The Learning Network meeting is one of our favourite moments of the year. Now in its third edition, the annual gathering of Refettorios and Social Tables continues to grow, welcoming new projects, ideas and plans for the future, while conveying the same energy and spirit of collaboration that we experienced three years ago during our first meeting.
Since then, so much has changed. This year, the Learning Network workshop was hosted under the benign shade of the Eiffel Tower at Salesforce headquarters, in Paris. Twenty participants from around the world, including two representatives from each Refettorio and Social Tables project, joined us for a three-day gathering to explore the issues and opportunities that we face in our day-to-day efforts to create social change in our communities and in the world at large.
The Learning Network was launched in 2017, with the idea of creating a community of Food for Soul’s operational partners and a creative space for open dialogue, the exchange of information and to test theories of impact. We asked ourselves: If one project, by itself, can contribute to creating a new model for social inclusion and community engagement, what could be accomplished if they were all connected? And how much could we learn from each other on how to improve our efforts to achieve an even more meaningful impact?
The answers are, respectively, ‘anything’ and ‘everything’.
While the first day focused on strengthening the roots of our work with sessions on capacity building related to our impact model and program methodology, the second day focused on growth. We spoke about bridging the gap between local and global and had working sessions on how to connect the work that Refettorios and Social Tables do at the community level with the global issues and innovative solutions. Guest speakers, like Sophie Loran from the UN Environment shared their experience and expertise offering interesting examples to show how Food for Soul and the Refettorio and Social Tables projects can become more connected and aware of the efforts and opportunities that are arising at the international level.
Like every year, the Learning Network meeting gave participants the opportunity to experience one other project. This time, the staff and volunteers of the Refettorio Paris welcomed us into the spaces of the beautiful crypt of the Church of La Madeleine for a night of service that allowed us to delve deeper in to their reality. Representatives from the other projects had the opportunity to volunteer for a night, learn from the experience of the Paris staff, look at how they have organised themselves, ask questions, speak to the guests and find out more about what makes Refettorio Paris special and unique. The evening ended with a beautiful dinner, where staff and volunteers set down together to eat, laugh and relax.
On the last day of the workshop, we invited participants to visit La Fabrique Nomade, a French association that strives to remove the barriers to employment for refugee craftsmen and women. The short field trip opened our eyes to new ways in which we can open pathways for social mobility, supporting our guests on a deeper level and helping them to gain both confidence and practical skills.
Commenting on the meeting, Food for Soul Executive Director, Cristina Reni said: “The growth of the Learning Network is not only connected to the growth of Food for Soul as an organization and a team, but to the growth of each Refettorio and Social Tables project. The daily management of each project by our operational partners, as well as their commitment to the mission of building communities around the positive power of food, is central to their growth.”
She continued: “We all speak different languages, have different points of view, experiences, anecdotes and cultural backgrounds. But this diversity is what helps us to connect, allowing us to feel part of a global Network. The third annual meeting was the perfect opportunity to give importance to the impact of each Refettorio and Social Tables, and to explore the connections between local and global perspectives.”