By Vanessa Pierce, Chief Strategist and Director
I find that Opportunity Collaboration (OC) is a little hard to describe to people who haven’t experienced this week-long convening of global delegates in Mexico to leverage ideas, resources and innovations, all in service of a common audacious goal: tackling the complexities of global poverty through collaboration.
When friends and family hear that I’m going to Club Med in Ixtapa or Cancun for a week, I usually get some good-natured ribbing about how I’ve “got it so tough” or someone grumbles about people wish their industry conference was held at the beach each year.
It’s true, Opportunity Collaboration is hard to explain—certainly to people who work outside of the social sector, but also often to clients and colleagues working at non-profit organizations. Another conference means another week away from the daily operations of an organization—why invest the time and expense when there’s so much vital work to be done on the home front?
I’ll leave it to Black Fox Philanthropy’s founder Natalie Lynn Rekstad to tell you about why you should go if you haven’t been before, but allow me tell you why the second time’s the charm. I discovered during 2016—my second year as a delegate at OC—that the magic of Opportunity Collaboration increases exponentially year after year. The feeling I got this year returning to OC is similar to going back to a beloved summer camp year after year—you can pick up right where you left off with people that you may have not spoken to in a year. I was able to build on existing relationships, have more focused meetings and to be of even greater service to the community.
One example: Each year Black Fox Philanthropy holds office hours where we offer free fundraising troubleshooting and spot consulting for OC delegates. During my first year, 2015, we had a good turnout (who says no to free consulting around a universal pain point?) but in 2016 we had three times as many takers, which made for two very fun and fast-paced sessions.
For me, the first year of OC was amazing, if a bit overwhelming, but I really felt like I “got” OC the second year. I knew what to expect, schedule-wise, and importantly, how to pace myself to get the most out of the week without depleting my energy stores.
After two years of attending OC, here are a few things I’ve learned in terms of maximizing my experience and impact:
Schedule some meetings in advance, but leave space in your schedule for impromptu meetings and time to attend sessions where you’ll meet people who you never would have crossed paths with otherwise. That’s where the magic of OC happens!
Commit to Colloquium.
These daily, assigned, facilitated small-group sessions may, on first glance, seem like lost time when you could be checking in with the office or catching up on sleep after a night out. I’ve found that by fully embracing Colloquium and showing up every day, I tap into an intimate group of incredible people who support each other, and together examine what brings each of us—as human beings—to this work. For an “adapted introvert” like me, Colloquium is a little island of refuge and reflection during a jam-packed week.
Don’t forget the ocean.
When else will you have a workweek where you can take meetings on the beach, or better yet, in the ocean? It’s easy to get caught up in the schedule and forget that you’re right next to something so big and beautiful. So jump on in!
The budgets of non-profits and social enterprise startups are famously tight. It’s very tempting, once your organization has made the investment in attending Opportunity Collaboration, to feel like you have to wring as much value and networking out of every moment during the week. Do something to refresh and recharge yourself every day—whether that’s going for a run or a solo swim, or catching up on Netflix in your room at night. You’ll help your organization more if you take care of yourself, too.
As a true “un-conference,” one of OC’s unique features is how informal it is. While it may not make sense to whip out your laptop to take detailed notes during a meeting (especially not in the water!), I recommend jotting down a few key points and next steps after you meet with someone. Trust me, after you have 20+ meetings in a week, you won’t remember them all if you don’t write something down or dictate a quick note to yourself on your smartphone.
Take OC home with you.
Opportunity Collaboration is more than a week-long convening; it’s an association of kindreds that continues long after people fly home from Mexico. There are regional reunions of delegates that are very fun and worth your time, both to reconnect and to forge new relationships with people who may not have gone the same years that you’ve gone to OC.
After more than 15 years in the non-profit sector, I’ve attended dozens of conferences, convenings and continuing education offerings. You’ve probably had a similar experience: they don’t always feel like a worthy investment of time and money. I can honestly say that Opportunity Collaboration is a different animal entirely. So if you haven’t been, consider going. And if you have been once, know that the second (and third, and fourth!) time’s the charm.
I’ll see you in Ixtapa this October!