Have you ever wondered how you can travel to over 30 countries in just 12 hours? And find one and only place where you can learn about AI & agriculture, the perfect recipe for cooking Mopane worms, how to lead through a crisis, singing Bob Marley’s “One Love” with friends from Jamaica, dancing the “Ekeko—God of Prosperity” and “Tala” dances, engaging with CAAs on drone regulations, folding Origami drones, talking anti-racism, managing emotional and mental wellbeing, organizing STEM programs, and building data literacy? Welcome to the 2020 Virtual Flying Labs retreat, held this year from July 23 – 26!
While we initially planned for all 28 Flying Labs and the WeRobotics team to meet in person (in Nairobi), COVID-19 had other plans. So we all decided to make up for this missed in-person opportunity by organizing our first ever Virtual Flying Labs Retreat. Holding the event virtually on Zoom allowed for more Flying Labs members to join while creating new challenges like time-zone management ranging from GMT+10 (for Papua New Guinea and Japan) to GMT-5 (for Latin America and the Caribbean). Meaning that some of our colleagues were joining the event at 5am while others stayed up until 1am. To make up for early rising and late bedtimes, and to keep everyone happily engaged for three hours per day over four days, we co-created a very diverse program in collaboration with all Flying Labs.
And so Flying Labs from 28 countries joined the Flying Labs Retreat along with the WeRobotics Team, which itself is comprised of 7 nationalities, including Fijian, Mongolian, and Polish. Flying Labs led 14 sessions throughout the four-day virtual retreat, plus sharing more than 10 cultural celebrations with the group. We also had four social hangout sessions to help us get to know each other more personally. WeRobotics facilitated a number of roundtable discussions and hosted a guest speaker who shared insights on cross-cultural communications. Collectively, we participated in 48 individual sessions over the four days. You can discover the rich diversity of the sessions in our Retreat program below.
The first Flying Labs session was led by Uttam from Nepal Flying Labs who spoke of the opportunities, challenges, and insights learned from leading Nepal Flying Labs for nearly five years. We also heard from Flying Labs in Nigeria, Spain, Jamaica, Panama, Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire, Tanzania, Namibia, Morocco, and Peru, for example. They covered a wide range of topics including AI and agriculture, leading through crisis, emotional and mental wellbeing, adjusting to COVID-19, and community engagement. Cultural celebrations were vibrant and uplifting, including traditional songs, dances, arts and crafts, games, local cuisines, and local languages from Nepal, Mongolia, Uganda, Panama, Philippines, Cameroon, Kenya, Tanzania, Japan, Chile, Peru, Namibia, Jamaica, and La Réunion. These brought many smiles along with feelings of joy and gratitude and much laughter.
WeRobotics facilitated and co-facilitate a number of roundtable sessions with multiple Flying Labs. These included roundtables on the Flying Labs Model, anti-racism, youth and STEM programs, data interaction and literacy, engagement with Civil Aviation Authorities (CAA), operational safety, and more. We now have three pages of action items to act on based on all the feedback kindly shared by Flying Labs.
The retreat was moving and emotional, insightful, and exciting. The themes of authenticity, wellbeing, and reinvention echoed across Zoom, bringing us closer together with a genuine feeling of caring and community. It was good for the soul and a source of renewed strength during a year that has been hard on all of us. We shared our experiences, cultures, learnings, frustrations, as well as our respect, love, and friendship for each other. As part of our closing ceremony, we each shared the word that best describes our personal take away from the Flying Labs Retreat. We’ve collected these words to remind ourselves just how special this retreat was. We’ve also collected multiple photos and videos from Day 1 in this Twitter thread and for the other 3 days in this thread.