On the Table MKE spurs deeper dives into collaborative action

Thousands of people gathered at hundreds of tables on Oct. 10, 2019, for On the Table MKE to share a meal, converse on topics affecting Milwaukee and foster change.

Launched in 2017 by the Greater Milwaukee Foundation, On the Table MKE is an initiative that brings together diverse sets of residents for breakfast, lunch, dinner or coffee at various locations throughout the Milwaukee area for honest dialogue about the challenges facing the region and what can be done together to address them.

This year, conversations addressed such priorities as racial equity, gun violence, pay equity, homelessness, mental health, LGBTQ+ issues, entrepreneurship, economic development, criminal justice reform and more, which brought forth themes of connection and community action.

Partners across many community sectors played a key role in organizing these gatherings throughout the four-county area, including our regional partners at the Greater Cedarburg Foundation, Oconomowoc Area Foundation and West Bend Community Foundation.

On the Table MKE fills me with such hope for the future of our community,” said Ellen Gilligan, Foundation president and CEO. “The caliber of conversation is unmatched, as people come to the table with personal passion, urgency and a willingness to commit time and energy to exploring new ideas and partnership. I can’t wait to see everyone’s next steps unfold.”

IN THE MEDIA: Annual event encourages people to create conversation, share ideas and take action to better Milwaukee area (CBS58)

Deeper dialogue

Dialogue this year was increasingly deliberate in focus and oriented toward action.

The Women’s Leadership Collaborative (inclusive of Milwaukee Women inc., Professional Dimensions and TEMPO Milwaukee) hosted 80 women (and one man!) to discuss pay equity in the workplace. According to statistics, the female median earning in Wisconsin is $28,600 compared to the male median earning of $41,200. Overall, Wisconsin is ranked No. 28 in gender pay equity among all 50 states. The projected year when the gender pay gap will close in Wisconsin at the current rate is 2067.

Representing the Women’s Leadership Collaborative (WLC) was Marit Harm Spransy, director of membership and programs at TEMPO Milwaukee. “A takeaway for the WLC is that local employers need to see a business case and research before action is taken or policies are changed,” she said. “Equal pay will help Milwaukee attract and retain talented women and make us a community of choice for employment, and we want to provide companies with tools and information that make them want to take action.”

IN THE MEDIA: Milwaukee community holds discussion on gun violence (TMJ4)

Vital connections

Participants found that On the Table MKE exposed them to diverse perspectives and new connections.

Foundation donors were especially active in driving dialogue on a range of topics with important philanthropic and community implications. They led tables focused on investing in our region, LGBTQ+ issues, arts and culture, and impact investing. Donors Sarah Berg and Joseph Pabst hosted the table on the state of LGBTQ+ affairs in southeast Wisconsin and the role philanthropy can play in enhancing the quality of life for our community. Participants discussed the experiences among individuals of different races that identify as LGBTQ+ and how supporting organizations and allies can work together with donors to be more effective with their work.

“One of the key takeaways for me was how important relationships are, not just between us and donors connecting directly, but also between the organizations who do the work,” said Maxine Webb, development director at American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Wisconsin. “It’s important to keep the communication lines open because we serve the same communities. I appreciate the Greater Milwaukee Foundation for bringing us together to have a conversation about what is working, what isn’t working, and how we can do better.”

IN THE MEDIA: Third annual On the Table event begins with 'super chat': Slideshow (Milwaukee Business Journal)

Strengthened community

For some, On the Table MKE was a time for quality dialogue. Others established plans for further collaboration. The clear majority found On the Table MKE to be an effective catalyst for community benefit.

At a new, local business in Milwaukee’s Silver City neighborhood, Orenda Café, BizStarts hosted a conversation led by Emerald Mills, founder of Diverse Dining. The topic of the table was centered around the entrepreneurial journey and using our experiences and abilities to find creative solutions that strengthen our community through entrepreneurship.

True to the theme of On the Table MKE, Mills said meaningful conversations centered around cultivating connections, courage and compassion through food. Mills sees dinner conversations as a way to bridge the racial, social, economic and generational gaps affecting Milwaukee.

“Milwaukee has one of the largest wealth gaps between whites, blacks and Hispanics. However, local businesses provide jobs and opportunities for wealth creation,” she said. “I truly believe that no real change happens outside the context of relationships.”

IN THE MEDIA: We tried On the Table MKE and learned a lot from the experience (Milwaukee Magazine)

Diverse and inclusive

A few additional noteworthy comments we heard this year include:

  • “This is my third year attending On the Table MKE, and my favorite part was learning about the Ideas to Action funding that the Greater Milwaukee Foundation provides.” – Susan Barrett, community volunteer
  • “It’s the coming together that’s important. Whatever avenue you’re traveling, as far as jobs, business or whatever else, you need all of them, and it should be transparent.” – Gertrude Payton, Foundation donor
  • “We hear the word ‘no’ and we think that the door is closed. But we all came to an agreement that no doesn’t mean no. Usually it means ‘let’s try harder,’ ‘not now,’ or ‘maybe,’ but we can’t just accept the no’s.” – Shantel Bacchus, Bacchus Insurance Group
  • “When you have leaders that bring ideas to the floor, want to get an action plan and then move forward with it, that’s what today was all about.” – Paul Christensen, Ziino, Germanotta, Knoll & Christensen
  • “We talked about what it means to be collectively impactful as far as our agencies and business are concerned and how that affects the community.” – Rochelle Landingham, Family Strong
  • “I hosted my first conversation this year, and it was a great experience. It was a safe space for men to discuss their male relationships. The group was small, yet powerful discussions were had, and we’ve agreed to recruit more men for the next table.” – Ambrose Wilson Brown

IN THE MEDIA: Public Allies tackle the topic of social justice and healing work (Milwaukee Courier)

Your voice matters

Thanks to the vision and ambition of thousands of participants across the region, the initiative was a success in its third year.
If you were a participant in 2019, we need your help to ensure we've captured all of the discussion and intention by completing our On the Table MKE 2019 Survey and sharing it with other participants.

Additionally, to accelerate ideas developed through On the Table MKE conversations, the Greater Milwaukee Foundation is providing awards (ranging in amount from $500 to $2,500) through its competitive Ideas to Action funding program. The deadline to apply is Oct. 31, 2019.

The Foundation will continue to report on meaningful outcomes and activities advancing through On the Table MKE. Watch for new stories and information at onthetableMKE.org.