Awesome Foundation Grant Award Winner: Professional Lunch

Written by: Brandi Malarkey

Ricot Aladin is proving that sometimes the simplest ideas can have the greatest impact by turning the common act of going out to lunch or coffee into a widely sharable learning opportunity.

Currently pursuing a Master’s degree in the field of Communications, Ricot initially started inviting people he knew out to lunch to discuss their varying professions as a way to build his personal network and practice his communication skills.

“When I started Professional Lunch, it was just me being curious. I wanted to know what other people’s careers were like, and I wanted to develop my listening skills. It was a way to help me learn,” states Ricot.

As Ricot shared with friends what he learned as his professional lunches continued, people urged him to share his lunches on social media, telling him that whatever tips or tricks his guests shared with him would be useful to those in other professions. He posted his first video a year ago on Facebook and LinkedIn, and has been continuing to do so ever since.

Over time Ricot has developed a format for his lunch conversations, inviting his guests to talk about their profession, how they got into that profession, and if it was something they always wanted to do or discovered later. He then asks them to share things about their job that they love, as well as things they find challenging in their field, and how they navigate those challenges.

“It’s always a surprise. You’d think people from the same profession would have the same problems and general ways to deal with them. But different people see the situation completely differently. Every conversation is completely new.”

While it started with people he knew personally, the lunches have since expanded to people he meets in the community that he feels would be a good fit for the program (his guests must have a minimum of five years’ experience in their chosen profession).

“I think I have only ever had two people turn me down so far. People love to talk about the things they care about. When people talk about things that they love at work—it’s just a joy to listen,” Ricot says of the project.

Professional Lunch posts a new video sometimes once a week, sometimes once or twice a month, depending on Ricot’s school schedule and finances. While he has been fortunate enough to have someone sponsor a month or two, most of the funds to pay for the lunches and the equipment to film them come out of his own pocket. Meeting over lunch or coffee has become a cultural norm to doing business, but many individuals don’t have the funds or time to participate. Ricot’s project allows people to access the videos on their own time at no cost, and still share in a measure of the value of those experiences.

With a year’s worth of experience to look back on, Ricot’s vision is to eventually expand his project to be an online platform connecting less experienced professionals with more experienced ones. He wants to develop a website where all the Professional Lunch videos are available and serve as a connection portal to link the subjects of those videos directly with newer professionals seeking to better navigate their careers. The idea is to expand on the basic video concept by adding a relationshipbuilding component as another way for experienced professionals to transmit some of their knowledge and experience to those just entering their fields.

For now, however, he is starting small by working to improve the videos he currently publishes. To help with that mission, Ricot applied for a grant from the Cass Clay chapter of the Awesome Foundation who named him one of two April 2022 grantees. With the assistance of the $1000 gift awarded to him, he will be able to purchase software, a camera, and a ring light to increase the video quality of his lunches.

“I want to improve,” Ricot says earnestly. “The videos that I post, I realize myself that they need some work. But this is where I am and I’m working with what I have. Because I see the value of it, I am not waiting for perfection to share and tell people about it.”

Professional Lunch conversations can be viewed by the community on LinkedIn, Facebook, and YouTube, and by NDSU students, professors, and staff on the Bison Information Network (channel 3.1). FB @professionallunch professional-lunch

The Cass Clay chapter of the Awesome Foundation awards a $1,000 gift each month for awesome ideas of all sorts. Grant recipients do not need to be associated with a non-profit. Applications can be made at cassclay.

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