Creating a Virtual Space for Southface’s Biggest Night of the Year


The 2020 Visionary Dinner gathered the nonprofit’s community of supporters with an exquisite online cooking demonstration, an inspiring message on regenerative and just placemaking and a chance to meet up with old and new friends.

Every year, Southface’ Visionary Dinner brings together people who are passionate about sustainability to be inspired by innovative thought-leaders, to connect with others wanting to impact the future of the industry and enjoy exquisite meals made by top chefs. But what does all that look like during a pandemic when large gatherings are discouraged, social distancing is the norm and many people’s window to family, friends and colleagues is through video chat?

Table Talk at Visionary Dinner 2020
Virtual discussion “tables” allowed Visionary Dinner attendees to meet one another and reflect on questions related to the evening’s theme.

“We wanted to create an experience that would inspire our Southface community and simultaneously feed our need to come together, giving oxygen to our relationships and motivation to the work that each one of us is doing to further sustainability,” says Southface Institute President, Andrea Pinabell. “Knowing many people are on digital platforms all day, we tried to make the evening as interactive, intimate and relaxing as possible.”

It was also an opportunity for Southface to share how 2020 has impacted the organization’s direction. “The pandemic has inspired us at Southface to go beyond our technical expertise alone and look toward the future with a wider vision, that of regenerative placemaking—creating healthy homes, workplaces and communities that optimize human potential, health and well-being, while delivering on the promise of a low-carbon future,” says Pinabell.

Feeding Our Bodies

To keep a touch of culinary excitement that normally surrounds an in-person dinner, Southface invited James Beard Award-nominated chef Asha Gomez to innovate an intriguing menu that would be possible for attendees to make from home. A video recorded demonstration of how to prepare her delicious chicken coconut stew allowed attendees to cook alongside her and learn tips and tricks to increase their own culinary acumen, which so many have been experimenting with already in these last few months.

Southface President, Andrea Pinabell and Visionary Dinner Chef, Asha Gomez
Southface President Andrea Pinabell (right) and Chef Asha Gomez socially-distanced in Gomez’s kitchen to film the cooking demonstration portion of the Visionary Dinner.

While the digital platform included the typical buttons and links, the chat area was lively with personal greetings, people sharing glimpses of their own at-home experience in their kitchens with their children and loved ones, playfully raising each other in bids for the silent auction item—a dinner for six prepared by Chef Veronica Wandui, Executive Chef at luxury hotel The St. Regis Atlanta. Southface’s social media channels lit up with photos of attendees enjoying the experience and brightly colored pictures of their plated chicken stew and glasses of wine.

 Feeding Our Souls

After Southface Board Chair Chris Boyle presented the 2020 Argon Award to urbanist and spatial justice advocate Liz Ogbu, Ogbu virtually spoke to event attendees from her living room, sharing her deepest hopes and wishes for the future of sustainable and just urban design.

“I’m honored with this award and its recognition of the intimate connection between the environmental and justice conversations. Yes, I design buildings in challenged urban environments, but I prefer to describe my calling as a shaper of the spaces that help enable people to live their best stories,” says Ogbu.

The awardee encouraged others to make a personal commitment: “The pandemic highlights that, in a world characterized by multilayered oppression—including that of race, class and gender—we who work in the built environment are caretakers of that environment and have a responsibility to tend to the harm within it. I try to hold myself accountable to that each day and create long-term solutions that include and benefit those most burdened by spatial injustice,” says Ogbu.

Feeding Our Sense of Community

Visionary Dinner 2020 Argon Award Winner, Liz Ogbu
Urbanist Liz Ogbu, this year’s Argon Award winner, spoke passionately about the role that building’s play beyond offering physical space but also in creating more just living environments.

The small group conversations that followed in virtual “discussion tables” took Ogbu’s words as inspiration. With glasses of wine and good food nearby, attendees addressed questions like how the built environment can help people live their best stories, what can be done to facilitate reckoning and healing from systemic oppression, and what would a regenerative community look like. Just like at a live event, conversation was personal and heartfelt, with well wishes for one another during these uncertain times. The lively discussion spilled over into more Q&A with Ogbu about topics like gentrification and spatial justice and how to maintain the sense of urgency for social equality.

Southface encouraged support for nonprofit partners battling food insecurity—the Atlanta Community Foodbank, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Sarasota County and Georgia Roots Urban Farm—through a text-to-give option throughout the event.

As we will remember 2020 for all its challenges, intense struggles and vast uncertainty, this year’s Visionary Dinner expressed Southface’s continued commitment to a better future, agility in meeting the needs of the times and strong support from a community of changemakers dedicated to a more just, healthy and regenerative future.

Our heartfelt gratitude goes to all our sponsors, including Cox Enterprises, Cox Conserves and the Ray C. Anderson Foundation, and everyone who came out to support Southface’s work at Visionary Dinner. If you would still like to contribute, click here to donate or write our development team here.

Read more about Liz Ogbu’s thoughts on Design, Culture and Complex Problems here.

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