The year 2020 arrived with a lot of promise and expectation. The entrance of a new decade was certain to keep us excited through the year. Personally, I had so many dreams and aspirations for existing and new projects that I had been working on since December 2019.

Then, the news broke rather suddenly. People are dying of the coronavirus in China, then Italy, then the United States, and then the rest of Europe, and the list went on. Initially the hope was that it would clear within a month or two at most. Alas, contrary to the last episode of the Ebola virus, the novel coronavirus became a pandemic with lightening-quick speed. Countries locked down, people locked in, and economies shutdown as the weeks rolled by. Sport events, conferences, weddings all postponed while schools and religious gatherings were closed.

Lara Odebiyi

It all seemed like a dream, only this time, it was a real. All activities relying on physical proximity were shut down and it seemed like we had somehow awakened in a parallel new world. We are confronted with having to deal with the realities of rapidly learning new technology, new etiquette, adjusting to working from home, and virtual events, amongst others. The changes happened so fast and breathlessly that, once the reality set in, inevitably the fear of the uncertainty started to creep in.

For an organization that worked on-site for upwards of 12 years, and hosted thousands of people at events and conferences for eight years, this new reality left us with very stark choices. We either shut our operations in the meantime and pray this blows over quickly, or find a way to make it work regardless. For me, with leadership responsibilities, it was especially daunting. I needed to deal with the very vulnerable people we cater to, figure out how to continue to provide direction for my team, and discover how to deal with my own personal worries for the future. It required a lot of introspection and prayerfulness to find strength and clarity.

Initially I busied myself, trying to learn as much about this pandemic as there was. My takeaway in those initial days was, we don’t really know what we don’t know. I could only pray. While praying one day in April, I felt led in my spirit not only to go ahead and hold our usual one-day women’s conference online, but to now hold a two-day women’s conference in the month of May, instead of the annual event usually held in October. This left us with just two weeks to execute it. We could but trust and pray that it would go well since it was the first time we would hold an event online–with no experience or equipment to ensure that the event ran smoothly, not forgetting the country was still on lock-down at the time. It strikes me strongly, now more than ever, as I write this with the benefit of hindsight, nothing catches God by surprise.

Choosing to address the situations people are faced with during the pandemic, and aiming for a duplication of the modalities and program of our on-site conference, we set out with nothing but trust and hope for a successful event. Our 2020 theme was “Thriving In Uncertainty,” and within the two weeks, we were ready to hold our very first two-day online conference live on four integrated platforms to ensure we reached out to our readers and network.

To our surprise, the online conference reached not only our readers and network, but we had attendees from all over the world, England, Ireland, US, China, Cameroon, Kenya, Ghana, Rwanda, and South Africa, to mention a few. The number of viewers and attendees, and the reach to countries we never planned or thought we could reach out to, was amazing. The inspiring and encouraging feedback of how the conference was a blessing, the timing and timeliness of the lessons and preparedness for a post COVID-19 world has left us with nothing but gratitude to God for cuing us in at such a time as this. The lesson for us here at Dabira is “When life throws you lemon, you make a lemonade”–ask God for the right recipe though!

After such an inspiring and life changing two-day conference in a digital space, the question arises, is this the new normal for Dabira magazine and our annual women’s conference? No one knows! Well, if it is, we are happy to embrace it, and make the best use of what the new normal could be.

By Lara Odebiyi, founder and director of Dabira Publishing in Nigeria, and a member of MTI’s Board of Directors

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