About Inspiration: an open letter to Jerri Chou and Justin Stanwix

I’ve been meaning to start a personal blog ages ago. Trust me when I say AGES.  Friends who have known my core since my school youth (Bruna Marchiori, Juliana Simao) know how writing has always been a big part of me, and an inclination that came to me somewhat naturally.

While I had the pleasure of writing about work topics for the Gust blog (@gustly), I had not been able to take it to the personal realm. So why did it take me so long? Well, I have a very wide set of socially-acceptable and valid excuses… the move abroad, the challenges of a second language (when convenient:-), juggling kids and career…but as the wonderful Jessica Lawrence said, the problem may not be time, it may be simply the mind. And while I still insist that, for a woman like me (who needs to sleep like a cat to function the next day and not physically attack others) time is a key variable, the mind has been the truly limiting factor. I’ll explain how.

Being a mom to two little kids is one of the most enriching experiences in the world, but one that can also be extremely narrowing. Young kids suck every drop of energy of your body and mind, every second of your day, and the focus you need to put into them (coupled with the focus you need to put into work) basically put me into survival mode for a few years. I read much less than what I used to; I interact with art much less than before; I barely get to my piano even though it’s in my bedroom, and I have very limited time with people who are major sources of inspiration in my life. Inspiration (or lack of) has been the problem – which can be considered a problem of the mind.

As many working moms report, as our kids grow up, many of us are able to experience some sort of renaissance… if and only if you hang in there and continue exposing yourself to interesting things that tickle your mind and take you beyond “baby land”. My kids are now 4 and 5 years old, and I’m just starting to experience that.

A few weeks ago I had the honor to attend The Feast on Good – an unbelievable gathering of people in NYC organized by Jerri Chou and my very darling Justin Stanwix. Having been invited as a guest, I had to go. And what I experienced there was an intense injection of overflowing inspiration for the mind and for the heart.  True awakening. The Duchess of Yorkville blog had been set up a few weeks before and I had been struggling to decide what to write about. I did not want it to be yet-another-blog about motherhood. When the first day of The Feast ended, I knew what my first post was going to be about (it still took me almost 4 weeks to get to it, proving my point about time being a real issue).

The Feast on Good was officially the kick-off of my personal renaissance.  It nourished my mind and my soul (not to mention my eyes, given its beautiful production). My day started with a great deal of insight from Robin Chase, founder of Zipcar, talking about the growth and evolution of community-based services. Between the testimonials of Cullen Jones (2x Olympic Gold Medalist), Roz Savage (ocean rower), Anne Mahlum (Founder and CEO of Back on My Feet) and Charles Duhigg (author of The Power of Habit), I got some much needed, unparalleled examples of will power and initiative. The effect of their stories on me was so far fledged that I had a hard time choosing how I’d first deploy those lessons in my life. They filled my heart with hope, equipped me to be a better parent, and left me with the unshakable certainty that I was capable and poised to do whatever I wanted with my life (and certainly get out of the survival mode which had characterized it in recent years).

There was one additional dimension to The Feast on Good that made it unique and inspiring. The content and ideas presented, coupled with the set-up and conference format, truly motivated people to connect with one another at a very personal and deep level. We live in a world where it’s so hard to make deep, genuine connections. We are all busy, constantly running, and most gatherings foster connectivity at the networking level only. My personal theory is that a lot of the depression we see around us stems from our unattended need to deeply and genuinely connect with others, regardless of utilitarian benefits we may draw from those relationships.

Interestingly but not surprisingly, the Feast on Good had a similar effect on other people I spoke with. While I seem to have been the only one among my new friends who derived so much value from it in great part due to the challenges of parenthood, others derived the same great value and impact. Each of us was at a different crossroad in life, in The Feast was, for all of us, a powerful injection of positive inspiration and enablement.

So Jerri and Justin: please accept this humble note of appreciation for your invitation. I look forward to many yearly personal renewals at The Feast!

And while I want to give credit where credit is due, why not give myself a tap on the back for turning that corner?

Welcome back, Ilana!

 

Apr 30 - The Feast on Good: Gather

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What: The Feast Worldwide is a massive, roaming dinner party for good that happens one night each month in cities across the globe. Every month we dive into a different theme, exploring the latest ideas and creative solutions to today’s biggest challenges.

This month’s theme is GATHER and we’ll be diving into the following question:
“How do we cultivate vibrant community places that strengthen development (culturally, economically, socially) in our neighborhoods?”

