This year I attended with a specific “social good” focus – and it rocked. True, as VolunteerMatch’s Robert Rosenthal remarked, sessions have been drastically scaled back across the board, leaving less to choose from among philanthropy, nonprofits and social change – a definite drag. But what’s evident to me as a n00b in this SXgood scene is the overwhelming hunger for more. The SXgood community is obviously discontented – and this is a good thing. If the community was satisfied, or worse, indifferent – I’d be worried. If this appetite for change continues to grow, SXSWi 2014 and beyond is sure to be SXgood’s oyster. Technology and social good go hand in hand, it’s evolutionary, despite the distopian naysayers and doomsday folks. These rapid innovations we’re witnessing are changing the world for the better, with no turning back.
Here are my favorite highlights from SXSWi’s social good scene. If I missed any epic wins (and I know I did), let me know!
Brian Reich, Rockstar Curmudgeon for Good
On March 10th, Brian Reich gave a surprise session in the Beacon Lounge. In true Southby fashion, the impromtu discussion was organized via Twitter, and prompted by Tumblr. Reich addressed questions and criticisms aimed at his May 9th post, What the f—k are we waiting for? Reich challenged the social good community, as well as SXSW organizers, to start impacting the world’s issues in tangible, substantive ways. This massive, culturally diverse conference offers unlimited potential for real change. Instead, the outcome over the years has been a whole lot of not so much. So what does Reich suggest we need to do?
1. Stop preaching to the choir! With sessions led purely by – and solely attended by – social good types, we’re ultimately just talking among ourselves. This is anti-social, and fails to spread the message broadly among a potentially viral, hyper-connected audiences. Social good speakers must branch out to seek inclusion in broad panels and sessions across the gamut of SXSW’s topics. Similarly, social good attendees must join diverse sessions outside their industry to gain well-rounded insights into current trends.
2. Focus on solving world issues, not on awareness and fundraising! Social good sessions often invite the best of the best among speakers in strategy, design, tactics – you name it. But those sessions notoriously focus on marketing or processes bent on furthering organizations’ brand reach, rather than accomplishing organizational missions. Reich is concerned that much of this misalignment is being driven by money-makers in the social good space who use the social good environment for their own marketing ends. Coming from the vendor side myself, I disagree with Reich that this definitively amounts to a bad thing (surprise, surprise). Maybe where you stand does depend on where you sit, but I believe there are win-win outcomes to be had when nonprofits, vendors who sell to nonprofits and corporations/startups with internal social good programs can form an ecosystem that nurtures mutual success. I strongly agree with Reich that the social good focus must shift from generating brand awareness to directly benefiting the end goal. Cut straight to the social issue and use emerging innovations to find a solution. Collectively, today’s creative thinkers and tech communities can make these real-world changes happen, and SXSW is just the headquarters to launch these revolutions.
3. Push for social good keynotes at SXSWi 2014! Reich would love to see a high-profile keynote on the SXSW bill. Social good is an important topic among the individuals who make up the SXSW community. The vast majority of us care about what happens to our world and to humanity, and are likely involved in some kind of “social good” activity in our personal lives. It’s up to the community to submit and vote for the panels we want to see.
Beth Kanter Panel Instructs on the Art of Failing and Change Management
Kanter’s Peer to Peer: Nonprofit Social Media Managers (#npsmpeer) session was my favorite overall at Southby. Panelists included NWF’s Danielle Bridiga, Upwell founder Rachel Weidinger, Hubspot’s Laura Fitton and rockstar curmudgeon Brian Reich. This nonstop, two and a half hour workshop gave the time needed to sink our teeth into our work culture pain points and take away helpful tactics for driving innovation. We even scored a certificate signed by SXSW co-founder Hugh Forrest (very cool of you Hugh!). Through zany physical exercises, break-out sessions, quiet reflections and 1:1 peer discussions, Kanter helped attendees realize actionable ways that:
1. Failure is an art to be cultivated.
Failure can be identified and used as a healthy means to drive innovation. Accept failure as an inevitable factor for anyone innovative enough to take risks and think outside the box. Failure is an opportunity to do something better. Since innovators are bound to fail, do it fast and learn from it. Don’t get stuck in the negativity. Use failure to drive rapid improvements.
2. Buy-in from decision makers is critical for lasting change.
Gain C-suite buy-in for new social initiatives by demonstrating how new tools can make their life easier and more productive. Present your own case studies to prove how the brand is winning relationships and advocacy through social engagement.
3. Grant peeps the permission to explore passions and tinker with possibilities!
Empower peers and direct reports with the freedom to experiment and pursue their passions; your brand will benefit from it!
SXSWi’s Hackathon for Social Good (#hack4good)
In the grand scheme of SXSWi things, Hackathon for Social Good was a modest event with incredibly noble efforts. Hacks are an ideal opportunity for techie social do-gooders to offer up the best of their creativity and skills to solve real problems. Experimentation is among the necessary associational thinking skills among innovators. With tinkering comes creative solutions. I’m hoping that a hack for social good becomes an annual activity at Southby. I have faith that this event has potential for exponential growth. Hack strong, and see you in 2014!