Salon Dinner Series: Entrée to Dialogue – hosted by Edens

From left to right, Ahmad Ashkar, Noobtsaa Philip Vang, Johanna Mendelson-Forman, Ambassador Stuart Holliday Jodie McLean, Ambassador David Lane, Brian MacNair.

On Monday, September 25th, Meridian International Center organized the second dinner in the Salon Dinner Series: Entrée to Dialogue at the renowned DC restaurant Masseria, in Union Market. These intimate, curated salon dinners are designed to spark thoughtful dialogue among different perspectives and promote the exchange of ideas over a shared meal.

This private dinner hosted by Jodie McLean, CEO of EDENS, concerned the impact of food with regard to global issues and diplomacy; The Role of Food Outside of the Kitchen. Attendees included members of Meridian’s Global Leadership Council, honored guests Ambassador Mulhall and Mrs. Greta Mulhall of Ireland, Ambassador Mirpuri of Singapore, and Ambassador Dahinden of Switzerland, as well as members of the business community and media, and featured catalyst speakers: Johanna Mendelson-Forman, Scholar in Residence at American University’s School of International Service; Ahmad Ashkar , CEO of the Hult Prize Foundation and Falafel Inc; Ambassador David Lane , Former Senior Diplomat and President of the Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands; Brian MacNair , Executive Director of World Central Kitchen; and Noobtsaa Philip Vang , CEO and founder of Foodhini, Inc.

Ambassador Stuart Holliday and Jodie McLean began the evening by thanking the speakers and emphasizing the importance of sustainability and investing in local communities to encourage economic and social growth. Following these introductions, each catalyst in turn shared a personal perspective.

Johanna Mendelson-Forman spoke first and shaped the theme of the evening, explaining that food can be a source of conflict and weapon of war, but should be seen as a soft-power tool for diplomacy. Sharing a meal has always been a means to bring people together, a way to promote culture and tradition and spread ideas. She reminded the group that the reason for the diversity of ethnic cuisines in Washington, D.C. has often been a result of refugees fleeing their homes during times of war and finding a home here in the United States. Ambassador David Lane followed up by re-iterating the importance of sustainable global development and the responsibility within all of us to combat world hunger as it could become the next global crisis as the population continues to increase. Brian McNair explained how working directly with local communities to train, provide resources, and educate citizens on the skills needed to succeed in the food industry can have a powerful impact on communities struggling economically. Ahmad Ashkar and Noobtsaa Vang finished the brief presentations by sharing how their personal experience with social entrepreneurship has impacted the refugee communities here in the United States and how this trend of combining social good with doing business can change the world.

Meridian International Center and EDENS are grateful to Chef Nicholas Stefanelli of Masseria for preparing an exquisitely delicious menu and for sharing his beautiful restaurant for this Salon Dinner.

Honored Speakers:

Johanna Mendelson Forman is a Scholar in Residence at American University’s School of International Service where she teaches Conflict Cuisine: An Introduction to War and Peace around the Dinner Table. She is a Senior Advisor with the Managing across Boundaries Program at the Stimson Center and a Senior Associate at CSIS program for Crisis, Conflict and Cooperation. She has served as the Director of Peace, Security and Human Rights at the U.N. Foundation, Senior Advisor for Humanitarian Response at the U.S. Agency for International Development, and at the World Bank’s Post Conflict Unit, and at the U.N. Mission in Haiti.

Ahmad Ashkar is CEO of the Hult Prize Foundation, an organization that offers college students and aspiring social entrepreneurs the chance at $1million in startup money to launch sustainable, for-profit businesses that solve a global challenge outlined by former President Bill Clinton. He is also the owner of Falafel Inc., a business with a social mission: donating a portion of the proceeds to World Food Programme to help feed refugees. Ahmad is also an advisory board member of the U.N. Development Program, and we as selected as Entrepreneur of the year by Esquire magazine in 2016.

Ambassador David J. Lane is a senior diplomat who served as the United States Ambassador to the United Nations Agencies in Rome, and is the current President of The Annenberg Foundation Trust at Sunnylands.  Ambassador Lane guided strategy-setting and governance of six multilateral agencies focused on food security, agricultural development, poverty alleviation, development finance, and rule of law promotion. During his tenure, he aggressively promoted the $3.5 billion “Feed the Future” initiative, a U.S. effort to spur international investment in agriculture and identify long-term solutions to hunger and poverty in developing nations. He helped guide reform of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization’s operations and strategy.  Before his appointment as Ambassador, he served in the White House as Assistant to the President and Counselor to the Chief of Staff. During the Clinton Administration, he held key appointments including Chief of Staff to the United States Secretary of Commerce and Executive Director of the National Economic Council.

Brian MacNair is the Executive Director of World Central Kitchen, an international social enterprise that develops smart solutions to hunger and poverty through local programs promoting health, education, and jobs – in five countries and counting. MacNair joined World Central Kitchen in 2013 after ten years leading the development efforts of the iconic DC Central Kitchen, which pioneered the intersection of fighting food waste and hunger through providing hands-on culinary training to jobless adults.

Noobtsaa Philp Vang is the CEO of Foodhini, a meal-delivery company that offers family-style dishes from global cuisines all made by emerging immigrant chefs, providing aspiring cooks in the local immigrant community a chance to prosper while sharing their food and culture. Foodhini offers food from chefs specializing in food from Syria, Laos and Thailand and delivers in the District.

Project summary

Salon Dinner Series: Entrée to Dialogue – hosted by Edens
Number of Attendees: 46
Impact Areas: Cultural Diplomacy
Program Areas: Exchanges
Partners: Individuals/Donors, Public Sector, Private Sector
Masseria