All donations are tax deductible.
How it started:
The Virtual Dinner Guest Project is founded upon a simple notion:
It is harder to ignore, vilify or harm those with whom we have broken bread.
Change must begin with us. If we want more from our governments we must lead by example. Let's show our leaders that diplomatic exchange is possible between the world's citizens, especially where our governments have failed to engage with one another constructively. Let's start a new global culture... from our dinner tables.
The inspiration for The Virtual Dinner Guest Project came after I completed my graduate studies in International Conflict Resolution in the Middle East, and while producing documentary films both in The Middle East and along the US-Mexico Border. These experiences have lead me to conclude that meaingful change will only come about when there are more opportunities for open dialogue between the world's citizens.
Even though the day-to-day operations are largely a one-man venture at this point (interns are very welcome), you are going to hear me say "we" a lot. We refers to the amazingly generous individuals from around the world who give of themselves to host, cook, film, and share their thoughts as we determine what this project will become. "We" are refining this concept together, and tailoring it to our respective communities. "We" means you, if you choose to get involved.
So, what exactly is The Virtual Dinner Guest Project?
Our mission is three-fold:
- The promotion of free speech
- Intercultural communication through alternative media
- Social innovation and entrepreneurship at the local level, on a global scale
Just imagine an internet video conference from one dinner table to another. The set-up really is that simple... but dinner is only the beginning. The Virtual Dinner Guest Project is about creating an entirely new global culture by fusing emerging technologies with the community that all humans create around food, and then harnessing these connections to create real results on the ground.
What if we decided to extend our dinner tables across borders and into one another's living rooms and classrooms? All that's required is an empty stomach an open mind... and a bit of crowd funding (that means you).
What We Need & What You Get
All donations are tax deductible though our non-profit fiscal sponsor.
Your support will help us to:
- Edit and post short documentaries of our events on the VDG Project website.
- Live stream our events with our own channel. We need your help to expand our virtual participation, by providing opportunities for a few remote "reservations" so people from around the world can watch and particpate with us from their homes. We will build this model cautiously, making the safety of our participants the primary concern.
- Cover production costs (venues with solid internet, press releases, and food).
- Cover equipment costs, e.g. buy more hard drives to store all of the footage that we are filming (it adds up quickly), purchase and rental costs, and insurance.
- Pay for translators and fixers when we set out for some of our more ambitious locales (we are working on expanding to Libya and Tunisia at the moment).
- Cover some modest living and regional travel expences.
We worked hard to come up with some awesome donation incentives that are not only fun, but will give you a direct experience of the project's actual mission and philosophy.
Think about getting a couple of friends together and donating a little bit more. If you donate together then you are not only embodying the project's philosophy of collaboration, you'll also get something a little bit cooler in return.
The project requires $10,000 for travel through Lebanon, Egypt, Tunisia, Libya (and possibly beyond) for the next three months. The project is highly scaleable, so if less is raised, the money will still be put to good use... but opportunities are overwhelmingly abundant now that I am here on the ground. Less than a week into my Egyptian leg of the trip I have already connected with a network of young participants ready to share their experiences from Tahrir Square. There is also a growing network of organizations in Beirut, Lebanon that are ready to formailze their partinership with the project: A radio station, performance hall, restaurants, and NGO's.
Your donations will provide the critical time that is necessary to make these connections permanent.
- University partnerships to engage the next genration of policymakers and educators (students from Yale, Drexel, Georgetown, University of New Mexico, and more, are already on board)
- Concrete outcomes. What if both sides of the table used these events to raise funds for a joint project? We are working towards this end. Your help will get us there.
- Empowerment through citizen-powered media. We are filming everything. As our capacity grows, these events will be archived on the web to help people tell share their stories with you. When things really get rolling, we will train and hand the cameras over to the people to have them document how the project and its comunity-based initiaitives have impacted them, and how we can improve our partnerships. Imagine Monitoring and Evaluation through film. Let's make accountability artistic and engaging.
