Sharing Our Shoes

~Sharing Our Shoes~

Lessons Learned from Opportunity Collaboration

Last month, I had the opportunity to attend Opportunity Collaboration. This is the third year that I was able to attend, and each year brings new thought-provoking insights. For those of you who do not know about OppColl, it is billed as the un-conference that brings “poverty alleviators” from around the globe to convene in Ixtapa, Mexico for 4 days of intense discussion. Attendees include representatives of social enterprise, family foundations, non-profit organizations, and community-based organizations from around the world. The design of the conference encourages conversation at all turns- during meals, during group sessions, and while swimming in the ocean. As one could imagine, the diversity of perspectives is immense. Although conflict would be understandable, this is the first year that I heard open discussion about these conflicts……hallelujah! We are finally getting somewhere!


Opportunity Collaboration is an eclectic mix of capitalists, environmentalists, socialists, do-gooders, financial bottom-liners, (and everything in between) from resource-limited and resource-rich communities. With this vast array of experiences, it is inevitable that we will see the world with different lenses. This year, I heard a wide array of complaints……here is a sampling of grumblings I heard….


• Funders feeling upset for being asked (or stalked!) for money – Funders are looking for relationships, as well as ways that they can positively impact our global community. They do not want to be reduced to deep pockets. On the other hand, many organizations (especially those coming from resource-limited settings) have broken the bank to get to Opportunity Collaboration and feel a pressure to return home with some sort of financial gain.

• Bullying &/or Intolerance amongst those looking for money- it took two years of being interrupted and criticized by the same person before I finally realized that I was being seen as ‘competition’ for funding. Who knew little ol’ Ihangane could be considered competition?!

• Social enterprises feel that NGOs “get all the money”, and NGOs feel that social enterprises “get all the money”

• Several people from developing countries were surprised and concerned to hear the language being used to describe them by "Global Northerners". For example, phrases such as “poor people” minimize the richness of economically impoverished communities.

• Fears surrounding the potential impact of Impact Investing (I have some fears of this myself!)

• Sense of ‘segregation’ – for example, people from Africa tended to sit with each other. Funders tended to sit with each other, etc. In addition, there was a sense of assumption that people from resource-limited settings must all be Cordes Fellows.

We all bring our unique strengths and issues to the proverbial table, and I know this list seems somewhat petty. But, it seems like it was these kinds of issues and conversations that were undermining the positive aspects of the conference. Not only do they need to be addressed, but we should embrace the opportunity to address them. Our world of Opportunity Collaboration serves as a microcosm for our global community. If we can find ways to bridge our unique perspectives, then imagine the impact we can have! On the other, if this intelligent and pro-active group cannot build these bridges, then I fear for our world. As human beings, we all have our stories. These stories cannot be seen on the surface, and cannot be determined by skin color or socioeconomic background. Striving to better understand what inspires and drives each of us, from all backgrounds and perspectives, will lead to a better world. I have faith that our mini-world of Opportunity Collaboration can lead the way to this enlightened understanding of one another. Then, we can scale our learnings to the rest of the world!  ~ Wendy

Walk A Mile In My Shoes

I’ve been to hell and back on a rocky path of shards
falling along the way
I’ve played in fenced grassy yards
on a sunny day
I know what it’s like to win
I know what it’s like to lose
if you want to go to places I’ve been
walk a mile in my shoes
I’ve been accepted applauded respected by people along the way
I’ve been stepped on kicked beat rained on till I was wet on a cloudy day
sometimes it’s not what you choose
if you don’t believe me
walk a mile in my shoes
I’ve been beat down thrown around
had my days of blues
I’ve been helped praised let down raised
by people with different views
if you want to see what it’s like
to be me
walk a mile in my shoes
just when I had enough times were too rough
sick of bad news
leaving town looking down
lost all I could lose
I noticed
I was walking in your shoes
~ERNEST CLARY