by Abby Thompson
March 13, 2023
Community. Collaboration. Connection.
These key components encompassed an unforgettable weekend I experienced, attending Equitech Futures’ first IRL (In Real Life) conference event in Nairobi, Kenya with our alumni from eastern and southern Africa. Upon joining the team as Alumni Network Manager in November 2022, I quickly became immersed in this challenging and inspiring world of technology for social impact. I come to Equitech Futures from an arts background, and I have a passion for working with innovative, creative people from around the world. While I’ve ventured to several countries in my free time, this was my first time traveling to the continent of Africa - let alone the country of Kenya - and my first time attending an international conference in the service of my career. While I’d seen several of these faces virtually for months now, and gotten a sense of my role in facilitating community, collaboration, and connection amongst alumni, doing this on an in-person level was a whole new, invigorating experience.
Like any gathering of humans from various backgrounds who have never met in person, I watched the anticipation, nervousness, and hesitations in the eyes of each alum as they entered our presence. However, within minutes, I witnessed those anxieties eased as they joined a circle that continuously grew of warm embraces, laughter, and shared humanity. In what felt like seconds, the ice was broken and connections were beginning to form, and not just over technology.
Equitech Futures’ Chief Community Officer, Thomas Murray, and I began day one with what we know how to do best. We facilitated real life, person-to-person connections through what may have appeared on the surface to be silly games, but which had foundations in communication, risk taking, and trust building. Next, we took time to journal together, and we asked everyone to reflect on their hopes for the weekend. My hopes were to connect more with alumni, be inspired, hear stories, and learn about Kenyan culture (and of course, post IRL, see elephants). Little did I know just how much these hopes would come to life in our short time gathering, with some of the best moments happening in between presentations.
I heard stories of Ekeno’s childhood experiences encountering lions in the wild, stories of Fadhila’s entrance to the world of data science from the medical field and her volunteer work in Copenhagen, and I met Zweli, whose first plane ride was the one that brought him from his home in eSwatini to this very event. I witnessed several incredible projects presented by alumni, from breast cancer research to digital currency research and so much more. I witnessed networking over delicious Kenyan tea and shared passions for research projects that will continue long after the IRL.
Some of the most meaningful and impactful ways I’ve personally experienced connection happen is through food, celebration, music, and dance. Friday afternoon, I facilitated an international snack exchange where alumni each brought a snack that was significant to them and their cultures. From mabuyu from Kenya to Cheez-Its from America to Mysore pak from India, we feasted and exchanged our stories behind the food.
Saturday evening, we celebrated each alum’s successes through speeches given by everyone. The Kenyan alumni generously taught us a local song, “Daima Mkenya (Always Kenyan),” to close out the event. Late on Saturday evening, we continued to bond over one of my personal favorite points of connection - dance! The Kenyan alumni taught me traditional line dances they grew up with. Andrew taught a line dance to the song “Jerusalem” by Master KG, Daniel taught us how to Sokkie (a South African partner dance), and I taught the group how to Wobble (V.I.C.). We stayed up until 3 a.m. to give a proper IRL send off to friends flying out early that morning, and then some local alumni went above and beyond to show us some of their favorite spots around the city. (Shout out to Walter and Mitchell for showing us the Maasai Market and Clinton for walking the streets of the Central Business District with us, where we serendipitously encountered famous Kenyan singer, Fena Gitu, and danced with her!)
This IRL event in Nairobi, Kenya was truly an honor to plan, facilitate, and participate in, and it was such a refreshing introduction to my new role as Alumni Network Manager. I feel immensely more connected and inspired by our Equitech alumni and the amazing work they are doing on a global scale. I find myself even more engaged and motivated in our staff meetings and thrilled every time I enter a virtual space with them, knowing the smiles, hearts, and hugs behind them. Thank you, alumni, for making this experience truly remarkable and memorable, and my introduction to Equitech Futures so welcoming. I’m excited about the innovative projects forming, new alumni being brought onboard in new capacities, and ways we are growing the engagement, connections, and collaborations of our whole network.