- Live streaming increases our global reach.
- A global network. Participants and organizations in Mexico, Pakistan, Uganda, Lebanon, and Egypt are on board already, and we are currently in active dialogue with folks in seven other countries (Cambodia, Liberia, etc.) as of this very moment.
- Multi-platform integration: this project employs elements of documentary film, social entrepreneurship, print journalism, and social media to promote free speech and open engagement. If these tools can be used to spark a revolution, how might they be used to secure the peace?
- A global "think tank". Eventually this project will be a forum for connecting people from around the world to discuss localized solutions to universal challenges. Imagine folks in rural Mexico sharing agricultural innovations with folks in West Africa. We have partners in both places already. We can get there from here... with your help!
- Policy advocacy from the grass roots. The next time we read about the communities we have spoken to, the next time we hear someone say something ignorant about them, we have a face to put to the headlines, a reason to speak up, and a reason to act.
Please Browse Our Frequently Asked Questions:
Who is in charge?
Right now this is a labor of love, for me, the project's founder. Returning to the Middle East without a safety net was the biggest leap of faith of my life. Now some amazing things are happening. The "we" that I keep mentioning also refers to the amazing individuals and organizations that have already partnered with and supported this idea along the way. The folks from Mexico, Pakistan, Uganda, Lebanon and Egypt who have already seen the potential of the idea and committed their free time to making these events happen.
Your support means that we can grow this network and increase our visibility to larger funding sources. It means we can identify more local leaders who can help tailor this project to the needs and interests of their local communities. It means we can make time for more events and use them to collaborate on grants and locally available resources.
Your money will help us to leverage even more funding and see this project "go viral" in a way that is both responsible and effective.
Why us? Why now?
Right now we have a tremendous opportunity to create critical points of contact with our partners in the Middle East. I recently took a leap of faith, and bought a plane ticket to the region. I am currently couchsurfing across the Middle East and North Africa as I work to set up the project in the region. The response has been overwhelming! Now project has been launched in Beirut, and is currently being established in Cairo. We are holding our meetings next to Tahrir Square! On the other end of the table, the VDG Project is already connecting with universities across the US (Yale, Georgetown, Northwestern, UNM, Drexel, etc.) as well as our international partners.
Donor support will bring the project to a place where it can sustain itself with local resources. The local leadership is here, but we need time to develp our support network, identify more leaders, and to get the word out.
Can't anyone just do this already?
Yes! And everyone should. We didn't invent the technology or the concept of a shared meal. We are simply offering a platform for engagement. The VDG Project is about developing a philosophy and an ethical framework for constructive dialogue. There are plenty of examples of resources and fancy technology being thrown at problems with no clear objectives or ethical guidelines in mind. The VDG Project provides the forum and the guidelines for the constructive use of preexisiting resources, and a way to publicize and support local organizations. This is why we place a heavy emphasis on training and concept-refinement through engagement. And this is why we need your support in the early stages, as we grow our network of supporters and leaders.
Do we get to make a reservation and participate?
This may be the most frequently asked question, and it's an encouraging sign because it means people want to get involved.
To date the conversations have been limited to the particpants on both ends of the two-way call.
As I write this we are seriously examining the incorporaion of a live-streaming feature. But there are some concerns. Your donations can certainly help to address the costs associated with the infrastructural challenges, however there are also concerns about the privacy and safety of our particpants to contend with. We are operating in a variety of political and social contexts, and the safety of our participants is the single most important consideration as we move forward with these plans. For the time being we are looking at a model that will allow for very open live streaming of some events, and a more limited number of live streaming "reservations" for others. Please conside that your donations can also help us to expand the project more rapidly and bring one end of the dinner table to a facility in your community.
Feel free to contact us with any questions: firstname.lastname@example.org
Are these like Internet dinner parties or Chat Roulette with food?
