Cross-Fertilizing Conversations

This interview recently appeared in New Hampshire Business for Social Responsibility’s (NHBSR) newsletter:

Today we’re talking to Beth Tener, a NHBSR member and Principal of New Directions Collaborative who will be facilitating the interactive dialogue in the afternoon of this year’s conference. Beth has over 20 years of experience in the field of socially-responsible business and sustainability and was previously the Executive Director of Sustainable Step New England.

Q: You’ll be helping facilitate a World Café process at this year’s spring conference. What can NHBSR members anticipate?

A: If you’ve ever had the experience of attending a conference and found that the most energizing parts were the informal hallway conversations over coffee, you’ll enjoy this conference. In a World Café, instead of a speakers and an audience, all the participants engage in small group conversations about questions that matter to your business and career. You get to have some great conversations, hear interesting stories from many people in a short time and come away with new ideas.

In a sense, this process builds on the lunchtime discussion circles at previous NHBSR conferences. Participants rated them positively and asked for more time for these conversations.


Q: From your vantage point as a business sustainability consultant and trainer, why do you think these types of dialogues are important at this time?

A: In 1998, I helped found Sustainable Step New England, which trained business and government professionals in sustainability trends and the tools to take action. A lot of time was spent on making the case for sustainability and defining terms. What I’m seeing these days is that many organizations are committed and their focus is on how to get results. Now, they want to know how to overcome barriers and what approaches, technologies, and partnerships will really enable them to make progress.

That’s why interactive conference formats like World Cafe are timely – people get to talk with their peers to share ideas and learn together in the context of their situation and the challenges currently on their plates. In a typical conference format with break-out sessions, you might have three panelists talking with 40 – 50 people in the audience listening. In a World Café setting, you multiply the amount of sharing because there are over 50 small conversations happening at once.

A blog I read recently stated that the Fundamental Law of Conventional Conferences is: The sum of the expertise of the people in the audience is greater than the sum of expertise of the people on stage. When you consider the diverse backgrounds and years of experiences that everyone who attends a NHBSR event brings, it’s a huge amount of expertise that can be accessed. Each unique combination of people talking creates new connections and new ideas emerge. At the end, when we share the most exciting ideas and common themes, it will provide NHBSR with valuable insights about our members’ common goals and needs.

Q: What inspires you to participate in NHBSR’s conference?

A: As a speaker at past conferences and a member, I’ve been impressed with the quality of NHBSR’s events and with how steadily the organization has been growing its membership. I’m curious about the potential for what this group of businesses and people can do together to grow our businesses and generate positive solutions to the pressing environmental, economic and social challenges. How could we weave the network of interconnections to help all of us make progress?

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