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Opportunity Collaboration: The Key to Alleviate Poverty

Opportunity Collaboration 2010 (OC 2010) was an amazing experience for Nadia and me. For those not familiar with Opportunity Collaboration, it brings together close to 300 non-profit leaders, social enterprises, and funders with the goal of spurring conversations and collaboration around poverty alleviation. It is an un-conference where the focus is placed on getting things done versus hearing keynote speakers and panel talks. I have been reflecting on that experience since my return. For me, often times the best way to make a sense of things is to write down my thoughts and this blog post is my attempt to do just that.

One of my favorite discussions at OC 2010 was actually the first session where we analyzed Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter from Birmingham Jail. It was a perfect way to start this un-conference. It set the stage for everyone to bring an open, respectful, and cooperative attitude to the rest of the event. The participants of Opportunity Collaboration brought with them rich stories from the field that really added to the depth of the discussions all weekend.

Opportunity to collaborate

As the name implies, the focus of the event was on collaborations and partnerships. Nadia and I had to wear two hats while we were at the conference – seeking out partnership opportunities that we can fund through our web platform as well as meeting with potential funders to support and fund our operations.

We probably spent more than 60% of the time meeting with various organizations about how they can be part of the Jolkona platform or other interesting ways to collaborate. For example, we presented a 3-minute pitch in front of OC attendees for a support and funding collaboration between Jolkona and One Vietnam Network, an organization that mobilizes the Vietnamese diaspora community online.  One Vietnam Network has done a great job building a platform that engages the Vietnamese diaspora to learn and share information about their heritage and culture. The proposed collaboration calls for Jolkona to extend its APIs so that One Vietnam Network can offer their active online community and network the ability to give back to various projects. It was a good learning experience on how to make a concise pitch. My only feedback for the OC organizers is that in the future, it would be helpful to have a panel of funders who could give 2-3 minutes of feedback after the presentations.

Structured discussion on impact investing

While the schedule was very conducive to one-on-one meetings to talk about collaborations, it also had structured discussions throughout the day. Impact investing was a big topic at OC 2010. In fact, there was a session dedicated specifically to this topic. During the session we broke up into four groups and each group presented their main topics. Here is the combined list (taken with my mobile phone):

The two black lines cover the name of a person. Some interesting observations about this list:

  1. I added the red lines to highlight terms that are traditionally associated with the private sector. Look at how many red lines there are.
  2. I thought the second bullet point was interesting. Folks talked about the giving culture in US vs. Europe. Should we have also considered the culture of the places where the work was being done as well?
  3. “Impact measurement” is the last item on the list.

I really enjoyed this breakout session but would have liked to spend more time discussing how to measure impact in terms of the lives we are trying to change and not just financial gain (I’m planning to write a future blog post on this subject). It is not to say that financial gain from investments in the social sector is not an important topic. I am simply suggesting that discussing ways to measure impact should be just as important. It is a gnarly topic and many people have made few attempts at it in the past without much broad agreements.

The challenge with measuring impact investing currently is that it simplifies impact to quantitative data, like how many girls were educated or how many vaccinations were provided. I believe true impact would be to monitor whether the girl you are supporting has finished her education and used the education to improve her economic and social status – a long-term qualitative measurement.

Setting the stage for the future

Another experience that was really valuable for us at OC 2010 was having the chance to talk with many experienced people about Jolkona and our plans for the future. We are grateful for the encouragement everyone provided us and are especially thankful for the great ideas these folks shared with us. During these discussions we had a chance to critically look at the Jolkona model through various lenses. I am confident that those discussions will feed into Jolkona’s activities in 2011 and beyond. For example, there were lots of ideas around how we can incorporate some earned income models into our platform and we will probably start experimenting with some of those ideas in early 2011 to help build a sustainable giving platform.

Thank you, Jonathan, Topher, and the strong team for organizing this event. I was lucky to be able to attend such a great event. It was a great learning experience and many of the conversations and relationships we made will have a direct positive impact on Jolkona over the coming months.

Nadia and I were able to attend OC 2010 because of a generous grant from one of our supporters. At Jolkona, we try to keep our operations lean. Every last bit we can save we try to pass it on to our users and our partners. We really enjoyed Opportunity Collaboration and hope that it proves to be a valuable and productive opportunity in the next few months. We hope to find funding to be able to attend again in 2011.

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