Thursday in New York, the School of Visual Arts Design for Social Innovation and Food Sol at Babson College hosted our first collaborative Community Table. Twenty-two people showed up – a vibrant constellation of food entrepreneurs, journalists, investors, and design students.
Simply gathering cool minds around a common table is not what made it great. Lots of organizers and facilitators do that. What made it great was the mindset in which people showed up. Their resumes and talents and passion were all the givens. Their curiosity and willingness to create were what made the conversation superlative.
At Community Table, attendees drive the discussion. One table, one conversation, one person speaks at a time. The objective is for individuals to offer up real-time problems they are facing and for the collective to put its heads together to try to help them move forward.
Everyone’s voice is equal at our table. Doesn’t matter if you’ve been working in food for three decades or three months. Everyone eats, and so everyone has food expertise and agency in the food system.
Thursday, the people who came to our table didn’t know each other. They’d never (okay, maybe "rarely") been asked to interact in this way. Their openness and commitment to sharing brainpower was breathtaking. The energy in the room sizzled.
A lot of connections were made and resources exchanged. We laughed together and listened hard to what one another needed. We solved real problems. Our eye was to helping each another take action and move forward – not to stirring theory and squabbling over data.
One beverage entrepreneur bravely revealed that she was having serious doubts about a new piece of business she had stepped into. She described the pros and cons as she saw them, and then asked us if we thought she should shutter it or keep going. Across the table, a food truck entrepreneur leaned in and explained how her own business needs could be better met if they were to partner.
The table heartily agreed that what these two could create together would far exceed that of either individually, and that they would be providing great value to their communities in new and powerful ways. The table hummed with excitement as others chimed in with encouraging examples of similar partnerships.
Food is physical. You know when you’ve done it. A great Community Table builds inspiring potential energy and then converts it to action. Attendees know when they’ve done it. We all feel it, and it’s what brings us back to the table again and again.