By Cris Valderrama
When I first received an email from the Swaha Foundation back in April, announcing the incredible opportunity to be part of Opportunity Collaboration, I felt a blend of immense gratitude and deep curiosity. The words “Opportunity Collaboration is a “conference-non-conference” on their website only further piqued my interest. I was ready to immerse myself in an unexpected journey in the Caribbean surrounded by changemakers from all over the world.
When I first arrived in the Dominican Republic, I felt an instant connection with the place. As a Colombian, I share a similar way of experiencing life and inhabiting the world. I also experienced a sense of awareness of this land, originally inhabited by Taíno Indigenous communities, whose history was marred by the brutality of colonization.
During the course of four days, I had the opportunity to forge meaningful relationships with leaders from all over the world: Kenya, Ghana, Bolivia, India, Peru, Nicaragua, and more under the Caribbean sun with the hypnotizing sound of the ocean waves as our soundtrack, we explored questions of grand proportions: how to achieve gender equity? create a more equitable world? tackle poverty? combat climate change?
As these conversations unfolded, I felt tremendously inspired, mesmerized, energized, and grateful. And I couldn’t help but reflect on the driving force behind my participation at this event - Julie Goldstein, a steadfast supporter of Girl Rising. Her generous support made this magical adventure possible for me and my colleague Richa. As the days passed by and I forged new connections, I realized that many of the changemakers at Opportunity Collaboration were able to participate thanks to the backing of donors.
This made me reflect profoundly on the importance of a philanthropy model that goes beyond providing financial support to implement and evaluate programs. Investing in leadership development opportunities and facilitating the spaces for nonprofit leaders to collaborate and share challenges and solutions with a global community is key to tackling world challenges in collaboration, as a team, as a whole. We are all part of humanity.
During the conference, I met an incredible leader from Kenya working on advancing education in her country. Walking on the beach, witnessing the beautiful sunset, she said to me, 'This is my first time traveling outside of my country. A donor believed this was a great opportunity for me and my organization. I don’t usually attend these types of events. I wouldn’t be able to afford to attend this opportunity on my own.'
Her words struck a chord. Her experience mirrored that of countless social impact leaders worldwide - often working with limited resources, juggling multiple roles and responsibilities, and working tirelessly to create sustainable transformations.
Opportunities such as Opportunity Collaboration are life-changing, on a professional and personal level. I thank Julie and all the donors who supported their grantees to attend. I am enthusiastic to continue building a culture of philanthropy that is participatory and horizontal.
A culture of philanthropy that gives critical importance to providing meaningful opportunities for their grantees to connect, collaborate, engage, and grow in creative and new ways.