From BIG TABLE to Shared Table: Sparking shared missions through family style meals, new connections and meaningful conversation

Learnings and a look at the future of enso’s Shared Table dinner series

We’re facing some of the greatest challenges humanity has even known. More often than not, we’re trying to tackle those big issues in small silos, with our heads down or deep in our inboxes.

There’s no shortage of conferences and events designed to bring tribes together for inspiration and education. But the industry — with 50,000 events representing a $150 billion in the US alone — is built to scale, with a conventional playbook that leans heavily on talking at insular audiences rather than connecting with diverse participants around new ideas to accelerate change.

The nature of our work at enso constantly connects us with really brilliant, effective, passionate people, and we’ve had more instances than we can count of us saying “you’ve got to talk to so and so.” It quickly became a core part of our vision to act as a convening force — creating spaces for those people to step back from the daily grind, to connect with others who are on a similar journey, and to reconnect with themselves around the why that inspires their work. It also felt important for us to offer a small way of saying thanks to our friends and collaborators who are a part of the good fight — and what better way to say thank you than a good meal and a glass or two of wine.

All of that led our team at enso to host a series of dinners around a shared table — to allow that reflection and those collisions to happen. Think: creatives, social entrepreneurs, nonprofit founders, marketers, business leaders, activists, writers and more gathering around the conversations that are keeping us collectively up at night — food deserts in our city, gender equality in the media, or the way we’re supporting artists to create empathy across lines of difference. Instead of a design sprint with a strict agenda, a conference with rows of seats and little space for connection, or a cocktail party where you mostly chat with the people you already know, we went for that timeless experience that makes us our most human, and allows us to really sit, listen, connect and enjoy — a family style meal. We draw from the Jeffersonian style format for inspiration — one big conversation around a common purpose, and usually bring in creative stimulus (photography, a painting capturing the conversation in real-time , etc.) to spark ideas and connections.

Two years later, we’ve now convened over 100 of these folks across 11 different dinners in 4 cities, and we’re ramping up for another exciting year. Some of our best Shared Table dinners were hosted in partnership with other organizations who worked with our team to curate the perfect topic, attendees, and big questions to guide the conversation. For the last two years, TOMS and enso have co-hosted a dinner to discuss the United Nations Global Goals at their NYC showroom during General Assembly week; our partners at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts hosted us in their incredible lobby for an inspired discussion around the role of art as an empathy engine; and our friends at Omidyar Network discussed the extent to which brands are perceived as agents of positive change at The Battery in SF.

While we intentionally leave the format open and the tone conversational, some really fascinating outcomes have emerged. We brought together leaders from a best-in-class social responsibility brand and leaders at a brand with room to improve, and the conversation quickly turned to earnest planning around how to overcome the obstacles on the road to increased social purpose. We watched new friendships, partnerships, roles and even a new business emerge from connections across the table.

And as we move into the New Year, we see Shared Tables being the jumping off point for Shared Missions— an exercise of collective action in response to the major issues facing us today, all at an unprecedented scale. A first step is getting the right players around the table for a heart-led conversation about what matters most to us all — before broader creative problem solving and collaboration between those people can really take off.

We’re currently looking for partners to co-host dinners, brilliant minds to attend, culinary partners that help us stimulate conversation with what’s passed around the table, and spaces that take us out of the context of our daily lives to get us thinking differently about how to solve what’s ahead.

Reach out to our team with any ideas or suggestions for the above at — or to request a seat at a future Shared Table dinner.

Here’s the log of Shared Table dinners past. We formally referred to these as BIG TABLE dinners, so you might see some mention of that name in the archives.

  1. The Future of Branded Documentaries in Los Angeles, September 2014
  2. Food Equality in Los Angeles in Los Angeles, December 2014
  3. Gender Equality in Media in Los Angeles, March 2015
  4. Age of Agency in Los Angeles, July 2015
  5. Building purpose-driven brands and achieving the Global Goals in New York, September 2015 in partnership with TOMS
  6. The power of film to remake the world at Sundance, January 2016
  7. Brand World Value in San Francisco, May 2016 in partnership with Omidyar Network
  8. Harnessing the Power of Global Youth in New York, September 2016 in partnership with TOMS
  9. Art as Empathy Engine in San Francisco, October 2016
  10. Civic Innovation for Everyone in Los Angeles, October 2016
  11. The Future of Health and Wellness in Minneapolis, October 2016