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Work of the World Is Common As Mud

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The 2011 Opportunity Collaboration is convening this week in Ixtapa, Mexico. Expectations are high.

Last year's Opportunity Collaboration was, by all accounts, over-the-top successful. But, what does that really mean?

For sure, it means more than my personal sense of accomplishment. I founded it in 2009, but now I am simply a convener -- almost a bystander as the Delegates pursue and realize their own outcomes.

The Opportunity Collaboration is a business retreat for leaders in the poverty space. Delegates are diversified among 300 foundation trustees and executives, social investors, innovative nonprofit leaders, policy thought leaders and social entrepreneurs. Each is a leader with a strong record of accomplishment who wants to do even more.

Check out who comes at the 2011 confirmed Delegate Roster. And, more importantly, what they got done last year at Delegate Outcomes.

The Opportunity Collaboration is predicated on the powerful idea that out of fragmentation can come collaboration, from diversity can come unity and from cross-fertilization can come innovation. The Opportunity Collaboration draws its muscle from the conviction that people of good will forge their own solutions and uncover new ways to combine and leverage resources.

The words are lofty, but the work is hard.

After last year's Opportunity Collaboration concluded its work, the CEO of Bamboo Finance Keely Stevenson (herself a rock star change-maker), sent me a poem by the American novelist and social activist Marge Piercy. It captures with an eloquence that I cannot match, the inspiration and challenge which every Opportunity Collaboration Delegate breathes.

To Be of Use

The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half submerged balls.

I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.

I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who stand in the line and haul in their places,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.

The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.