No. Virtual Dinners are not parties and they are not random encounters. The forum may be laid back, but the conversations have a critical objective, to foster greater understanding between communities in conflict and to address the sometimes distorted narratives of traditional media outlets. Consider that we may be talking to communities who have experienced violence and loss. We plan ahead and exchange ideas for conversation topics before we meet. Virtual Dinners are not novelty experiences or idle entertainment. Virtual Dinners are opportunities to build real relationships and concrete outcomes. In keeping with the principles of any project involving human subjects, we place the safety of our participants above all else.
What exactly is a Virtual Dinner? / What do we talk about? Who participates?
All points of view have a place at the table as long as they are voiced with respect.
The strength of the concept lay in its adaptability, so if we are connecting with a university we may discuss a common reading, or we may talk about differing cultural norms around women's rights if we are connecting civil society organizations. A general dialectical framework is agreed upon in advance. One person from each end of the table is identified as the moderator before each meal.
Want to share a meal with folks in Uganda, Pakistan, Mexico or Egypt? In fact we already have! But we need your help to bring this experience to more people, to manage a live live-streaming format, and to share the experience with you.
What does a Virtual Dinner look like?
Each Virtual Dinner lasts between 60-90 minutes, and simply requires a table, some food, a webcam, and an internet connection. At this point, locally based organizations around the world help us to locate a broad range of particpants and we highlight the work of these organizations with links on our site. We also film interviews with Virtual Dinner participants before and after each event to create mini-documentaries for the web.
Is one dinner really enough to make a lasting impact?
Maybe. However, we are aiming for more than a series of one-off encounters. This is another reason why we need your support, to give our growing networks the opportunity to engage as often as possible and identify local leaders who can adapt the project to the needs and interests of their local communities.
What if you had a chance to talk to the same community every couple of weeks, and really develop some lasting relationships. We can get there with your help.
How are you going to sustain this?
At this stage we need your start-up support. However, we do have a plan...
As the project's founder and director, I am traveling, recruiting and training participants from community-based organizations in each community to become ambassadors for The Virtual Dinner Guest project (so that I can move away from being the center of the project as soon as possible, and let others move into community leadership roles). These ambassadors will then help the project to grow exponentially by recruiting from their local communities and connecting to VDG Project communities around the world.
As for funding... consider that each Virtual Dinner can potentially function as a fundraising platform, where local businesses and philanthropic organizations fund a plate or a whole event in each participating community. They get great publicity and also have a stake in the success of the overall project. Funds are then used to cover overhead costs, expand the project to more places, and to fund local initiatives, like books for schools, an irrigation project etc.
We don't want to duplicate the current aid paradigm, we want to turn it on its head. Funds are not raised on behalf of our international participants, but jointly, with communities on either end of the table leveraging local resources to build something in their own communities with resources in their own communities. Businesses get the benefit of some positive local and international publicity as well as improving the circumstances of the people they see and serve every day. With your help we can move beyond dinner tables and into gardens, farms, schools and hospitals around the world... and in your community.
Help to keep the momentum going...
We are still funded largely out of pocket, and the project needs donor support to see it through the start-up stage.
Our Beirut participants have already eaten (virtually) with Yale, UNM, and Drexel Universities! Now the voices of Cairo, of Tahrir Square, are ready to share food and food for thought with even more universities and our international partners spanning from Mexico to Pakistan.
Your support is vital! Your support will let us build upon our connections in Cairo and Beirut, and continue on to Tunis... and possibly beyond. It's really up to you.
If you believe that the world needs more conversation, that it's worth taking the time to learn how others experience and see the world, then please take a moment to support us now.
Other Ways You Can Help:
Please ask us questions, offer your advice, share your concerns. There are many right and wrong ways to do this, and we have already learned a lot from experience.
Please SPREAD THE WORD! This is a community-oriented project. You are the cooks, the guests, the philanthropists and the publicists that will make this a success. How hungry are you for a new kind of world?