Tamara Giltsoff is a 13-year veteran of sustainable business strategy, which means she is also a veteran of business symposiums. The England native, a contributor to Treehugger.com and an OZOlab board member, says many are outsized, impersonal and beset by competition. But after attending "The Feast," a one-day social innovation conference held in New York City last October, Giltsoff was struck by how "unconference-y" it was.
"I had the most deep and connected conversations with people there," says Giltsoff, who will make a presentation this week at "The Feast: Big Easy" at the Contemporary Arts Center (CAC). "Partly due to scale (160 attendees), but also the community of people — mixed business leaders with interested individuals. People who all share the same agenda. It's quite rare to get that at a conference."
"It's a place for the world's most innovative change-makers to come together, learn from each other and share their experiences and insights," says Feast co-creator Jerri Chou, 25. "To get inspired and make connections; to make new ideas happen. Social innovation (involves) creative thinking, social issues and entrepreneurship — it's the Venn diagram where they all overlap."
The event was the brainchild of All Day Buffet, a dual New York/New Orleans venture described by Chou and business partner Michael Karnjanaprakorn as "an incubator for social innovation." Because the format succeeded beyond expectations, the pair decided to stage a Crescent City sequel, scheduled from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday at the CAC. The dozen scheduled presentations — none longer than 20 minutes — include multidisciplinary talks by CAC visual arts director and Prospect.1 curator Dan Cameron and author and Slow Money CEO Woody Tasch. Attendees have a chance to talk with the speakers during small networking sessions scheduled throughout the day.
Chou credits Karnjanaprakorn, a former New Orleans resident, with spearheading the Louisiana focus of All Day Buffet. Along with "The Feast: Big Easy," the group has organized local installments of its "Cause For Drinks" program, in which proceeds from business mixers benefit selected charities; and created the "New Orleans 100," a roster of enterprising individuals and companies at the heart of recovery efforts.
"Everybody's talking about the financial meltdown," Chou says. "New Orleans is the perfect place to have a conference like this, because it's proof positive that out of crisis can come innovation and rebuilding."
Giltsoff, who will make her first trip here, agrees. She adds that the vast differences between the twin cities claimed by All Day Buffet are central to what she believes is a singular vantage on business development and social innovation. "[Chou and Karnjanaprakorn] see the tension and disparateness between those two communities as very powerful," she says. "They're connected with the financial center of the world and (with) this new, innovative, socially responsible community in New Orleans."
Since witnessing the first Feast, Giltsoff's admiration has led to an informal advisory role with the younger founders, a relationship she says is indicative of the conference's mission: "People are happy to support what once might have been seen as competitors. I think this new business community is really about supporting other good work out there. We all believe there's a lot of work to do in the world."
For registration and a complete schedule, visit www.alldaybuffet.org/thefeast.