Opportunity Collaboration (OC) is known as an un-conference– read: this is not your typical summit. First off, it’s set in Cancun, Mexico, and it invites an international network of leaders to convene in a space of collaboration and relaxation designed to illuminate ideas. During the 4-day convening, leaders come together to share best practices and big ideas on tackling global poverty and injustice. SVC will be joining Opportunity Collaboration at their next convening this October 13-18 (our ED Val Red-Horse Mohl and team member Emily Winslow will be speaking), and we wanted to share the unique features of this gathering with our community. We sat down with Jorian Wilkins, Chief Operating Officer of OC, to help you learn more about what makes this experience so special and moving. Read on:
First, tell us about yourself. What led you to OC, and what excites you more about your work there?
My husband and I have been running OC for 10 years. We were trying to figure out if our background running high-end impact events, managing luxury resorts, and living in Mexico could be combined, and were lucky to come to the first OC as Delegates! It’s been my dream job to convene leaders building sustainable solutions to poverty all around the globe every year since, while raising my three sons who are now 12, 10 and 8 years old.
What is unique about OC that’s different from other convenings? We’ve heard you refer to it as an un-conference- why is that?
Most importantly, we don’t decide what should be on the Agenda. We don’t believe in forcing intelligent leaders with lots to contribute to sit in a row listening to other people talk. Instead our Delegates propose participatory sessions on topics they care about, and sessions are group discussions designed for Delegates to listen to each other and learn from each other’s successes & challenges, and shared & unique experiences. What else makes OC unique? The morning Colloquium, our signature leadership seminar, provides a tone-setting homeroom, small group experience beloved by many. And, our campus is an all-inclusive resort on the beach in Mexico.
We encourage Delegates, who can be exhausted from making the world better, to take care of themselves during OC rather than spend every minute in a working session. And we make it as easy as possible for Delegates to bring their families, which about 25% of Delegates do. Over 100 traveling companions and dozens of kids & babies are also part of the OC experience!
We also firmly believe that leaders from communities affected by poverty should be part of any serious conversation about solutions, and we are proud of our many fellowship programs, like the Cordes Fellowship, that supports the attendance of exceptional social entrepreneurs and innovative nonprofit leaders from over 30 countries at OC each year. We build in a lot of space at OC for fostering relationships with potential allies and discovering strategies and serendipity across sectors, silos and other divides.
Who is OC for? What kind of person/leader would this type of convening most speak to and resonate with, and how can it benefit them?
OC is for social sector leaders building opportunities for everyone in every zip code. Every year OC has lots of impact investors, grant makers, social entrepreneurs, nonprofit leaders, and also University academics, government & CSR innovators, ecosystem builders, and media experts.
Poverty is not a simple problem and its solutions are complex. 400 Delegates working in over 50 countries around the globe join OC to learn from both their far flung peers, and the unexpected cross-sector insights that come from discussions with people working across the spectrum on everything from affordable and emergency housing to clean water & energy, child protection, community-led development, disabled employment, education, equity, financial inclusion, health care, human rights, last-mile access, rural livelihoods, justice reform, sustainable fashion, women’s empowerment and more.
There is a real excitement and ethos around, “How can I help you? How can we help each other?” at OC, as people step out of their more competitive funding arenas, Delegates remember why they do this work in the first place, and are able to share with peers working in different regions or on different, but related issues.
Can you share a memorable moment/story where you witnessed firsthand the true power of OC among your attendees? What types of concrete solutions have come out of a participant’s attendance at OC?
I’ll never forget walking a child who’d just arrived at OC to the kids’ program, and him squeezing my hand at the sight of the Pacific Ocean and asking nervously, “What’s that?! Is that the big blue we saw from the airplane?” He was the son of a doctor who’d fled from a war at the same age as his now 8 year old son, been raised in an orphanage, earned his way through medical school, and returned to build a clinic in his community with outreach workers now serving over 300,000 patients. I’d been excited to introduce Dr. Kalyesubula to a U.S. state department funded Harvard M.D. whose organization was training medical professionals around the globe. But I didn’t expect to show his son the ocean for his first time. That was a special moment.
For most Delegates, their outcomes are both organizational and professional. Over 70% of OC Delegates are the top decision-makers in their organization. So we’ve seen some amazing collaborations – nonprofits partnering to reach scale, co-funders aligning for greater impact – and heard about innumerable lasting friendships, leadership insights and renewed inspiration.
Is there a theme for OC 2019? What subjects will you cover, and how will it be different from past OC convenings?
During our first ten years, Opportunity Collaboration earned a reputation as a place Americans convened with leaders solving poverty around the world. Last year, we launched OC USA to connect leaders tackling poverty and injustice in our own backyard, convening Delegates from 35 states working on issues including gun violence, education equity, criminal justice, inclusion, the opioid crisis, indigenous rights and much more. This year, we’re inviting US social sector leaders to learn from the global community at OC 2019. We’re hoping SVC members building the NEXT economy – one that is regenerative, equitable and prosperous for all – will join us! And then YOU can decide what will be on the OC 2019 Agenda along with 2019 Delegates and fellows from around the world!