Beats | May 8, 2018

Opportunity Collaboration reckons with its #MeToo moment

Dennis Price
ImpactAlpha Editor

Dennis Price

ImpactAlpha, May 9 – The paeans for an end to poverty are just as passionate, but there’s something different at this week’s Opportunity Collaboration gathering of funders and entrepreneurs. It’s not just that it’s at a Club Med in Florida, rather than in Mexico, where the annual fall gathering takes place.

The event’s founder and longtime president, entrepreneur and author Jonathan Lewis, is not only absent, but has been effectively ex-communicated from a community that he played a large part in creating.

The event’s organizers say Lewis has relinquished his roles and agreed to stay away from the event due to violations of the organizations’ anti-harassment policy. The complaints against Lewis came to a head at last fall’s event at the Club Med in Ixtapa.

The Opportunity Collaboration crowd is nothing if not self-reflective, with sessions covering such “soft power” topics as trust, authenticity and commitment. So organizers were prepared to face head-on any murmuring discussion or questions at the first Opportunity Collaboration USA at Sandpiper Bay, Florida.

Delegates saw a highly produced three-minute video that addressed Lewis’ departure, who wasn’t mentioned by name during the event’s opening Sunday night. The message, reinforced in sessions throughout the conference and in a welcome note to delegates: OC is committed to building a safe space for attendees, and that Lewis’s departure confirms the seriousness of OC’s zero-tolerance policy for harassment of any kind. (OC shared the video with ImpactAlpha).

In the video, Akaya Winwood, president of the Rockwood Leadership Institute and a conference partner, explains “Our founder overstepped some boundaries and he is no longer with us.”

Winwood adds, “We hold him as accountable to what we believe in as we hold everyone in our community.”

In an interview in the video, Topher Wilkins, the conference’s CEO, says, “He’s fully aware of his actions and takes responsibility and he was part of the decision.”

Lewis, a veteran activist and entrepreneur, helped found MCE Social Capital, a microfinance firm serving thousands of people in 30 countries, and Copia Global. He is the author of The Unfinished Social Entrepreneur, which was excerpted in ImpactAlpha last August.

Lewis could not be reached for this article. An auto-response on his email account says: “I’m on an extended, open-ended sabbatical.”

David Bank, ImpactAlpha’s editor, has attended several OC gatherings as a media fellow sponsored by Ron and Marlys Boehm’s Boma Investments. (ImpactAlpha’s Dennis Price is at this week’s gathering, sponsored by Halloran Philanthropies).

Ron Cordes, co-founder of the Cordes Foundation and a part owner and co-chair of the Opportunity Collaboration, sent a note to delegates last December that was shared with ImpactAlpha.

“We received and have investigated complaints from more than one Delegate regarding infractions of our anti-harassment policy by Jonathan. We deeply respect the courage and conviction of the women who have come forward to share their stories,” wrote Cordes. “As a result, Jonathan has relinquished all of his formal leadership roles at the OC, and will no longer be participating in any future OC convenings.”

Cordes said there have been a handful of cases in which OC has exercised its rights to disinvite delegates who have violated this policy. “OC is committed to a zero tolerance policy for harm and harassment.”

Other recent cases of sexual harassment in the impact community have led to executives stepping down.

Catherine Hoke, the founder of the nonprofit Defy Ventures, which helps former prisoners start their own businesses, resigned in March after a Daily Beast article detailed accusations of sexual harassment against Hoke (though Hoke has denied allegations that she had sexually harassed employees and clients).

Mari Ellen Loijens, a top fundraiser at the Silicon Valley Community Foundation, resigned amid allegations of abuse and sexual harassment detailing in a report by the Chronicle of Philanthropy (Loijens has not yet commented). The foundation has placed Emmett Carson, the foundation’s CEO, on leave amid an ongoing investigation.

Update: An earlier version of this post linked to a non-final version of the video OC showed to its Delegates. The link and post have been updated accordingly.