• Sameer Dhar

Introducing Moais

Introducing Moais: the virtual gathering place where you come for meaningful conversations and leave with ideas, opportunities and friends.

I’m on a personal mission to solve the problem of loneliness in the 21st century.

Tall order I know, and perhaps you think I’m crazy. (I’ve certainly been accused of being a dewy-eyed idealist before. Just ask my parents.) But hear me out on this.

Moais, the idea I’ve been trying to bring to life, and is still very much in process (I’ll get to the name, which is pronounced mo-eyes, in a minute), represents my attempt to create a virtual meeting place where participants of all ages, occupations, genders, ethnicities, life stages, political stripes, etc., can come together to engage in meaningful conversations on topics that interest them. The thinking behind the idea is that if you create a space where meaningful conversations can flourish, eventually those conversations will lead to a lot more.

Let’s say you want to discuss a book or film or podcast you can’t stop thinking about. Maybe you’ve read an article you’re dying to debate. All you have to do is sign up, then show up armed with the desire to learn, willingness to listen and, if you feel so inclined, engage. Since every conversation is moderated by a host who may or may not be an expert but who’s passionately interested in the topic, and every session is attended by equally curious and enthusiastic participants, you know you’re entering a zone where the conversation will be informed and engaging. And since participants submit their questions ahead of time, and the host curates them in advance, you also know the discussions will be well-managed. Sometimes though, they have the feel like jazz improvs, because the hosts also know when to throw out the playbook and go with the flow.

Who might you meet in the room? Who knows? Could be an artist, teacher or CEO. Could be a student, electrician or retiree. And since the only entry requirements are curiosity, respect and an open mind, nobody will ask you what you do. Nobody will ask because nobody cares. All they care about is whether you have something of value to share.

But here’s the best part. While you may simply come for an engaging conversation, chances are you’ll leave with an idea you’re excited to pursue, a business opportunity you didn’t see coming, or a connection that blossoms into friendship. Over time, you may even discover a community. That’s the miracle that can happen, I’ve found, when you create a place where diverse minds have an opportunity to collide.

Where did the idea for Moais start? In senior living communities, of all places. Over a twelve-month period during 2015, my team and I, then all in our early twenties, were holed up in a few across North America trying to co-develop a product for Sensassure, an elder-technology company I was building at the time. I’ve written previously about how witnessing elders sitting silently by the nursing station in wheelchairs often without visitors for months on end viscerally awakened me to the pervasive loneliness in our culture. But interacting with residents, whether sharing wine and laughs with them at their regular Tuesday night poker games or smoking cigars and chatting with them on the patio, also awakened me to the magic that can happen when generations come together.

For young and old, the exchange was a win-win. The residents got a kick out of our team’s youthful energy and ideas, and we drew comfort and insight from their stories, companionship and wisdom. I eventually sold Sensassure and left the company. Ever since leaving I’ve been obsessed with trying to figure out how to capture the magic of that experience and share it with the world.

But that experience only partially accounts for how Moais came to be. By 2019, I still hadn’t yet figured out how to translate my passion for cross-generational relationships into my next business idea. In search of inspiration, I decided to travel to three of the world’s Blue Zones: Ikaria, Greece, Sardinia, Italy and Okinawa, Japan. I knew that more centenarians lived in Blue Zones than anywhere else in the world, and that their inhabitants suffered a fraction of the diseases that commonly kill people elsewhere. If I wanted to capture the magic I’d experienced in senior living communities, I thought, why not go to the places where people live the longest, healthiest and happiest lives?

It was in Okinawa where I first heard the word “moais”, which literally means “meeting for a common purpose”, and refers to an Okinawan cultural tradition whereby five or so children are grouped together and become each other’s second family for life. Some moais begin in childhood and last a lifetime, although today, they typically form later in life among school friends, relatives and people with shared interests. Approximately half of Okinawans still belong to these communal support networks, many to more than one, and researchers believe they may contribute to Okinawans’ increased longevity.

The moais idea stayed with me after I returned home. Wouldn’t it be cool, I thought, if we all had a group of friends who had our back, and stuck with us through the vagaries of life? I’ve since experimented with multiple ways to merge the benefits of cross-generational and communal interaction into one sustainable, scalable concept that helps people find meaningful connection, and, by extension, an antidote to loneliness.

So that’s the goal. While my team and I aren’t there yet, since we launched the first session the fall of 2020, 130 members have engaged in 55 conversations on topics ranging from climate change to mass incarceration to Memoirs of a Geisha to Stoicism to everything in between. So far, members tell us that in addition to the thought-provoking dialogue, they’re drawn to the warmth and openness that characterize the conversations, and the joy of developing friendships globally with members they would otherwise never have met.

I’ll have lots more to say about what we’re building at Moais in coming posts, including detailing how the sessions work, what makes our discussions so different from others you may have joined (and, in our opinion, so much more special), so stay tuned. If you can’t wait for the next installment, and have questions, visit www.moais.com or ping me at sameer@moais.com to get a feel for what we’re about and check out some of the topics we’re discussing.

Thanks to Ben Cox, Emerson Csorba, Wendy Dennis, Kate Knight, Eric Muellejans, Kyle Parrotta, and Brendan Steven for reviewing drafts of this post.

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