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Unlocking Wisdom at the Unconference: My Opportunity Collaboration Experience

Updated: Oct 30, 2023

By Richa Hingorani

The Opportunity Collaboration conference lived up to its reputation of being an “unconference”. From the moment I arrived, embarking on a 90 minute journey from the airport, I felt the unconventional energy that this gathering promised. A conversation on the way to the hotel with a fellow attendee about trust-based philanthropy brought to mind the importance of a fund like the Girl Rising Global Education Fund (GRGEF), our venture philanthropy fund supporting partners in India, Guatemala, and Kenya. Our approach to GRGEF is to trust the vision and objective of the organization’s leaders, and provide unrestricted funds over six years. It’s a principle shared with my fellow “unconference” attendee. We agreed that if you don’t trust the organization to spend the funds in their best interest then it’s probably best to not support them at all. All relationships, whether professional or personal, are reliant on trust to succeed, and any significant trust deficit can undermine and harm that relationship. I was weary and jetlagged, yet so energized by these types of conversations with like-minded individuals from across the world.

The conference’s fluid agenda encouraged us to connect with as many people as possible but I was drawn to the “Leadership Circles” - two hour discussion in small groups of 10, each one of the three days. These circle meetings compelled us to shed our organizational identities for those two hours and reflect on the kind of leaders we are in practice. Our introductions went beyond names, organizations, and locations. We responded to the “who, what, when, why, where, and how” of our lives and careers. We told our personal stories in pairs following the 5Ws/ 1H and instantly empathized and connected with each other. It was a compelling starting point for a group which was to reflect on self-leadership jointly and then individually.

The next day, we explored power. In pairs again, we answered when we felt most powerful and when we felt least powerful. These aren’t questions one normally reflects on and each one of the group members was taken aback when these were read out loud. I had seldom participated in such activities before and it made me think of how seemingly simple questions can trigger a whirlwind of thoughts, ultimately leading to clarity.

There are three lessons from the Leadership Circle that struck deep chords within me and I plan on applying them through the partnerships I oversee in eight countries:

  • Active listening: Always listen. Listen to the words being said in the moment and not what’s to come next. Listen to respond and not to react. This is especially true for development sector professionals seeing their programming in practice. Despite vast work experience, we must remember that every story is different, every individual is important.

  • Collaborative problem solving: The questions around when we feel most and least powerful are questions to ask our program’s target audience. It got me thinking - when do girls feel most powerful and when do they feel like they have no power? Surely can serve as important data points to help us tailor our programming. Building their power to address situations where they feel powerless will be the real progress.

  • Leadership is like moving from the dance floor to the balcony: Borrowing from Heifetz and Linksy’s adaptive leadership theory, as leaders we must remember to be in the thick of action and quickly change tracks to a supervisory position. Those involved in the programming have the best (second-hand) knowledge of the progress, challenges, and opportunities. Leadership is also about self-correction and allowing yourself to make mistakes. Leadership that is not adaptive and dynamic is leadership that is at a disadvantage.

My Opportunity Collaboration experience was an enlightening journey, and I'm eager to apply these newfound insights to further enrich the partnerships I supervise across eight countries.

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