Kaila Colbin – 2022 Kea Friend of New Zealand World Class Award winner
WCNZ Friend Of New Zealand Award winner
Kaila Colbin was born in the US but moved to Christchurch in 2005. Just before the Christchurch earthquakes, she was responsible for bringing the first TEDx event to Christchurch and following the second quake she organised a second event focusing on the rebuilding of the city. This event was attended by global speakers including people who had been instrumental in rebuilding quake damaged cities such as San Francisco. Around this time she also helped launch the Ministry of Awesome – a not for profit organisation which encourages the growth of startup businesses in Christchurch. A few years later she launched the first Singularity summit before starting her own company Boma which uses extensive worldwide networks to help leaders be more intentional, intelligent and courageous about the future.
These days Kaila is known for her transformational leadership courses and her successful company Boma. However, her career path started out quite differently. After graduating from Cornell University with a degree in hospitality Kaila says all she only knew one thing.
“When I finished my degree all I knew was that I didn’t want to be in the hospitality business. I was really glad I studied what I did because it was an incredibly valuable degree, every single skill was so transferable. It really focused on two things, leadership and service and those two things have carried into every aspect of my life.”
After graduating Kaila moved to Miami where she started one company, and then another, neither really took off and so she returned home and worked in sales for awhile before deciding to move to New Zealand with her Kiwi partner. A move Kaila says she is eternally grateful she made.”
“My husband and I are no longer together but I am so grateful he introduced me to my home. I feel so, so deeply connected to this place now, and I am just forever grateful for moving here. When I first arrived it was hard, there were all these little things that I had never had to think about that all of a sudden I needed to know. For example, I didn’t know what courgette was, I had never had to light a fire or hang clothes on a line – you don’t do those things in New York, so there was a real learning experience there.”
Over time Kaila fell more and more in love with New Zealand, but is was after the earthquakes that she truly realised Christchurch was her home.
“When the first earthquakes hit, I was in Florida on my way to speak at a TED event. My husband and I were watching things unfolding from afar and we felt so helpless, we were wishing we were back there to support people. All of my heart was back in Christchurch and I ended up changing my TED talk on the spot and giving a three minute talk on Christchurch and how the city could rebuild. This idea that the rubble of our city might also contain its promise.”
Once Kaila was back in Christchurch she threw all her energy into the city’s recovery, organising a TED x event focused on the rebuilding of the city which offered perspective from global leaders.
“We decided to bring together leaders to take part in this event focused on the future of the City. We ended up getting Art Agnos to come. Art had been the mayor of San Francisco during the Loma Prieta earthquake in 1989. He had made some really difficult decisions including demolishing a highway that had been damaged. At the time this was an incredibly unpopular decision but today is widely regarded as the catalyst for the revitalisation of San Francisco’s waterfront. He was able to speak with this incredible hindsight, and it ended up being this really impactful experience for everyone.”
Christchurch Mayor Lianne Dalziel says Kaila has been instrumental in the way the city has moved forward since the quakes.
“I don’t think we would be as forward thinking if it hadn’t been for the way that Kaila commanded our attention at a time when we needed to be inspired and we needed to be optimistic for our future. She’s injected that sense of optimism, that sense of confidence in ourselves. I can talk about Christchurch on the world stage now. I’ve literally just returned from Singapore where I have been doing that. People were really interested in what our city is doing and we’ve got a lot of credit going Kaila’s way for that.”
After her success with TEDx Kaila was able to attend a Singularity University event in Silicon Valley which had her so inspired that she returned to New Zealand and held Australasia’s first summit which was attended by more than 1400 people.
Matt Brown, Founder of “She Is Not Your Rehab” has worked with Kaila on multiple occasions and says she is someone who really brings people together.
“I can only sum her up as a pou, a magic pillar that we all look up to. I think she’s changed the narrative and what relationships look like should look like. When I think of Kaila, I think of a Samoan proverb that says leadership is through service.”
These days Kaila runs her own company Boma, which uses extensive worldwide networks to help leaders be more intentional, intelligent and courageous about the future.
“I believe that if we want to change the world, what we have to do is establish a new playing field, establish ourselves on that new playing field and then do something that’s very counterintuitive. We have to invite everybody else to come and play on our new playing field because if we don’t do that, nothing changes. So Boma’s transformation framework really focuses on walking companies through that.”
“Specifically Boma is focused on running executive programs. We have a two day transformational directors program, we run a three day program for executives and senior leaders and we have a major event called, E Tipu, which is about the future of food and fibre in New Zealand, it’s become the largest food and fibre summit in the country.”
Along with creating great leaders in New Zealand, Kaila and her team are also looking to share New Zealand’s lessons and perspectives on a global stage. Currently, they are working in partnership with the Canterbury Crusaders to inspire global rugby coaches and management teams around the world.
“We are working on a coaching leadership program, it’s a global online course for rugby coaches from high school to professional level, leveraging not only the Crusaders incredible history of success in rugby, but also the crusaders incredible history in terms of dedication to culture and belonging.”
Kaila says what drives her is the idea of being able to connect people to create positive change not only for Christchurch but also for New Zealand and the world.
“When I think about the work that I’ve done with TEDx and with Singularity University, and now with Boma, one of the mental pictures that I come back to over and over again, is this idea of widening the pipes, widening the pipes between Christchurch and the rest of Aotearoa and widening the pipes between Aotearoa and the rest of the world. I think there are so many people out there doing so many amazing things and if we can all share that knowledge then the world will be a much better place.”