Reflections from Opportunity Collaboration

As of October 2019, I have attended Opportunity Collaboration (OC) seven times, which means that as a company, CauseLabs has participated in this annual unconference for over a decade. It’s no surprise that new delegates often ask me, “Why do you come back each year?” 

I suspect there is a desired response. I suspect they are struggling with the irony of a poverty alleviation conference being at an all-inclusive resort. I imagine they come with an agenda and specific goals just as I did during my first year. 

Many delegates are taking a week away from important life-changing work and have spent their hard-earned dollars to convene with other changemakers from around the world at this ironic and confounding retreat. They want to know why I return year after year. Is it because I’ve received funding? Is it because I signed new business? They want to know if their investment was worth it. 

The short answer is, yes, we have received a return on our investment. However, it didn’t happen after attending one conference, and it didn’t happen as directly as one might expect. For us, it requires relationship building, years of patience and being open to creative and collaborative partnerships. Also, I’ve realized that business and financial goals are not the primary reason I return each year.

Opportunity Collaboration was the first, week-long conference I’ve attended in which the entire venue was reserved for conference attendees. This means that no matter where I am at the venue: the pool, the restaurant, the ocean, the bar, the pathway to my next meeting, etc. every single person was there for the same purpose: to alleviate poverty.

Opportunity Collaboration is a community of changemakers, and I have never been surrounded by so many like-minded people before. Every year, I meet inspiring people running programs that make a real difference in their communities and across the globe. I have made many close friends over the years, and OC has become my tribe.

21 OC delegates pose for a fun group photo on a grassy hill by the ocean.
Sheryle with her OC Colloquium for the week

I keep coming back because it offers me a level of self-care that you can’t get from a spa at home. The OC community has poured into me, and I am immensely grateful for their work, their stories, and their willingness and trust to be their authentic selves. I go to bed every night of the conference feeling inspired. An inspiration that carries on for months beyond the event. I am inspired to share with my team best practices from other companies. I am inspired to approach our work with a new lens, a perspective that only comes from being exposed to others and their different cultural norms. I am inspired to continue working in social change despite the ebbs and flows of project and budget cycles. I am inspired to continue to do work that matters.

It has given me a better perspective to understand the challenges we tackle as a global community. I believe this has made me a better leader, a more empathetic global citizen, and a more creative problem solver. 

Finally, the conference leaves me feeling valued by my peers as well as uplifted by others who are further along on this journey– those whom I consider to be transformational leaders. Likewise, I hope that I am seen as someone who uplifts others who are at a different place in their journey to find their purpose and how they can contribute to poverty alleviation.

A group of OC delegates on a tour at the farm. They are photographing the farm and listening to the tour guide explain the sustainable practices.
Visiting El Rancho San Jose, a local farm that uses the local biodiversity to benefit it’s sustainable farming practices

CauseLabs is not a “household name,” but it is known in the social impact ecosphere in part because of Opportunity Collaboration. We get requests from aligned partners because we attend aligned events.  I hope we are known for not only our development expertise but also our focus on doing work that matters. At the end of the day, we are more than just a tech vendor, so we don’t just attend any conference. 

The majority of our work is geared towards serving the underserved, reducing inequalities, creating inclusive environments, and optimizing data and programs with technology so that we can do all of this faster and more effectively. Technology is transforming the world, for better or for worse.  And, for many nonprofits, a little tech goes a long way. CauseLabs is committed to using it as a force for good by partnering with companies of positive impact that seek to do work that matters and who make an effort to achieve one or more of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals. I attend OC because I want to keep learning what’s needed of technology from the people who need it most.

What Now?

  • What can people do if they don’t have the funds for OC but are seeking a community like this?
    • Apply for a fellowship. There are several and these can be found on the OC website.
  • What is the purpose of OC and why does it matter? In what way are the people like-minded and how does it help them on their journey toward poverty alleviation?
    • Collaboration is the primary purpose. For this reason, the majority of the delegates are nonprofits or social enterprises and foundations or impact investors. However, collaboration can take many forms beyond funding.
    • Collaboration in the social sector is growing but was not as common when this conference began. In the nonprofit space, everyone felt as if they were competing for the same funding dollars. An “abundance mindset” is necessary for and grows from the intentionality of collaboration.
    • We all grow when we collaborate. One’s journey is discovering how they contribute to poverty alleviation and opening themselves up to creative possibilities

To read about some of the organizations from Opportunity Collaboration who’ve inspired me, click here to read The Value of Five Dollars.

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