Berkeley is known for many things.
The protests, the hippies, the arts, homeless people, the diversity and the acceptance of that diversity (you can literally see every type of people and every type of activity in this city, and anyone who has actually lived here would stop seeing them as different types of people, just as people).
Berkeley also has the best public university in America, and actually the only public university that ranks above the Ivy league schools in many disciplines. But the city of Berkeley is more than the university it contains. It has people who want to make change, who actually do it, who are willing to teach others how to do it, and some that are all three. Perhaps even more importantly, it hosts the environments where you can meet those people.
The dinner event that HUB Bay Area organized last week is one of those environments. The official name of the event is, “Innovate Berkeley: Sustainable Economic Development – East Bay Social Innovation Dinner“, and its list of participants include CEOs and founders of companies, architects, scientists, people who have not only ideas but the experience of doing something pertaining to the economy.
The evening began with some beer drinking and mingling. The ice breaker is a casual handshake and “what brings you here?”, followed by “why not, right? there’s free drinks!” with a chuckle. Arriving on the earlier side would make it easier to get into groups, and you would get more time to talk to people, so you get to know more people before breaking up into tables for dinner. The dinner is accompanied by a talk. This time, it was an incredibly inspiring and engaging talk by Dr. Mike North about innovations, how they can be born and how they can be useful. After the talk, everyone moved around again, some grabbed desserts, most started or restarted discussions about ideas, careers, business, community developments. Serious topics. By the end of those conversations, business cards were exchanged.
Even when you think when you don’t have anything to bring to the table, it is alright to be on the receiving end. I learned from Rebecca about visual computing, from Mike North and Jaki Levy about engineers and entrepreneurs that get together on the weekends to build communication systems for communities in Gambia, or foot brace for children in Nicaragua. Their projects connect professionals of different fields and materialize their ideas together. I listened in on a conversation among a landscape architect, a software architect and an environmental study post-grad, the topics ranged from business management to insurance policies on buildings. There were artists too, not just tech people and businessmen, and there were talks of practical art projects. The age difference was hardly any barrier: the accomplished people in their 60s were generous, and the start-up owners in their 20s and 30s were confident.
Those conversations, the people and the dinner as a whole represent Berkeley as a city, where every idea is welcome, and everyone is open to new ideas. But unlike the usual social events, these people weren’t playing nice. If you’re wrong, they tell you that you’re wrong, and they explain. Isn’t that how innovations come about, and how Berkeley becomes known as a hub for innovations?
As students, we ought to find our role in constructing and changing the community, and this type of event might just be able to help us to do so more efficiently than we think.
HUB Berkeley Innovation Dinner is a monthly event organized by HUB Bay Area. The dinner is hosted at HUB Berkeley, 2150 Allston Way, Berkeley, CA 94704. Early Bird tickets cost $31.74 each.