Op-Ed

A new approach to networking, wellbeing

CORREIA
CORREIA

There’s a burgeoning socially-conscious community in South Florida building various types of altruistic infrastructure — from mindful businesses, to philanthropic initiatives and resources supporting integrated, expansive approaches to wellbeing.

At the heart of this change are young professionals in active pursuit of pushing boundaries and refocusing value systems. I recently attended two events that exemplify this new direction: Our Family Dinner and #WaffleWednesday. Both gatherings represent a new approach to networking. Unlike typical showy settings, they are unpretentious spaces for connection.

#WaffleWednesday is hosted every Wednesday morning by LiveNinja, a Miami-based tech company located in the Wynwood Arts District that builds digital video chat solutions for businesses.

LiveNinja’s CEO, Will Weinraub, 30, is a devoted Miami native who refuses to relocate despite potential opportunities elsewhere. “It's an exciting time to be in the tech industry in Miami,” he reasons. “It's growing every single day, and everyone is really invested in helping each other.”

That desire to help others grow is exactly what fuels #WaffleWednesday, Weinraub says.

As its name suggests, the #WaffleWednesday experience is peaked by mouthwatering waffles, which, I must add, have been placed at the top of my list of food experiences. I’m not even really a big waffle eater, but yes, they were that good.

The waffles are made by LiveNinja's Chief Creative Officer/Waffle Chef-Extraordinaire, Alfonso Martinez, within the open, casual office. This is also where techies and start-up business-folk converge to mix and mingle each week.

The relaxed event program includes chatting, chomping on waffles and fresh fruit, downing fabulous specially-made-coffee by the Office Manager, Raul Velazquez, and watching a few informal mini-presentations from entities seeking to publicize their work, attract investors and build partnerships.

Xynn Tii — 25 and the owner of XT Inc., an imagery technology company in Miami — is a #WaffleWednesday regular. “It helps me stay in the loop of the newest companies and events in South Florida...and generate business leads and sales,” he shares.

#WaffleWednesday events typically consists of a roomful of 30-50 smart, focused young creatives, techies and entrepreneurs with no airs, cooly indulging in thoughtful, affable, conversation, spanning enterprise and leisure.

The essence of Our Family Dinner is much the same. Add in tons of hugs, plus a large multi-course dinner, a few drinks, lots of snazzily dressed young professionals, and an adherence to a theme of love. These elements collide to create an atmosphere that’s much like a real family dinner, except most people don’t actually know anyone.

Our Family Dinner has been hosted in Miami three times, the last in early March at Crazy About You Restaurant, attracted around 150 people.

This non-profit/touring event was founded by Lawrence Adjah, a 31-year-old originally from New Jersey. Adjah stumbled on the idea of Our Family Dinner after hosting a few unofficial dinners with friends in big cities who longed for a feeling of home and family. Those informal affairs grew so massive it became clear to Adjah that there was a need to be filled. Fast forward to today, and Our Family Dinner is now a registered non-profit with dozens of national and international events under its belt.

“Our dinners are about fellowship, not networking. We want to help create substantive relationships,” Adjah affirms.

The Our Family Dinner experience is unique. I walked in and was greeted by a hostess who gave me a big hug and smile. My guard was down immediately. Smiley introductions accentuated by warm hugs prevailed throughout the night.

Dinner included comfortable conversation, even though I didn't know a soul. The few short presentations were, for me, highlighted by a huge applause to the restaurant staff — a thoughtful gesture symbolic of the non-profit's ethos. I left Our Family Dinner with a zap of welcomed flowery love energy.

Karla Ferguson, 35 and the director of Yeelen Gallery in Little Haiti, has been to all three Our Family Dinner events in Miami. She sums it up well: “It's simply for the sake of feeding your soul and the basic human desire to be among friends, without feeling like you're on an interview.” She says she’s made lasting friendships at the event.

These are only two of the many local happenings that are, in my opinion, helping to reframe norms and eradicate the pervasiveness of superficiality. It may be a slow, long process, but transformation has begun. People are hopefully beginning to recognize that a sustainably thriving society is one where social wealth trumps a fallacious culture of ostentatiousness.

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