Table Talk

Table Tribes 3

asks the woman sitting next to me. She pauses, purses her lips, and waits for me to speak. With a mouthful of shrimp taco, I contemplate as I chew and look up. To be honest, I absolutely had no idea.

“The news?” I finally say, after receiving no answer from the restaurant’s ceiling above.

“If you like to read,” she says, “Not everyone’s interested in the news.”

“What then?” I say, staring blankly at my new connection.

“How people relate to others. People like to talk about what they know and feel passionate about.”


As a city of 660,000 people (according to last year’s census), Washington, D.C. is a city that feels as uniform as it is diverse. Just as weekly happy hours and brunches have been integrated into the heart of the city’s social life, the capital’s own 4th of July parade not only celebrates the country’s history but also the many heritages that make up the American people.

lgo_imageBlending similar interests with diversity is Hosan Lee, the founder of TableTribes, a technology platform that aims to active empathy across people from all walks of life and social groups. In her own words, TableTribes “facilitates opportunities for more meaningful and productive relationship building efforts. By building practical applications of social-emotional intelligence research into tools that reflect how we actually meet in the real world, [TableTribes’s] aim is to create ways to easily integrate empathy activation into daily life.”

Through the platform, Hosan has already brought together 200 participants in the Washington, D.C. area to talk about “community issues framed as themes like Progress, Opportunity, and Transformation, where people shared perspectives on sensitive topics like race relations, access to opportunity, homelessness, education and transportation.” While her work in D.C. has already been notably featured in publications, such as The Washington Post, I caught up with Hosan at a happy hour a couple weeks ago to discuss empathy development as a whole, her plans to expand beyond the region, and how young people can use mutual understanding to create social impact.

Table Tribes 1Thanks for meeting me today. So tell me, why did you choose to focus on this idea of “empathy” for TableTribes?

“Empathy development is when we share perspectives with one another and get perspectives from people who are not like you, and we don’t have the day-to-day opportunities to connect with one another anymore. TableTribes does that by addressing the pain points behind what prevents us from being able to relate to new people. There are 3 basic conditions that are necessary for empathy to flourish: proximity, frequency of engagement, and a comfortable space where people can begin to open up.”

What do you mean? Don’t you think already does that?

“Not exactly. Meetup does an amazing job at assembling groups of people who share the same general interest, but isn’t built for people to address their individual needs on a day-to-day basis. It also requires people to self-organize, which sometimes means that a group can fall apart if an organizer decides they’re not interested anymore… TableTribes is a little different. We’re less focused on building a TableTribes community and more focused on adding depth, instead of breadth, to the communities you’re already a part of.”

Is there a kind of demonstrated need where you don’t think people are connecting enough? 

“Well, yeah. On a tangible and personal level, research shows that people transition into different life stages and relationship needs about every seven years. We change our motives, goals, dreams, and visions a lot, but there are periods of your life where it’s structured change. College campuses, for example, are a place in your life, where as a young person, you’re taking that all that energy from high school and formulating your ideas on what the world is like and how the world should be. College is a transition period, but after college, what then? You don’t have that same, structured network anymore, and you can lose that momentum when its over.”

So have you focused on young people?

“Our goal is to activate empathy development and get people together face-to-face. Right now, we’re not currently focusing on age but on location and values. For us it’s important that we create channels for [people] to go from where they are online to connecting offline.”

How do you accomplish that with the app? I read in the Washington Post that you’ve been hosting a series of meals to get people together, but I’m not all sure how it all relates.

“Those particular food and discussion experiences we created back then were some of the highlights in our broader research and design process of 100 other tests, which we did before we even started building a screen or writing a single line of code. They allowed us to gather deep insights into what amount of context people need to feel comfortable, and what pain points need to be addressed, and what amount of structure is necessary for people to have more meaningful connections with each other.

The meals in themselves aren’t the end goal. Our day-to-day memories and enjoyment from food come more from what happens around them – more specifically, the process where people share ideas and have conversations about the things they care about. In later tests, we talked about topics like education, #BlackLivesMatter, and gentrification. There was a lot discussed, but at the end of the day, we just got people together who shared similar values but who maybe had different viewpoints. TableTribes then is a platform where we’ve done three rounds of tests with the app so far, and each round of tests helps us see what people value and what people are willing to get together to talk about.”

Empathy is a complex topic that we often talk about on EA, but how do you know if TableTribes is successful?

“All we’re doing is creating the conditions for empathy development to flourish. We know we’re successful based on how much people enjoy using the tool and continue to engage with us.”

What are your future plans for TableTribes, and what can an Everyday Ambassador do to participate?

“Well, we’re looking to launch TableTribes this September. In the meantime, I encourage you to sign up to be part of the next round of participants if you’re interested in learning more about empathy development. Right now, we’re based in D.C. but we have plans to launch pilot tests with different organizations and a greater number of people. Young changemakers included.”Crowd

“Bucket List” is a weekly series curated by Everyday Ambassador’s Director of Brand Strategy Audrey del Rosario. Every Saturday, we will feature events, conferences, and happenings that spark conversation and ignite your inner activist. To stay current with our latest posts, follow #bucketlist or #EAinspired on our other platforms, and check back regularly for updates.

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