Dinnovate moves San Jose, Calif., forward one meal at a time

Guests gather at the School of Visual Philosophy over French cuisine and a discussion on reimagining San Jose’s public spaces.

In San Jose, we are bringing the city’s leaders together around the dinner table. Every month, Knight Foundation and Moveable Feast invite 25 of the city’s cross-sector leaders to Dinnovate, a dinnertime salon focused on the future of San Jose. From Japanese small plates paired with wayfinding, to French comfort food with a side of reimagining public spaces, each event celebrates the diversity of the city’s cultures,people and perspectives. The guest list changes monthly and may include a former mayor, a magazine editor, a public transportation advocate, a tech executive and a hip-hop artist. What unites the group is their shared love for, and commitment to, the well-being of San Jose. And, it’s not just a networking opportunity;an expert facilitator leads each group through a guided discussion and prototyping exercise. Topics are informed by Knight’s strategy to accelerate place through investments in talent, opportunity and engagement. At the inaugural Dinnovate in January, Ryan Sebastian, CEO of Moveable Feast and an urban planner, hosted guests at SoFa Market for a discussion on wayfinding and an exercise in mapping San Jose’s “favorite places.”  In February at the School of Visual Philosophy, Maryanna Rogers, director of innovation at The Tech Museum of Innovation, and Ghigo DiTommaso, project manager at Gehl Architects, led guests through a visioning process to reimagine San Jose’s public spaces.Last month, in a hidden courtyard tucked behind The Continental Bar, Natalie Engels, senior associate at Gensler, guided the group through a branding exercise in support of a new tagline for the city. From these three meals alone, we’ve seen partnerships created, new ventures formed, job offers made and friendships developed. Moving forward, Knight and Moveable Feast will continue to expand our guest list—each Dinnovate guest is nominated by a previous diner—and broaden our venues across the city. Working together around the shared space of the dinner table, we hope to build a more vibrant and well-connected San Jose.

Daniel Harris is San Jose program director for Knight Foundation. Follow him on Twitter @dyuliharris.