also livestreamed it to our Boma community and our Boma community circles around the world. We also put a number of tickets aside for groups, young people, startups, nonprofits and etc. so that we could ensure access to lots of people who would not usually have access to events like this. So, you had CEOs of big, Fortune 500 companies sitting next to high school students and talking about how we could redesign our food systems.

Ultimately, we would like to do that in a global way so were able to highlight and elevate innovation all over the world around that topic and make it very much an inclusive conversation. In everything we do, we try to attack things from a cross-disciplinary, cross-stakeholder, cross-economic point of view. We try to get multiple complex inputs so we can really get a great output.

When it comes to the work were doing in the corporate training sector, we really focus on what you need to know and who you need to be to be a future-forward, sustainable, inclusive leader. Because 90% of leaders right now say theyre totally re-evaluating both themselves and their businesses because of COVID. So, who do they need to be as human beings in order to lead future-focused organizations?

DT: One of the things I want to give you some space to share is, how does someone reading this get involved in Boma? What should they do next?

LS: Again, our theory of change is cross-stakeholder. What were really focused on right now is how do we get corporate leadership to think differently about designing a more inclusive and sustainable future? If youre a big organization, we would love to work with you and take you through our corporate training or collaborate with you on creating modules that are bespoke to your organization. But, we also design large-scale events. So, to the degree you want to participate in any of our events, we have amazing work both online and digitally.

And then finally, we have a platform right now that allows communities to have these completely self-organized initiatives and bring people with diverse points of view together to help them have and work with them on having a conversation where they are able to listen respectfully to each others points of view.

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DT: We work on that at The Diversity Movement too. We teach leaders the importance of inclusive language and how to use inclusive language so that we can really have a conversation. So we can put pressure on the debate of ideas, not the vilification of each other.

One of the final questions I have is what would you like to share with our audience that I havent been thoughtful to ask? What would you like to have as that final thought?

LS: You know, I really believe in shared humanity and that we all have more in common than we have different. But we have to create a softer, gentler society to allow for those commonalities to come out. We have to figure out how to harness technology to not divide us, but unite us. And so my final thought is, you know, South Africa at the end of apartheid could have gone the same way as every other country on the African continent and ended up in a civil war.

But because of Mandelas leadership, they had the foresight to create the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, where you could air your grievances, then forgive and move on.

In order to build the future, we need to have truth, reconciliation and forgiveness so we can move on. And in order to do that, we need some great leadership on this planet.

DT: Thank you Lara. I am thankful and humble that you took some time to spend with us.

Donald Thompson is an entrepreneur, public speaker, author, Certified Diversity Executive (CDE), executive coach and host of The Donald Thompson Podcast. With two decades of experience growing and leading firms, he is a thought leader on employee-focused cultures, goal achievement, influencing organization-wide change and driving exponential growth. He is also co-founder and CEO of The Diversity Movement, a results-oriented, data-driven strategic partner for organization-wide diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives. Donald serves as a board member for several organizations in marketing, healthcare, banking, technology and sports. His autobiography, Underestimated: A CEOs Unlikely Journey to Success, launches in 2022. Connect with Donald on LinkedIn and at donaldthompson.com.

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Courageous leaders can save the world: A conversation with TEDx founder Lara Stein - WRAL Tech Wire

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