Conversations over Dinner

27Apr12

What is it about breaking bread with people over dinner that helps meeting new people transition from one of those potentially “awkward” moments to one of curiosity and genuine interest?

The Vancouver for Acumen (now VANCOUVER+acumen) chapter has been hosting a series of Salons.  Salons are a time-honoured forum for discussion and exchange of ideas. And the aim is to take the lessons learned from 10 years of impact investing by Acumen Fund and use them in discussion to inspire conversation around the table. Many kudos to Amanda Waye for organizing and initiating the Vancouver Salon series and I was honoured to to attend as a guest at the one salon themed TRUST.

The audience is usually 25 people, split into about 5 groups of 5 with one volunteer facilitator at each table. Even before arrival, people were inspired to be open as background reading materials and short videos were sent round to all the participants around the theme of the salon (in this case, Trust). As bread was served and the delicious food arrived at the local social enterprise restaurant we were being hosted at – conversation flowed in an open manner. There were no formal introductions, no stating of name, origin or organization. Just simple, open reactions to what each of us had read/seen about the topic. Naturally, the conversation flowed where the table participants had interest, but it was never forced nor constrained. Brilliant format. The open-ness of it was the perfect breeding ground for self “ah-ha” moments and recognition of shared iterative converging and diverging values and beliefs. I think I left the Salon feeling a foot off the ground, lighter and enlightened by my fellow dinner guests. Definitely a model to be replicated. It got me thinking, it’s been a while since I last hosted a whiteboard + cheesecake party – time to gather, eat and create again!

I attended another dinner (yes, good food always a draw) hosted by another great organization, 85 Broads tonight. This was a slightly different situation than the Acumen Salon, where I knew half of the attendees in a personal capacity before. Tonight – I knew nobody. But as it happens, with a table where guests faced each other, a simple name tag on the table and a common interest – conversation flowed as easily as the wine. Both of these events were hosted by volunteers – and are great models of community engagement and community building outside of one’s day-to-day professional spheres. I believe peer-learning with a like-minded group can elevate one’s own thinking with profound impact – may the food and conversations continue!!

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