This is part of our series, “Banking on Change,” which showcases local entrepreneurs who are creating a positive impact in their community. The series spotlights one local business each month. Above illustration: Marnita's Table staff by Justine Lecouffe.
For over 16 years, Marnita’s Table has hosted thousands of individuals, breaking bread, and fostering conversations that promote “openness, authenticity, and connection.”
As a consulting group, Marnita’s team has worked with government agencies, nonprofits, and many of Minnesota’s most prominent institutions, using an innovative technique to connect people through food and authentic conversations that ultimately lead to a healthy community.
“Those with power become more adept listeners, more culturally sensitive, actively inclusive, receptive to alternative viewpoints and genuinely responsive to the needs of the less powerful,” said CEO and Founder Marnita Schroedl. “Meanwhile, those who have been previously marginalized, unheard or ignored take their rightful seats at the table to help co-create a better future for all.”
Schroedl, a communications industry veteran, knows how to get people talking, but more importantly, she energizes them to listen – to each other, to the community, to their citizens, customers, employees, and stakeholders.
This active engagement, what Schroedl’s team calls Intentional Social Interaction (IZI for short, like the ice cream), doesn’t stop at the table. Schroedl’s mission is transformational change at a societal level, closing economic and cultural gaps, while forging collaborations to build authentically connected, inclusive communities.
“The model has legs, resonance, relevance, stickiness and is very sustainable,” said Mary Sue Hansen, the collaboration director for Suburban Ramsey Family and a client of Marnita’s Table. “We’ve trained 780 partners so far (30% youth) and our partners have had 80+ tables with over 8,000 community members since 2015.”
With thousands of meals shared annually, each meal and event catalyzes a ripple of initiatives outward from the table, affecting those communities’ health, education, social justice, and wellness sectors.
In 2020, forced by the pandemic to reinvent themselves virtually overnight, Marnita’s Table pivoted into a new engagement model that ended up extending their impact beyond their wildest expectations. Virtual meetings offered an opportunity to include even more individuals, with a reach far outside of Minnesota, or the confines of a dining room.
Not only did the conversations continue to flourish, so did the meals. Catering orders placed before the in-person events that were cancelled were honored, and over the course of the George Floyd uprisings, more than 2,431 meals were distributed to organizations and individuals supporting the community services on the ground, providing sustenance and connection to a traumatized city. What’s even more impressive, the Marnita’s Table team delivered these homemade meals, made by IBPOC caterers, personally.
Marnita’s Table extends far beyond Minnesota, and even North America. Client Eric Pliner, CEO of multinational consulting group YSC, described the vast impact and value of Marnita’s training program.
“As a global business with team members in fifteen countries, we are rarely all in a room together. When we brought our entire firm to London in September of 2019, Marnita and the team at Marnita’s Table showed us how to build thoughtful connection and engagement among hundreds of people in a short period of time,” said Pliner.
“Using a combination of authentic storytelling, role modeling vulnerability, sharing our aspirations and styles, and leaning into the core identities that shape our perspectives, Marnita and the team helped us to shape key goals to help us to stay meaningfully connected across boundaries of time, geography, and language.”
Perhaps the most impressive accomplishment at Marnita’s Table over the last 18 months has been their programming partnership with Blue Cross Blue Shield.
Leveraging the flexibility of digital conferencing, Schroedl’s team put together two distinct programs designed to give IBPOC and other marginalized groups a direct conduit to BCBCMN’s highest level of leadership (the Engage! Series), and take a deep and broad look at public health issues across the region caused by the pandemic (Let’s Talk Covid Conversations!).
So far, these conversations and UnConference gatherings have hosted hundreds of individuals, creating a “space for those who traditionally have been denied a seat at the decision-making and resource-sharing table to lift their voices and lived experience in order to effect equitable systemic change.”
Learn more about Marnita’s Table on their website.