Serving up empathy over dinner

  • Nation
  • Sunday, 03 Dec 2017

Let’s talk: Tribeless dinner participants trying out the Empathy in a Box to facilitate conversations. (Inset) Wong — Pictures courtesy of

PETALING JAYA: What started as a simple dinner hosted by young Malaysians feeling lonely and lost has now become a social venture that provides a safe space for like-minded strangers to meet.

The Tribeless dinner gathers strangers from all walks of life, who sign up without knowing where it will be held, what they’ll be eating or who else will be coming.

The idea was conceived when Wong Gwen Yi, 23, returned to Malaysia last year after studying in San Francisco.

Talking to friends who shared similar feelings of being lonely and lost, she started hosting dinners for those who wanted to have a deeper connection with others.

“We believe authentic conversations are the key to building empathy in diverse groups of people. But authentic conversations cannot happen on their own. They need good facilitation, open-minded participants and a safe space,” she said.

Those attending can expect to meet and talk with total strangers, she said.

Wong, the co-founder of Tribeless, believes that authentic conversations is key in building empathy.

She added that many had come away from the dinners with new insights into others and themselves.

“The safe space enabled me and everyone in the group to share the experiences and relationships that shaped us as a person without the fear of being judged,” said Leong Sim Yen, 26.

“I left the Tribeless dinner with a bounce in my step and a head full of new perspectives,” said the learning experience specialist.

Irwin Umban, from Sarawak, echoed her sentiments.

“I always have this fear of being rejected or unwelcomed everywhere I went. But the Tribeless dinner was something different. I was able to open up and connect with everyone on a much deeper level,” said the 27-year-old Internet marketing specialist.

Since its inception in September 2016, over 30 dinners have been hosted for more than 200 people across Malaysia and Singapore, and there are plans to expand to cities like Seoul, Mexico City and London.

Dinners are held once or twice a month and diners pay RM45 each.

Wong said those attending are usually urbanites and young professionals aged between 18 and 35.

She added that plans are under way to create a toolkit called Empathy in a Box so that anyone with the box will be able to facilitate conversations.

The box consists of topic cards that serve to spark ideas for ­interesting stories to tell as well as response cards to encourage people to listen actively.

“Our goal is for anyone in the world to create a culture of empathy in their community or organisation – right out of the box,” said Wong.

To find out more, visit https://­

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