This is the story of how this community dinner enterprise manages a business with clients and vendors all over the world, while connecting people through wonderful cuisine.
Ten years ago, Lawrence E. Adjah often had conversations with his friends in New York who were succeeding professionally but who were struggling to find real community.
He explains: "Most of the opportunity to find fellowship with people was only in networking, where people were only asking them what they did or what school they went to, and they were feeling that that was all they had...they felt like they were really lonely and isolated."
That’s when Lawrence, a native New Yorker born to Nigerian immigrants, had the idea to organize community dinners where adults could connect with each other beyond networking. Our Family Dinner was born.
The first dinner, a family-style feast of around 30 people in a restaurant near Times Square, was a huge hit.
Now the grassroots initiative Our Family Dinner, part of the nonprofit Family Dinner Foundation formed in 2014, operates in three continents: North America, Europe and Africa.
When a person registers for the a dinner, an Our Family Dinner volunteer calls them, not only to welcome to them to the dinner, but also to ask how they can be served in ways that go beyond the dinner.
Adjah explains: "We’re very intentional about people being known and being vulnerable, and really creating a space that’s familial."
Every table has cards with questions and icebreakers to open people up, and attendees also talk about what Adjah calls life moments - milestones in their lives that they would normally just share with friends or family.
People need to build friendships
“People have to build and form friendships now later in life in new new cities, new environments... We provide that in a space everyone can relate to - and that’s the dinner table.”
For example, dinner-goers are provided with a safe space to share if they are in remission from cancer, just bought a new home, or have a new baby on the way.
“What we find is that people in the room really step up, not only to celebrate them and cheer them on but also to serve.”
Adjah explains with this example: "They’ll say, ‘I have some baby clothes, I would love to help out.’ And so that becomes a seminal moment in the dinner, where they really feel the family showing up for them, not only in celebrating what they’ve shared."
Hosting dinners around the world
Our Family Dinner has grown to encompass many cities around the world, from London to Lagos.
TransferWise has become an indispensible resource, says Lawrence. When someone registers for a dinner, the funding comes centrally to his organization, who then needs to pay the vendor. “TransferWise has been essential, because it’s so seamless for us to do that with our venues overseas,” he says.
"They’re paid extremely quickly and efficiently, and we aren’t losing so much in conversion fees."
Anyone can volunteer to be a host in their city, and within the next year, Adjah hopes Our Family Dinner will spread to most major cities.
So far, the biggest driving force for the organization has been word of mouth from friends.
There is no guest list, just “trust that the mission will hold wherever it is,” says Adjah.
Citywide dinners typically take place at larger restaurants with up to 120 people, but volunteers also organize dinners at community centers and their homes. He hopes more people will volunteer to host dinners at their homes, even for a group of two people.
"If there were more people opening their homes for the perfect strangers that they live next to, then I think this issue of isolation and loneliness will be that much more challenged."
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