The views expressed in this opinion piece are solely those of Dillon Odeh and do not necessarily reflect those of the Center for Arab American Philanthropy (CAAP).
From September 18 to September 20, I had the pleasure of doing something I’ve never done before – attending the Council of Michigan Foundations (CMF) Conference in Ann Arbor, MI. In its 44th year, the annual conference was an experience unlike any other I’ve had in my young life, and I was fortunate enough to have been awarded a scholarship to attend by Emerging Practitioners in Philanthropy (EPIP). Laughs were had, incredible ideas and insights were shared, and countless lessons were learned.
This year’s conference theme was “Think Boldly. Act Urgently”, and the entire event was dedicated to discussing current social and political issues. In addition to several impactful sessions, the social aspect of the conference was a definite highlight, which resulted in the forging of new relationships and the strengthening of existing ones.
From the moment I stepped foot in to my first session at the Ann Arbor Marriott Ypsilanti at Eagle Crest, the tone was set. The discussion, hosted by EPIP, was thought-provoking and even forced me to question my own knowledge, mainly, the difference between equality and equity. Racial equity was a recurring discussion topic throughout the conference, and an area where I grew the most in knowledge. In fact, my favorite session of the entire conference dealt with racial equity. Led by the passionate and engaging Marcus Walton from the Association of Black Foundation Executives (ABFE), the session titled “Building a Racial Equity Strategy” was, for me, easily the most informative and interesting session of the conference. Marcus exhibited a clear passion for helping organizations incorporate a racial equity strategy into their practice, and his energy permeated throughout the entire room, resulting in the audience members matching his energy level by actively participating in discussion and asking meaningful questions.
Another highlight was the “Night at the Big House”, where conference attendees were treated to a VIP tour of Michigan Stadium, aka the Big House. Being a University of Michigan graduate, this was a truly incredible experience for me, as the stadium is home to many exciting memories from my time as a student. To be able to see the Big House from this perspective was awe-inspiring.
Not everything was a resounding success, though. A couple of the breakout sessions I attended fell somewhat flat. The problem didn’t lie in the topics, as they were each important and relevant to my interests and work. Rather, it was the execution that prevented them from truly resonating with me. One particular session that stands out was one on adaptive leadership. The session’s subject was interesting, and I learned plenty of valuable new information, such as the importance of embracing adaptive leadership in your organization and the benefits of including an organization’s target community in the decision-making process. The main issue here (that was repeated in other sessions) was the overall lack of excitement and energy in the speakers. When a speaker isn’t passionate about the information they’re presenting, doesn’t run an engaging presentation, it makes it difficult for attendees to maintain interest throughout.
Despite a few issues, I found the conference to be enjoyable overall. I was able to network with several individuals from various nonprofits in Michigan and the Midwest, had several thought-provoking conversations about timely subjects, and participated in a truly rousing presentation by Mike Ellison. To sum it all up: I can’t wait for the next one!
-Dillon Fuad Odeh
CAAP Program Generalist