After attending a Food for Thought event sponsored by the Women's Entrepreneur Initiative (WEI) titled, "How to Lead Difficult Conversations," it sparked interest in myself and the attendees with how a group of people can come together over food with the ability to have tough but thoughtful conversations.
What does it mean to have a meaningful conversation? And how can a group of people discuss difficult topics in a respectful and empowering way?
Civic Dinners was founded in 2014 by Jenn Graham, a current entrepreneur of WEI, after having a difficult political conversation with her own family. Through the disagreements, Jenn realized that there could be a safe yet productive space to spark conversations on different social issues, From there, Civic Dinners has grown into a technology platform that services organizations and cities.
“I created Civic Dinners because I felt the old school ways of community engagement were outdated and out of touch with modern society. And given the political and socially hot times of today, we need an outlet to express our concerns, our fears, and our dreams so that we can find a clear path forward,” said Jenn. “And personally, I just wish it existed so that I could use this format to build community, find others who care about the same issues I care about, and learn new ideas for how we can solve some of our most pressing challenges.”
Civic Dinner topics range with different themes of common ground, racial divide, sustainability, nurturing communities and more. Dinner-goers sign up for the topic of their choice and throughout the dinner, the host will pose three questions. Each person has the chance to respond one at a time with an equal amount of time. The format's goal is to avoid debate or dominant voices, but instead encourage listening and understanding of different perspectives of people from many different backgrounds and experiences.
Here Graham dives more into here goals for Civic Dinners and how people can get involved:
What are you goals for Civic Dinners?
"We want to invite 1 million people to the table by 2021. That’s a lot of diverse voices, change agents and catalysts all gathering together to talk about important issues. And we feel the impact of that would be amazing. We’re building out clear “menus of action” that people can take following each dinner topic so that we can track what actions people commit to and actually complete to measure our impact. Regarding the business model, last year was a banner year for us. We went from our sole founding client and partner, the Atlanta Regional Commission, to fourteen clients and partners ranging from small cities to state agencies and globally recognized nonprofits and Fortune 50 companies. We now have over a dozen conversations available in the Atlanta area and six nation-wide. So this year we are hyper focused on streamlining host engagement, user support and client on-boarding so that we can bring on more partners and launch in 30 cities by the end of 2019."
How can people get involved:
"We’d love for people to consider hosting a Civic Dinner. It’s super easy and we provide you with everything you need to host. You can host at your home, at your place of work or at a restaurant. All you need is a quiet space for 6-10 guests to gather over a meal. And the food can be potluck, or a set menu or even just takeout. The host isn’t responsible for covering the cost of food. Just go to civicdinners.com and find a conversation to host (or attend). Many people would rather attend a dinner before hosting, so you can go to www.civicdinners.com/dinners to find a dinner near you and register. And if you’re not quite ready to attend, but love the concept, go ahead and sign-up to receive updates and invites to dinners happening near you in the future. Then lastly, spread the word to your friends, colleagues and peers as our goal is to bring diverse voices to the table, and we need your help to invite them to the platform."