Jerri was named one of Fast Company's Most Creative People in Business. In 2008, she started The Feast, a two day summit for remarkable innovators, leaders, and creatives, where brilliant social impact solutions are born from creative collaborations across multiple disciplines. It will take place October 9-11 in Brooklyn this year.
What inspired you to create The Feast? Was there any specific moment that motivated its creation?
We had built a community of highly talented, inspired and passionate people and that community was growing across the country. I quit my day-job to figure out what my role in supporting this community was. We created the conference because there wasn’t yet a place for people like us, a place that could bring together leading thinkers and doers to talk about changing the world, and to do so across multiple disciplines. We all brought different perspective to the table, whether we were in business, philanthropy, creative fields, you name it.
How has creating The Feast changed you personally?
That’s a big question. Creating The Feast has changed me in so many ways; I’ve learned what it takes to start a company, and I’ve developed my business savvy and focus along the way. The Feast has taught me how to define value, as well as what impact can mean (what it takes to create large-scale change, but that you can also create impact through small actions and big ideas). At the same time, focusing too much on the business has also really made me understand the importance of community and true connections, and that having the goal of a well-rounded life is actually a better way to measure success, because it defines the structures that you set into place for your business and yourself. Throughout this change, I’ve also become much more zen about everything. There are so many changes and unexpected hurdles that you encounter when you start something like this; I’ve learned to appreciate my role in this world with grace and faith that it will all happen as it should, all while doing my best to build something great that will impact as many people as possible. I’ve been thinking a lot about power over force in particular lately. Throughout it all, I will continue to evolve as a person, with the best yet to come.
What do you think separates The Feast from other conferences aimed at creating a better world?
The Feast has been described as an art project, a burlesque show, a populist CGI, and so many other fun things, and it has that feeling more than other conferences. We are about making and doing so there’s an energy in the room that’s truly palpable. At The Feast 2014, there will be an artist creating a boat out of the conference trash that he’s going to row from Red Hook to Battery Park City. There is a hardware hackathon for Red Hook in support of FEMA. There is no shortage of people offering tangible feedback to one another other and creating remarkable scenarios for the future. I don’t know of any other conference that is that action-oriented and brings together so many different viewpoints and stakeholders in order to collaborate for meaningful change.
Also, I recently really started thinking about the interactions between people at The Feast, and unlike any other conference, that’s really what it’s all about. It’s about the idea that every individual is incredibly powerful and that if we unlock that unique insight, talent, and resources in support of each other, we can really better the world. Our attendees inspire each other to do more, better.
Has The Feast grown the way you expected it to? Were there any surprises?
Not at all. I had no idea what it would become. When we first started, it was about 100 people in a room where we covered the projector with note-cards while we introduced the next speaker. Over the last few years, we’ve had everyone from the CEO of MTV to Arcade Fire grace our stage and community. Not only that, The Feast Worldwide continues to inspire me. I just got an email from our group in Kuala Lumpur that the Feast in 2012 resulted in the launch of Malaysia's first social incubator in 2013 in partnership with British Council (one of the attendees of the dinner) and the incubation of 6 social innovators. That just inspires me so much.
The impact has been organic. The only reason we started the Worldwide program was because when we announced a new format in 2012, people from around the world emailed us, asking how they could get involved. Now we’re in 38 cities. The most important thing we’ve been able to do is act as a catalyst for people and offer them a frame. I would have thought that our impact would have come from the projects that we’ve taken on, but it’s not the top-down stuff that’s driven the most change, it’s the bottom-up.
As far as surprises, I think it’s been interesting to witness our role in starting the “Social Innovation” movement; we can never stop evolving, and we’ve adjusted so many different facets of our conference over the past three years to stay ahead of the curve. In terms of infrastructure, The Feast hasn’t grown as quickly as I would have thought, but I think that’s going to change very soon!
What is the greatest obstacle you have faced since starting The Feast?
There have been a ton of obstacles -- ranging from the nature of The Feast as well as the business model -- but I think a lot of the obstacles stem from myself, to be honest. I’m a very hard worker, and very strong willed. That can be an immense asset, particularly when you’ve got a big vision, but it can also be a weakness. I’ve had some incredible successes, but I can also be hesitant to accept help and advice. I realize that changing the world isn’t a solo job, and I’m getting better at involving those whose strengths compliment my weaknesses, in order to help drive the kind of change I know The Feast can create.
What advice can you offer to people trying to make tangible changes in their communities?
Just start. You’ll be really surprised what you’re capable of. I think that people have this fear that they’ll fail, or that it won’t be as great as they expected, or that they’ll lose everything. A good friend of mine once said, “Have you ever failed at something you’ve really put everything you have behind?” The answer is no. If you’re resourceful, open to help, curious, and passionate, chances are that if you start small, you’ll be able to accomplish something. Just start small. Test things out, welcome help and feedback, and build from there. Even if all you do is inspire someone else on your team, a friend, or community member to be a better person, that is a win and something that never would have happened if you hadn’t started.
Samantha is an Art History and Visual Arts major at Columbia University. She is currently the Content Intern for CATALYST and is also interning at Matthew Studios. She has a passion for travel and helping communities.