Lunching for Good: A Catalyst for Social Impact

Never underestimate the power you have to create change. Sometimes even small and seemingly insignificant actions can lead to powerful changes.

Yes, a single lunch can become a catalyst for something much bigger.

How do I know? Today marks the anniversary of when I invited a few fellow ladies to lunch in Chiang Mai Thailand. Seems uneventful right? Yet, here we are one year later and every week women from around the globe congregate at that same delightful café we enjoyed so long ago.

This article is to document the original roots, as well as to celebrate the one-year anniversary of the Chiang Mai Nomad Girls weekly lunch at Free Bird Café.

I wish I could tell you it was a large gathering that initial week, or that I saw the big picture unfolding. It was neither. In fact, the entire affair had ulterior motives. I wanted to interview the owner of the Free Bird Café Lisa Byrd, eager to profile the social enterprise for The Wayward Post. That and I was eager to visit again after my husband and I celebrated our anniversary there. Needless to say, I’m a huge advocate of social enterprises, especially when they combine my other love, food.

Lisa Byrd, although skeptical at first of my outreach, agreed to let me interview her. She suggested the upcoming Wednesday since she would be giving a presentation to a school group. You can read the fruits of that interview here.

Since I would be dining there, I posted an invite to the Facebook Group Chiang Mai Nomad Girls. Two women joined me. Thank you to Ciara Dowd and the other woman who stopped by. You gave this whole crusade movement.

Growing Into Something Magical

Several women in the group posted regrets about not being able to make the initial lunch, as well as a few commented that they didn’t see the invite in time. So we hosted a second one.

The second event generated incredible interest.

Eager to dive into the savory, rich flavor of the Tea Leaf Salad again, we agreed on a Free Bird Café encore. The following Wednesday maybe ten of us trickled into the café for a delightful afternoon of lively conversation and scrumptious eats.

In short, we all had a marvelous time. We just had to keep it going. This spiraled into a desire to keep the lunch a regular occurrence. I organized the following one, with Zita Moran taking the lead as I jetted off to Pai. After her several months of leadership, the gauntlet passed to other amazing women willing to keep this movement alive.

Creating a Lasting Impact & Fueling Social Change

“Knowing that your money goes to a cause as worthwhile as Thai Freedom House made these lunches the feel-good event of my week,” Zita emphasized.

I would be lying if I didn’t tell you I was nervous about proposing the Free Bird Café as a regular meet up spot. I imagined for sure everyone would want to explore a variety of different restaurants.

That was until Lisa explained the mission driving the café.

You see this isn’t just a regular café. Free Bird Café was born out of a need to fuel the Thai Freedom House, a powerful nonprofit that educates Burmese refugees and minority groups. From teaching multiple languages to exploring arts to helping individuals fit into Thai society, the Thai Freedom House works to address the gaps that these communities face in society.

The café supports that mission through the social enterprise model.

More than that, Lisa takes a great pride in the offerings at the restaurant.

“I believe that everything that comes into this project and that has anything to do with it is sustainable and is a positive thing,” she commented.

Currently, the café is in the process of taking their vegetarian options to the next level. They are going full vegan. Yes, 100% vegan.

“Really there are only a few items left on the menu that have egg in them since we eliminated dairy last year. It will be nice to be totally vegan and mostly organic.”

Truly committed to the social enterprise model, Lisa recently made the decision to upgrade their coffee beans to support another social enterprise, Suan Lahu.

Once Lisa explained the power of the social enterprise on that fateful Wednesday, combined with the mouthwatering vegetarian dishes we all enjoyed, everyone simultaneously agreed that the weekly lunch had to be continued at Free Bird.

Fast-forward to one year later, and this weekly lunch has helped play a key role in driving the mission forward and growing the café. They see anywhere between a handful of women to a huge group that takes over the entire cafe.

“The Weekly Girls Nomad Group Lunch has brought such a positive, beautiful energy to our space in many ways.” Lisa enthusiastically shared.

“The impact that it has had on our social enterprise is phenomenal. These days there are lots of choices in Chiang Mai so unless you are searching out healthy, organic, vegan food, you may not come across us. The girls that come to weekly meetups end up falling in love with our food, drinks, coffees, desserts, the second-hand boutique and keep coming back throughout the week,” Lisa continued.

