Curating the community is both the most delightful and the most torturous aspect of running The Hot Breakfast.
On the one hand, it is carte blanche to hunt down interesting, purposeful people from across the world and to understand what it is that they are doing, what drives them and how their work might be supported. If you have any curiosity about the direction that society might be heading, or interest in human psychology, or desire to dabble in different worlds, this cannot be anything other than fascinating.
At the same time, it throws up all sorts of knotty issues.
Does an applicant's public persona and stated goals truly represent who they are? To what extent is our assessment about whether someone is a good fit over-shadowed by personal biases and unconscious prejudices? Or is that "gut instinct" a legitimate judgement that has been honed by years of hosting breakfasts and analysing power dynamics? Can we really presume to know who others will find interesting and inspiring?
There is a lot about the process that feels intuitive, and that can be at odds with our principle of being as transparent and accountable as possible. So it is a relief that there are at least some lines that can be sketched in the ground.
1. We are endeavouring to build a community of registered guests that are truly diverse in terms of demographics and disciplines, and to ensure that each table draws upon that breadth of lived experience.
That means not having a disproportionate preponderance of, say, Alpha male fintech investors or disillusioned Oxbridge lawyers or white/ cisgendered/ heterosexual social entrepreneurs with privileged backgrounds (ahem).
Some diversity is organic: it's the people who are referred to us by other guests, or who find out about us through some chain of serendipitous googling or algorithmic alchemy. Since we don't pay for any marketing or promotion, the former is particularly important to us.
But we've found that we can't depend entirely on word of mouth or keyword. The Hot Breakfast began with Kate's (the founder's) network of friends and acquaintances, which was - inevitably and naturally - as unrepresentative of society as most people's networks due to where she has lived, her family's background, her interests and values and so on. We bond with like-minded people (homophily). Like-minded people refer other like-minded people. The net result is homogeneity.
That means we need to take a proactive stance in terms of seeking out voices from under-represented communities and backgrounds. Every week we take stock of our current registered guest list and note where we're falling short or imbalanced.
To this point, right now (summer 2020) we're on a mission to attract more voices from those working in academia (in particular mathematicians and historians) and local politics; to make the community more ethnically colourful (it's currently too white and not enough black); to grow the number of members at later stages of their career (i.e. theoretically 'retired' or 'retiring'); and to seek out more guests who use a wheelchair. (Might you be able to help us?)
2. It's vital that all guests are aligned with the values underpinning The Hot Breakfast.
This is not the place for individuals who solely want to drive sales or self-promote. We believe in the relational, not the transactional; in values and actions, rather than labels and salaries; in questioning and listening over answering and telling. Above all, we're keen to give space to those who are prepared to interrogate the cultural script.
In many respects, this is what sets our network apart from others on the market.
3. We have to be confident that every guest is in a position to be able to both give and take.
Some applicants simply don't have enough experience to share - yet.
The overarching question driving curation decisions is essentially: "would inviting this person to participate in The Hot Breakfast be in the best interests of the community as a whole?"
It's surprising how often circling back to this broad principle seems to resolve any dilemma.