Date: April 30, 2014

Time: 6:30pm -10:00pm

Place: 862 Richmond Street West, Suite 300, Coworking

Cost: $35-50, eventbrite

Website: https://bentomiso.com/events/the-feast-on-good-dinner-presented-by-thoughtworks

Feast on Good, Jakarta, Indonesia

2.5 million Indonesian children who should be in school are not - 600,000 of primary school age and 1.9 million of junior secondary school age (13-15 years). Our conversations with school leads, teachers, volunteers tells us that its more than just not having access to schools (affordability, infrastructure). Source: Unicef

There are numerous factors at play here:

1.     - Children are not encouraged to continue education to be able to succeed in life. Indonesia being an Islamic country, families believe in the ‘pasrah’ (acceptance of one’s fate, belief that God will craft the path). In the end, parents want their kids to do well and live and most times, education becomes an accessory than an essential part of a kid’s life. Also, Indonesian parents put spiritual learning and learning of values as more important than education.

2.     - Children are not motivated to learn more. Learning is boring, playing is fun. Learning is taxing and involves homework, competition andpassive listening.

We believe that in order to make learning possible among kids who currently aren’t, its important to create a system that will help creating a desire to learn and ease of access to learning.

For example, kids here are visually driven. They need to be engaged rather than being told. We need to create an environment that gives them a feeling of co-creation rather than a fixed structure.

Kids love play – in the form of games, sports, trading cards, competitions. How can learning take what they like and create an environment that makes kids want to be a part of it?

WE ARE CHAMPIONING THE CAUSE OF:

Making learning desirable while making it accessible (low-cost/free) among kids in Jakarta who currently have the desire but no access or don’t have the desire or access to it.

With people’s help, we will create this exciting new system that is porous (leaving air for flexibility), that is fundamentally based on fun and play (motivating kids to learn) and is all-encompassing (academia and life lessons).

We hope to put forth the idea of gamification of learning which we can make strong and robust through ideas generated at this dinner. The step after will be to possibly start looking at partners or even owners to bring this to life. 

My 5th hackathon

I spent a whirlwind two weeks leading up to the start of school interviewing fantastic nonagenarians on the Upper East Side and the Bronx for The Feast on Good social innovation conference.  I met a sharp-tongued, soft-spoken French woman, a self-described “life long Kochloffel”, or “person that stirs things up!”, and a nonagenarian psychotherapist.

Any social innovation conference with a 1:1 Play-doh to attendee ratio is a winner in my book.  Working with The Feast team, we turned the raw anecdotes and life experiences of our stakeholders into the challenge briefs for The Feast Hackathon. 

Sponsored by Intel, the Hackathon took place during The Feast, which made for such juxtapositions as a table of iOS developers talking shop while Arcade Fire gave an impromptu acoustic show onstage, yards away.  

Our research highlighted aspects of our stakeholders’ lives (elderly in the city, or single parents in low-income neighborhoods) that deserve attention from makers — designers, developers, anybody with empathy and a bias towards action.  

We presented these specific needs of urban seniors:

- Reconnecting with communities surrounding interests and activities they used to enjoy in the company of others, but now experience passively and alone, as friends moved or passed away.

- Overcome social barriers that exist between them and younger friends or acquaintances.  Introduce the idea that younger friends and acquaintances are interested in what they have to share.

- Improve the painful research experience of families and seniors deciding on long-term care options.  Currently there is no unbiased, personalized, comprehensive, or crowd-reviewed information source.

The urban senior findings were a part of the larger Intel Data Challenge, which was one of five challenges presented.

In a slightly unorthodox turn of events, I participated in the Hackathon I helped write.  I worked with a brilliant team of iOS developers: Larry of House of Legend, Dana of The Melody Book, and Yeepeng of Cocoa Star Apps.  Over two days and really only 6 hours of total working time, we hacked together a demo of an iPad app we named Legacy.

Here’s a funny picture of me from the official Feast feed, presenting our demo onstage.

Here’s what I said:


Context for design: we’ve all heard this story: you grow old, you get sick. your friends pass, and you feel isolated from your family. But only dwelling on this story is dangerous.  because the danger of a single story is that it obscures all of the other ones.

And the older you get, the more you become a wealth of stories.  A woman I interviewed told me she only used her computer for one thing: to write down everything she wanted to tell her grandchildren.  

With Legacy, seniors don’t have to write their life stories alone anymore. Friends or family members request a legacy book from a senior using our application.  They send in questions to prompt the senior to tell their stories.  Over time, these compiled anecdotes become a book of precious stories, a keepsake for posterity.

 

What speaking on stage at The Feast is like: a blur.

