Breaking bread and starting conversations

This wraps up my posts based on the inspiring women I had the privilege to meet at the Leading Women event, but it may be one of the most important messages.
I’m a firm believer our mission is to help people reach their dreams and to leave the world better than we found it. Jenn Graham, CEO and Founder of AHA! Strategy and Civic Dinners, agrees. Her whole message was about “How engaged women build thriving communities.”
Her community building efforts began when a bike ride ended with a broken nose and arm thanks to an encounter with a rain grate installed improperly in the streets. She found her voice when reaching out to city officials resulted her problem area being fixed and ultimately many more around the area. That taste of what happens when concerned people speak up, set her on a new course.
As an author, blogger and communicator, I love how she embraces the power of stories. “People telling the stories frame what is true,” Jenn said. “To change culture, you have to change the story.”
Storytelling was the first form of learning, and how history is, and was, passed down through generations. It’s where emotion and action come together.
“Magic doesn’t happen with a big speaker on stage,” Jenn said. “It happens around tables with people sharing stories and working together.”
Using her desire to make her communities better and armed with the knowledge when people find common values more gets done, she crafted an experiment around the original social network-the dinner table.
Her experiment turned into Civic Dinners.
According to Jenn, breaking bread together automatically makes people more connected and breaks down barriers. The atmosphere makes it easier to have tough conversations. She believes meaningful conversation over food can spark real and lasting change.

Civic dinners aren’t hard. A host picks a topic and the organization provides a kit to help facilitate the conversation. You invite 6-10 diverse guests for whatever kind of meal you want. It could be potluck, a picnic, a 7-course dinner for the gourmet inclined or pizza takeout for those who are in a hurry and don’t cook. The kit includes three questions on a single topic. From there, each guest, one at a time, gets equal time to share their ideas and opinions. Topics include: transportations, livability, prosperity, nurturing communities, bridging the racial divide, reimagining aging, affordable housing, education, literacy and more.
Nothing happens until people start talking. I’ve talked about the importance of social connectedness and the art of civil conversation before. It’s important we start inserting the art of conversation back into daily life.
There are still a lot of tough conversations that need to be had.
“We still have big issues to tackle,” she said. “Our next conversations focus on the racial divide, the voice of women, and the art of civility.”
Each of us have a story. We are the sum of our experiences and the people we have come into contact with. By linking people up and sharing these stories, we will find bonding points.
We all have skills and talents we can put to work.
“We can look at the world and think someone should do something about that or we can start taking the small steps forward and get things done,” Jenn said.
We all need to be brave enough to start conversations that matter.

Jenn Graham, CEO and Founder of Civic Dinners (left) with Chellie Phillips (right) at the Leading Women Conference.

@ahastrategy @civicdinners

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