Manifest Boston Stories

Connecting for Good: The Story of CommonTable

Written by Jen Reddy | May 6, 2020 8:00:00 PM

According to LinkedIn, I have almost 2000 “connections.” Those connections have been built over 20+ years and consist of friends, former colleagues, acquaintances, and quite frankly, strangers.

They are, for all intents and purposes, my network. There is value in that number, who those connections are, and what they represent. I’m lucky to have met so many incredible people. 

Lately, I’ve been thinking about what a network really is and what it can mean in a time of pandemic, and beyond. There are no coffee meetups. No happy hours or dinners. No in-person conferences or nametags. “Networking” is evolving because of this crisis. 

We are completely redefining how to build community and connection — and we need both more than ever right now. But it can be really hard to nurture those two things.

Everyone is exhausted and worried. We’re all juggling work/family/life to stay afloat. We have a new phrase: “Zoom fatigue,” which causes people to want to nap at 2 pm every day (oh wait, is that just ME?).

It’s overwhelming. Every minute of it. So how do we find the time and energy to foster connection?

A few weeks ago, I was on an email thread with Jen Faigel, Executive Director of CommonWealth Kitchen. I met Jen a couple of months ago at a Curated Conversation event and was immediately taken by her energy and vision. I wanted to learn more and set up a time to go see for myself what she and her team at CommonWealth Kitchen were building. After our meeting, she moved from acquaintance to “connection.” We shared common values and I found her incredibly funny, direct, and grounded. She has a BIG heart.

But back to her email. Jen was reaching out to my dear friend Diane Hessan and me with an ask: She was embarking on a new initiative to feed families who were suffering during this pandemic and needed support NOW. Could we help her brand, position, promote, and name this new concept in two weeks?

Yes, two weeks.

It’s an absurd timeline — but like all things right now, the old rules don’t apply. We saw it as an incredible opportunity. This program — and Jen’s team and partners — had the power and tenacity to make an immediate impact. The normal timeline for creating a brand or launching an idea were irrelevant. This was community and connection redefined.

What do I mean by that? 

It has been said several times in the past month that we are living in a time where the focus is on WE not I.  US not ME.

Slogans and signs everywhere say, “We are in this together!”. And yet we’ve heard this refrain before -  after 9/11, after the Boston Marathon bombings, after every tragic school shooting.

But what if that purpose and mentality actually stayed with us as the current crisis faded? What if our networks represented more than a number and a moment in time? What if we started reframing our connections as powerful groups and people who can activate, create, and sustain change?

What if the value of your network was focused on connecting FOR each other, not TO each other? What if we could engage our networks in collective, focused action to BUILD the world we want to see and not just REACT to the most immediate crisis.

This is how we did it:

  • I call my dear friend Libby DeLana (a Manifest Mornings alum) who loves the mission Jen has created to help develop the concept. She says yes… and can find a designer.
  • She finds Nick Carmer, who she’s worked with in the past, and he agrees to the crazy fast timeline.
  • We, at Manifest Boston, start coordinating and help with the story because Jen is a fan of HubWeek and she is living our mission every day.
  • The project needs a photographer. Enter Michael Piazza, a friend, brilliant food photographer, and creative director for Edible Boston who is passionate about community.
  • Our PR firm leans in and helps us with a pitch strategy.
  • Meanwhile, Jen is looking at the food entrepreneurs in her community — like Jamaica mi Hungry — to cook, coordinate, and get the food out to the people in places it's needed most.
  • Plus, a million other details are happening in between.

Tomorrow, CommonTable officially launches. Since Jen kicked it off four weeks ago, over 10,000 meals have been shared and a diverse network of local food purveyors/cooks/entrepreneurs have been employed to help lead the way and earn back some lost revenue. 

It’s been said that Boston works in silos. That it’s hard to get “tribes” to cross pollinate. At times, I have felt it to be true... but what if it wasn’t? I had a conversation with a serial entrepreneur in January who shared the same sentiment. He said, “Boston tends to have a reputation for being closed off and aloof, but every time I ask someone for connections, I get five or six intros to amazing people who jump in and help me.”

We have an opportunity to work differently, collaborate openly, and with acknowledgement that our people/our networks’ best and highest use is to be of service, and to create change. This is what innovation will look like. 




Heart Forward.

This will be a time where we all RESET and take stock of what is meaningful. Our goal at Manifest Boston is to show you how this is happening across our region — boldly, without ego, and with the intention to support, guide, inspire, and activate. Our mission is to tell your stories at the intersection of art, science, and technology with a healthy dose of humanity baked in. 

The hope is that these stories inspire you to say yes when you get the call. Or create something new knowing someone is ready to help. All you have to do is ask.