That starts a beautiful spiral for the café.

“They invite their friends and naturally spread the word about how great our place is. The girls’ lunch alone has made Wednesday our highest profit day most weeks.”

I want to reemphasize that. Almost every week for a year, Wednesday has become the highest profiting day.

“That makes a HUGE difference when it is rainy/low season. Those months we really struggling to pay the bills in the learning center that we support; Thai Freedom House.”

As is if that isn’t enough, there’s still more positive impact from these lunches.

“Another amazing thing that has happened is that women who come to the lunch learn about what we are doing in our social enterprise and reach out to help. We have gotten several volunteers to do one on one tutoring of adult students in our Hospitality Training Program and other kinds of admin help like editing documents and even doing research for us.”

“Another woman is going to create a new website for the cafe soon! It’s all very exciting!

Can you imagine all of this because a few women decided to meet up and enjoy a delicious healthy lunch together? To this day I’m still shocked.

Fostering Friendships, Community, and More

“What I loved most is that every week there were new faces mixing with the old regulars. I never missed a Wednesday if I could help it—not least because of the delicious food at Free Bird Cafe. I love that place!” Zita reflected.

One of the beautiful things about this event boils down to the authenticity. Women who join don’t have agendas or feel the need to pretend to be something they aren’t.

No agenda. Just food, friends, and lively conversation.

Zita Moran remarked, “I met most of my best Chiang Mai buddies at Free Bird Cafe’s weekly ladies lunch. I wasn’t alone in seeing it as the one ‘networking’ event where we could all be ourselves, chatting about whatever we wanted.”

Conversations covered anything from starting a business to finding volunteer opportunities to things to do in the city to where you could find Diva cups to recounting previous travels and more. Oh yes, and to relish an absolutely divine menu offering while indulging in the variety of drinks. I mean, after all, it was lunch.

Lisa has observed, “The girls that come together just for the sake of connecting, of supporting and assisting each other. Many end up going to dinners together, starting other weekly get-togethers like evening adventures, hiking, day trips, working out together, and so much more.”

She continued, “It has become an amazing hub for when girls first arrive and are looking to make friends, find a great place to stay, get some tips to make adjustment easier, etc.”

I personally made all my friend connections in Chiang Mai at this lunch, some of which are still going strong today. Which brings me to my next point…

Creating Lasting Connections That Travel

I have no idea how many of the women who met at this lunch stayed in touch with fellow travelers. I imagine a lot. Personally, I stayed in touch with three, one of which is Chelse Hensley. We took our friendship stateside as she visited me in Denver, CO. She even talked me into visiting my first Red Rocks Concerts.

Ok, you’re right. It really didn’t take that much convincing.

Chelse met up with another mutual friend from the lunch in Spain last year, as well as planning on another rendezvous later this year. Another friend from the lunch actually moved to Fort Collins, CO and we enjoyed a ski weekend together last season.

Lisa uses the events to make friends as well. She met up with one of the fellow lunch guests on a recent trip to Penang, Malaysia.

These connections are incredibly powerful. As for me, I’ve made lifelong friends from there.

Joining in on the Weekly Lunch

If you’ve found the mission powerful, the connections amazing or even just been seduced by my few hints at the truly delightful dishes, you should join the other women at the Chiang Mai Weekly Nomad Girls lunch. Lisa, as well as countless other women, have kept this marvelous event going for a full year with no plans of slowing down.

If you aren’t of the female persuasion, I still encourage you to dine at the café, even if you’re not vegan. My husband, a devout meat eater, discovered this gem as an anniversary surprise for me. And much to his surprise, he thoroughly enjoyed the food! We even went back just the two of us a few more times during our stay.

Perhaps you can create a Digital Nomad Dudes event that rivals the impact these ladies have made week in and week out.

As for me, I hope I will be able to join the event again, not just for the new friends and social impact. For me, it really boils down to craving (and thoroughly missing!) the Tea Leaf Salad. No one made it better!

Bon appetite!

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