I’ve been in a very social mood lately, and more than ever my friends and colleagues have been praising my connective abilities. Having worked on the ground floor of several startups now, I don’t think too deliberately about networking – I guess it’s just what I do. Even the term “networking,” reminiscent of nametags and too-contrived cocktail hours, makes me cringe a bit. Whatever one chooses to call it, this professional matchmaking mojo has been on overdrive in recent months. It could be my new life as a freelance do-gooder, working on a variety of projects that require the creative collaboration of an unlikely consortium of minds. Or it could just be that the repeated affirmation of my super-connector status serves as positive reinforcement, thus giving me the confidence to amp it up even more.
Either way, my brain these days has been in remix mode, constantly scanning for awesome people, cutting-edge projects, innovative concepts – and letting the synapses fly as I start to imagine the results of their cross-pollination.
And so I’ve been thinking on how this ability can better translate to real results for social good. Of course, I don’t want to formalize my processes too much because I know that it’s some innate thing that’s surfaced out of passion and sincerity, and I know that amazing people tend to just find each other out of some cosmic operation, and that some of the biggest ideas are scribbled down on cocktail napkins.
My happy medium: the dinner party. I have a big oak table in a glass-paneled dining room with a great view of…Forest Lawn Cemetery (it’s actually quite lovely). I also really like to feed people (thanks for that one, Mom). Last week marked the third event in my new salon-style series in which I curate a guest list of diverse-yet-like-minded and action-oriented folks to gather ‘round the table.
There’s something about sharing a casual meal with a small group of thoughtful people that yields the right combination of inane banter and serious debate and ultimately, hopefully, something much bigger.
While my goal originally was to create separate posts documenting each event, I’ll have to lump them all in one until I gain more time and more dinner party consistency!
Dinner #1 – Navajo education and cultural exchanges
The first of these happened before the New Year when I had a group of artists and business people over for a very labor-intensive goat cheese lasagna from the Union Square Café Cookbook (totally worth it) to talk about reforming education on a Navajo Reservation, where most of us have already worked on a project to bring arts, technology, and off-the-rez connections to high school students there.
To mix things up a bit, I invited my friend Jean-luc Dushime, a bright, young man who survived The Rwandan genocide of 1994 and fled 4000 miles over six months on foot through the jungle to escape the atrocities. We compared this with the “Long Walk” of the Navajos, and started dreaming up storytelling projects that could tie together the disparate group’s suffering and resilience.
Dinner #2 – Uncategorizable Awesome
I couldn’t quite nail down a theme for the next dinner but I had this innate knowing that the invitees would get on quite well.
Doug Campbell, Founder of Mindshare, Projectfresh and Synn Labs
Kyla Fullendwider, Founder of The Public Studio, Pepsi Refresh Neighborhoods Ambassador, GOOD columnist
Melissa Jun Rowly, Producer/Writer/Host, Mashable, What Gives!?
Tameka Kee, tech tastemaker and consultant, tamekakee.com
Andrew McGregor, Founder of The Tiziano Project and Graphation Film Festival and the LA Chessboxing Club
Jason Porath, Dreamworks Animator, Writer, Mindshare Curator
Jon Vidar, Award-winning photojournalist, Executive Director of The Tiziano Project, lead on a cool new oil spill-awareness project, Counterspill
Tory Fine, Director of Outreach for The Tiziano Project and Managing Editor of The Huffington Post Impact and Education Verticals.
Pamela Sameulson, Aerial Dancer, Splashlife editor, EDAR ambassador
Leba Haber Rubinoff, interactive filmmaker, technologist, foundation consultant
Obviously, all of these people have multiple awesome projects and ventures going on simultaneously; we all share an entrepreneurial spirit, a hunger for innovation and a commitment to social change. Perfect!
Wasabi peas and a lot of bread and cheese to start :)
Polenta with vodka sauce
Trader Joe’s salad mix
Green Tea mochi and white chocolate chip cookies for dessert
Spectacular. From questioning why we’re not all running for office, to organizing a field trip (of LA’s Toxic Tours) to gun control to Wikileaks spin-offs, we discussed it all and our dialogue ran deep.
Dinner #3 – Propagating good via the music and entertainment industries
OK, my “people curating” got a little out of hand on this one. While I know that a great dinner party with cohesive conversation cannot handle more than 10 people or so, (actually, 8 seems to be the sweet spot) I got so excited about so many people that my guest list grew to more than double that. So it turned into more of just a party than a dinner party (though I did serve a Mediterranean feast) but it still had an Awesome Filter and was equally wonderful.
The future of the Mara Abrams Dinner Party Series…
I’m still tweaking the meeting-of-the-minds formula, should there ever be one, and I have no idea what the long-term results of all these occasions will be, but I can only hope that some seeds have been planted that one day will translate to business partnerships or marriages or deeply-rooted, purpose driven friendships.
If nothing else, we have wined; we have dined; we have talked about things much greater than our collective selves. The means have already justified the ends.