I will never forget the night of a dinner party a few years ago. My wife and I love entertaining. It is always a mix of perfect planning, everything going awry at some point, and things coming together. We also have four children. So any dinner party is an act of faith.
During this particular evening we got a call from friends who let us know they would be in town, bringing their kids and a relative. I was getting the table ready (usually my job during dinner party prep). From the kitchen I could hear my wife end her phone call and then declare, “Honey, we’re gonig to need a bigger table!” For people like us, that is always fun news. It took this particular party from an intimate discussion to a broader one. Which in most cases makes for a fun evening. It is not always what you design, but it happens. And I realize it changes the nature of the dinner. Will there be two tables? Who will sit where? Rectangle or square? Now this was a dinner party, so global stability was not hanging in the balance of my decisions, but as I added plates and got out a folding table from the basement, I knew that how I set the table would set the tone and tenor of the evening.
There are people out there who are experts in how a room determines the outcome of a business pow-wow, political meeting, summit or negotiation. Interior design, meeting planning and careful diplomacy come together in what determines much more than a “good meeting.” These things can determine what the outcome is, who prevails, and who gets a turn to talk.
It turns out that the shape and size of the table itself can be the difference between win or lose for a meeting, viewpoint or voice.
That is why I was so happy to see so many people coming to various parts of the set of meetings that took place around the United Nations General Assembly in September. It was so much more than just one meeting. Manhattan became an island of different communities rallying for big ideas and big solutions to some of the world’s biggest problems. There were the “official” sessions taking place in the United Nations building. But there were also equally important convenings taking place where activists, humanitarians, CEOs, experts, students, social media influencers, and everybody else in between could come together in the name of global progress.
Gone are the days when summits were about one session or one meeting. Summitry itself is changing. The expectations for global summit meetings are being communicated clearly – and dynamically – via social media well before delegates board planes for these sessions. There are virtual rallies and on-site hackathons that turn these meetings into much more than just diplomatic discourse. Global leaders are aware of it. And they are responding. They are reaching out to these audiences before, during, and after summit meetings in order to dialogue with people in new and different ways. Social media has helped open up this new era of engagement. It is not the only reason for it, but it is a helpful driver…and makes these moments available to people on the platforms they choose, not simply those limited to the few, the proud and the “credentialed.”
Read more here in this blog post I penned with the help of colleagues from the United Nations Foundation. These people inspired me in more ways than I could have imagined. I am certainly glad they are at the table. And, in the words of my wife, “Honey, We’re Going to Need A Bigger Table.” We are indeed. And that’s a great thing. There are moments for private, intimate affairs. But global progress means we need a big table. There is plenty to go around. And it might not always be neat. But it is a table that belongs to everyone.