By Jim Marggraff, Entrepreneur and Member of the Rotary Club of Lamorinda Sunrise, California, USA
Four years ago, my wife MJ surprised me with an unearthly question. “How can we keep Mars-bound astronauts connected with their loved ones on Earth?”
This question sparked a journey, though not yet to Mars… Instead, I embarked on a journey to understand social isolation on Earth, to develop new ways to connect remote loved ones using advanced technologies, to found another company, my seventh, Kinoo.family, and to become even more deeply engaged with Rotary!
While few Rotarians are likely to find ourselves hurtling toward the red planet, many of us do understand the feeling, if not the risk, of social isolation, and the desire to remain close to our friends and families. Strikingly, within months of COVID-19 lockdowns in 2020, nearly 80% of Rotary clubs embraced Zoom, or other video conferencing software, to host virtual club meetings and stay connected.
Recognizing both an opportunity and a need, Rotary International commissioned a Presidential Task Force to look at how virtual connectivity can be used in Rotary’s future, and I was honored to be invited to participate. As an inventor and entrepreneur, having created the LeapFrog learning system, LiveScribe smart pen, and most recently, an eye-tracking company, Eyefluence (initially funded by Rotarians) that we sold to Google in 2016, I am comfortable applying cutting edge technology to gnarly problems.
With Zoom meetings came the opportunity for resourceful clubs to recruit world-renowned distant speakers, bringing them into their meetings in a virtual setting. Some clubs even began reimagining meetings, creatively exploring the capabilities of virtual connectivity, rather than force-fitting incompatible, traditional, in-person activities into a small screen of headshots.
Inspired by our discussions within the Pandemic Task Force, I reached out to other Rotarians with an idea. I quickly found support from Rotary International, from my Lamorinda Sunrise Club in the San Francisco Bay Area, and from a Rotary nonprofit I had co-founded, The Global Impact Group TGIG.org. The idea was to produce a video to help clubs see how easy it can be to host a “hybrid,” or virtual/in-person (V/IP) meeting, one that brings people together physically, while giving remote members simultaneous access to the meeting.
We recognized that the emergence from lockdowns, with clubs returning to in-person meetings, would still leave some members uncomfortable or unsafe, rapidly returning to their club venue. Also, in cities around the world, surveys have shown that some Rotarians have embraced occasional remote participation while traveling, or to avert commute traffic. Finally, virtual connection has opened the door to some extraordinary remote speakers, who are delighted to present to Rotarians via video chat platforms, and to field questions remotely.
So my wife and I cleaned out our garage, and with some industrious, masked and socially distanced LSR club members, we transformed our garage into a studio to film a live virtual/in person meeting to show how easy it can be to bring remote virtual participants to an in-person gathering, and vice versa. This allowed us all to have fellowship and real time exchanges!
We quickly realized, however, that our enthusiasm in mentoring clubs on hosting such hybrid V/IP meetings might not attract widespread viewing by clubs across Rotary. We knew we needed another hook to get more Rotarians to view our video and convince them to model our approach in their clubs.
Another spark! What if we could attract some legendary speakers to help Rotarians look in a mirror, to see who we really are at times of crisis, when the world needs us most?
On that thought, I reached out to my friend and colleague, Dr. Sten Vermund, Dean of the Yale School of Public Health, and within weeks, we created a lineup of Zoom interviews with global health experts and Rotary celebrities ranging from Dr. Anthony Fauci to Rotary CEO John Hewko and Rotary International President Holger Knaack.
Two resulting videos are available at TGIG.org. Virtual/In-Person Meeting is a 25-minute video of our garage meeting with the above celebrity speakers – and more, which is designed for you to show to your club. A second short 2-minute Quick Start Video shows you how easy it is to run an engaging Virtual/In-Person (V/IP) meeting. Thanks to Rotary International, this video is now available in eight languages!
So you need not be planning a trip to Mars, but dreaming of reaching the stars may spark a Rotary moment, and help you begin your own next Rotary journey!