In 2012, we piloted Synthetic Biology LEAP as an experiment in global technology leadership development. Our efforts were made possible thanks to visionary investments in community and leadership development by the Synthetic Biology Engineering Research Center (Synberc), the largest consortium of synthetic biology laboratories supported by the US National Science Foundation, and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation.
Our vision was big: catalyze a community of next-generation leaders in biotechnology development. Our approach was simple: select a group of emerging leaders who aspired to serve public interests; provide them with time, space and new peers and processes to reflect on their goals and activities; and support self-initiated projects in which these leaders sought to put their reflections into practice beyond the program.
2012 LEAP Program
The inaugural LEAP program:
- Selected nineteen Fellows working across diverse organizations including universities, national labs, government, industry, think tanks, nongovernmental organizations, and community labs.
- Held a week-long interactive workshop in which Fellows worked with professional facilitators and a network of mentors from across disciplines and sectors.
- Facilitated production of thirteen Strategic Action Plans that outlined Fellow-led initiatives for advancing biotechnology in the public interest.
This first experiment exceeded our expectations in catalyzing new relationships, visions and strategies for reflecting upon and realizing biotechnology’s promise. LEAP Fellows have since collaborated on many self-sustaining initiatives that engage broad communities and inspire others to grapple with difficult questions about what can make the future of biotechnology better, and how to get there.
2015 LEAP Program
With the success of the first program, we ran a second bigger, bolder experiment. Our aim was to test and refine our approach, and expand our reach. SynbiCITE, a major synthetic biology center in the United Kingdom, joined our inaugural sponsoring partners to recruit Fellows from networks in Europe. Meanwhile, the organizing team recruited new partners to mentor Fellows, help develop their ideas, and put those ideas into action. Working with an expanded team, we developed LEAP into a year-long Fellowship.
A Bigger, Bolder Experiment
- Selected twenty-three Fellows each with unique visions for putting responsible biotechnology development into practice. They also share a commitment to working together to improve collective efforts and public outcomes.
- Two Intensive Workshops a new landscaping workshop to survey key activities and priorities of the field, and a revised leadership workshop to co-develop initiatives that can lead efforts in new and valuable directions.
- Co-Development of Strategic Action Plans outlining actionable strategies for developing biotechnology in the public interest.
- Catalyst Grants helped to launch four of these plans and bring them to life.
SB7.0 LEAP Experiment
After the first two LEAP Fellowships, we began to wonder how we could expand the program to include more of the synthetic biology community. The Seventh International Meeting on Synthetic Biology (SB7.0) served as a perfect venue for us to experiment on how we could include everyone in thinking about the future of the field. Through the interactive “I like”, “I wish”, “I wonder”, “I will” activity we asked participants to collectively reflect on the synthetic biology community. #ilike focused on what people liked about the synthetic community and it’s impacts, #iwish focused on what people wished were different, #iwonder was where we move past reflection by asking what people wonder for the future, and #iwill pushed the community to commit to how they will help make that future a reality.