Amsterdam moves like no other city. The bell sounds trail the cyclists in a wilting song. Boats putter, bob and glide. Shuffling tourists only sometimes outpace floating leaves in canals. And yet each thing at each speed has its purpose, as though each moving piece were part of a great clock.
For the purpose-driven attendees of Table of Trust in Amsterdam, that clock was ticking. Our movement feels urgent. We know we need to move more capital to impact – but what else can movement teach us?
Movement was the theme of the evening. In a slight twist on past editions, we tweaked the format of the Jeffersonian dinner to include more listening. That feels important if the aim is to build trust.
What moves you?
The listening started within. Empathy, emotion, love and sadness: these were things that moved our guests. “I know that the thing that drives me constantly every day is a sense of the extraordinary gift of a life,” said one tablemate. “And the purpose of a loss.”
Loss, too, is transit. And not all who wander are lost. And if all this sounds very heavy for an entrée course, there were hopeful perspectives to counterbalance.
As the table was a diverse group – from foundation CEOs to competitive breakdancers – there was discussion of how personal drive could bring others along for the ride. We heard about enthusiasm, resilience and courage.
The interior was turned inside-out, flipped to display to the table. That, in itself, seemed courageous.
Obstacles to movement
There is a point at which drive becomes perfectionism, empathy becomes a paralysing shame at the state of the world. What moves us can stop us. The table grappled with this dichotomy.
Hopeful moments came from recognition of barriers. Some cited the value of seeking distance from the frenetic cycle of challenges and solutions. One tablemate described this as a reactionary mode; the opposite of it, and the thing for which they strived, was better listening. People described how an organisation, even one with many achievements, could still keep the mindset that they were learning.
Trust was another obstacle under discussion.
“I spend 80% of my time competing to fundraise with the same people and organisations that I'm trying to change the world with,” one tablemate shared. "That screws with my head. It also screws with the way we build trust.”
The solution the same person discussed was a more “porous membrane” between collaborators; they went on to describe a new initiative where they’re putting this idea into practice.
No sudden movements
Movements are hard to define in time – they have no firm beginning or end. But around the table we discussed how our cause is different; we want to accelerate and deliver change for people in their lifetime, and for the planet in a decade or two.
This begs the question of a timeline. And while each person at the table could (and sometimes did) speak at length about their movement in time, there was also the sense that urgency and patience can live simultaneously within us.
Urgency: we know we need to fix the world now more than ever.
Patience: we know that skipping a first step can make us stumble.
A guest speaking about curing cancer, for instance, pointed out that “the instinct to urgently go and cure actually works against our ability to cure.”
Patience reappeared in several different contexts. We heard about solutions that “will not flower for maybe 15 years, maybe 10 years, or will only flower in circumstances of crisis.” And we heard about the patience it takes to test, retest, fail and try again.
“Is it a failure... or a brilliant failure?”
This was a question one guest asked of an initiative – but it’s applicable to anything, if you squint. Even ourselves.
To lead a movement
As there were many leaders at the table, we pondered what it takes to lead a movement – which is not the same as leading an organisation. Movements often lack structure and hierarchy. That can be both good and bad for the cause.
The table elaborated on the need for role models in and outside their organisation – “to feel the urgency, the vision” – but expounded equally on the need to address power imbalances. To be a role model can be a lonely business. To be honest about privilege and power takes courage.
To hold together, as a movement, takes trust.
We concluded the evening by asking our tablemates: if you had a year free of obligations, free to move, what would you do?
One would farm. One would keep bees. One would learn an improbable new language; another, the language of babies’ lullabies.
One, very practically, would take a walk around their sector and listen. And learn.
Another would just take a walk.