Impact leaders need a venue to discuss successes and failures with bracing honesty, grapple with big questions and feel fully empowered to speak their minds. Table of Trust is that venue. Organised by EVPA, with the support of Laudes Foundation, these gatherings are private, by invitation only, and inspired by the tradition of Jeffersonian dinners – a purpose-driven meal with facilitated dialogue around a single topic.
Last month in London, we had a pleasure of hosting a dinner of impact leaders on the subject of values and value.
Over the course of the evening, we saw how values ran a course from the personal and interior, to the impetus and influence of work, to a guiding light in attempts at systemic change and value creation. But just because there was a clear throughline doesn’t mean there weren’t big questions and debates along the way. These five key takeaways represent some insights we saw come to light during this thoroughly engaging and open discussion.
Personal to global
Several participants around the table, when asked the source of their values, opened up about formative experiences from their past. It was an inspiring variety: being mixed-race, a parent, the black sheep of the family, poor as a child (“the fly on the eye you see on TV – that was real”). “My values are born out of injustice,” said one participant.
Kindness, fairness, compromise, solidarity, integrity: these values, formed from experiences of the past, inform the current work of the participants who named them. But also, said participants, values offer guidance when attempting to shift the mindsets of entire industries and systems. But how?
As the Table of Trust brings together big dreamers and pragmatists alike, there was plenty of discussion around how to bridge personal values to value creation. Several participants held up their experiences, positive and negative, from corporate culture – what it requires to shift the values of enormous organisations, made up of thousands of people with their own unique values.
Some of the same participants were optimistic that with the right organisational structures in place, people will get closer to real value creation, not just convenient indicators. “After 20 years in financial services and banking, we're starting to see policymakers and regulators ask, ‘What are you doing to actually drive the financial health of our customers?’” A weighty question – and, for some participants, a good sign.
If personal histories were the source of values for many, history also offered insights. “History is full of people applying money to a social purpose,” one tablemate offered, citing the examples of early agricultural collectives in the Netherlands and the merchant Thomas White, who founded St John’s College, Oxford. Money is not amoral, these examples showed; it can be influenced, it can bear influence.
For those working in systemic change, we often think what we’re doing is radically new, when in fact, there’s a rich lineage worth examining (sadly, Thomas White was unable to RSVP to the dinner).
"Empathy makes us strong."
The glue that held together the wide variety of values presented at the table was empathy. You could observe it in the listening expressions of our tablemates, the way people reacted to others’ stories, some deeply personal. Empathy allowed us to share values, despite significantly different experiences in life. Guests also remarked on the role of personal stories in bringing about this empathetic reaction, and the role of the arts and media in bringing it at scale.
A chatbot doesn’t come with values. As values often spring from someone’s identity and experience, so shines the spark of the human psyche, in all its blessed mess. Values are human. We can keep this in mind while using values as a foundation to build upon; that which we build – solutions, enterprises, art – should embrace this humanity, not just in the end result but in the way we build as well. If fairness is the end goal of our work, for example, let’s be fair to each other.
If our values sometimes conflict – the messy part – let’s talk through it, not hide from it. Total alignment of values seems like an impossibility for a group of human beings, no matter the size. So, what’s the alternative?
“What we can do, as a community,” said one participant, optimistically, “is champion the values we share.”