When the Program To Aid Citizen Enterprise, hit on the idea of having a reception and luncheon focused around informal conversations rather than a traditional fundraiser with a keynote speaker, no one was sure how it would be received.
Now in its third year, organizers for the Inclusive Voices luncheon actually had to limit attendees to 230. So, it seems to have been received well.
“Everyone seems to enjoy it. This way, we get to meet everyone, learn from each other,” said PACE Executive Director Lucille Dabney. There’s a lot of research highlighting the importance of face-to-face and interpersonal contact. Our mission is to serve minority and small business/ community groups who don’t always get a seat at the table. So, we thought—why not create a table?”
This year’s event, held again at the Omni William Penn Hotel and sponsored by EQT, with additional support from UPMC, Highmark, The Heinz Endowments and Fifth Third Bank, actually included 30 tables.
An assigned “conversationalist” hosted each table and was charged with getting the ball rolling. Among these were New Pittsburgh Courier Publisher Rod Doss, Highmark Senior Vice President Evan Frazier, Vibrant Pittsburgh CEO Melanie Harrington, and Soul Pitt CEO Donna Baxter.
“I think PACE is onto something here,” Frazier said. “The nice thing is it’s a free-flowing conversation. I’m going to start with ‘leadership’ and we’ll see where it goes. But it’s a great opportunity to meet and connect with new people.”
First time attendee Jonathan White, a history teacher at the Penn State Allegheny Campus, said he was impressed with the format and the mix of individuals.
“I’m used to just rushing from classroom to classroom, so this is great to get out and meet new people,” he said. “I’m always telling my students to move beyond their boundaries, and I have to lead by example.”
Urban League of Pittsburgh President and CEO Esther Bush was equally impressed.
“I was out of town last year, but I think this idea of not having a keynote speaker, and just talking is fascinating,” she said. “You get to meet people outside the usual folks you deal with day in and day out, and you get to talk about concerns of different folks on contemporary issues.”
Event chair and PACE Commissioner Keith Caldwell said the event has become one of the most popular among the local business and nonprofit community.
“It’s a special opportunity for organizations to network with prospective clients or business partners,” he said. “It’s exciting to know that several past attendees and conversationalists have connected and maintain contact.”
PACE is a 43-year-old partner agency of the United Way of Allegheny County that provides funding and management support for community-based nonprofits that can assist African-American and economically disadvantaged communities.
Over the years it has provided more than $10 million in grants and technical assistance to a variety of organizations including the Kingsley Association, NEED, Manchester Bidwell Corp. and the Pittsburgh Literacy Council.