A hearty thanks to Feast Hackathon sponsors, Intel Labs.  Above is Josh Bancroft from Intel, introducing all Hackathon participants onstage.

The after party was fantastic, too.

Feasting on Tech for Humanity

Last week, changemakers from across the globe dug into the theme “Tech for Humanity” as part of our new event series, The Feast Worldwide. 

From health-care systems to online education, how can we get the most brilliant makers, designers, and developers to work on what matters? 

We wanted to explore this theme with some food for thought. Justin Kosslyn kicked it off by sharing his work at Google Ideas, a think/do tank that explores how technology can enable people to confront threats in the face of conflict.

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By connecting users, experts and engineers they seed new technology-driven initiatives that bring real change. He left us chewing on the question of the night: How might we encourage technology that can truly change the world? 

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We were joined by incredible Feasters exploring the same question across the globe, from Mexico City to Kuala Lumpur. (Pssst…! There’s still time to snag a seat at Boston’s table on 1/27! RSVP here).

Many thanks to General Assembly for co-hosting, and to our friends at MailChimp for making our conversation happen. A special thank you to Rooftop Supperclub for preparing our delicious feast. You guys are amazing, and we can’t wait to do it again.

Want to join a feast? Sign up now for an invite when the next dinner goes live. Or, join us on Twitter to get full on good from where you are.

All Hands on Deck! The Feast Worldwide NYC

On a Sunday night in Lower Manhattan, an awesome group of changemakers and doers gathered for our Feast Worldwide dinner. The theme this month: “All Hands on Deck!”

We were thrilled to have two incredible people with us: Jessica Lawrence of NY Tech Meetup, the largest Meetup in the world, and Courtney Baxter of The Op-Ed Project, an awesome project to bring a range of voices to commentary.

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Kicking off our night, Lawrence urged the room to not keep women on the sidelines. Only 3% of startups are founded by women, Lawrence said. “That isn’t enough.”

Up next! Courtney Baxter took the stage to tell us about The Op-Ed Project, and the team working to bring a range of voices to key commentary. “Only 21% of op-eds are written by women…we want to change the numbers,” Baxter said. Specifically to at least 33%, which research suggests is the tipping point at which “we would feel a cultural shift.”

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Each Feast Worldwide introduces a new challenge that we mull over and workshop to move a project forward. Baxter’s Challenge for The Op-Ed Project was a tough one!

"How do we build on what The Op-Ed Project has developed to create a model that scales sustainably?" 

Cue the amazing workshop huddle.

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We were so impressed by all of the creative ideas in the room. And also the delicious menu. One idea was to get past the psychological issue that “I’m not expert enough,” by provide internal training modules to hone presentation skills. Another idea: Create a LinkedIn-style network to use past and present members as experts for op-eds. The night also inspired an idea for a speakers’ bureau!

We love when our gathering spark a new collaboration and partnership between awesome groups. And so we can’t wait to see what KIPP Charter schools and the Children’s Radio Foundation have in store for The Op-Ed Project.

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Want in? Sign up for the guest list at a dinner near you. April’s theme is “Gather,” and we’re feasting in: New York, Boston, Toronto, Mexico City, and Kuala Lumpur.

Special thanks to The Wooly for creating the delicious menu and to Photographer Bekka Palmer for capturing the night! And thank you, thank you, thank you to our sponsors LaunchLM and MailChimp for making the magic happen. You rock.

Let's Feast: Courtney Baxter of The Op-Ed Project

Each month we bring you The Feast Worldwide, a monthly dinner party-meets-creative-workshop. Over delicious food and changemaking energy, an awesome group of people works together to move a local project forward. This month we’re celebrating the theme “All Hands on Deck!” because every voice matters.

We’re thrilled to announce this month’s Feast Worldwide speaker in New York City: Courtney Baxter, Chief of Staff at The Op-Ed Project. Did we mention that she’s a rockstar? Courtney is also the founder of the street-art project Queer in Public and manager of community initiatives at Feministing. 

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The Op-Ed Project is doing amazing work to increase the range of voices and ideas we hear in the world. And we’re so excited to hear from Courtney about their great work to bring under-represented voices to the forefront.

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Over a delicious feast, Courtney will share one challenge facing The Op-Ed Project. That’s where we need all hands on deck. The thirty changemakers will team up to tackle the problem with creative solutions and move this project forward. Let the feasting begin! 

Photos by Baked Photography

Want to join? We’re feasting this month in New York, Boston, Kuala Lumpur, Toronto, and Mexico City. Sign up here for the dinner near you.

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