Live From SXSW: Do Good Dialogues on Social Change

March 11, 2014       Joleen Ong      

With more than 35,000 attendees at this year’s SXSW in Austin, Texas from March 7-11, attendees from the nonprofit sector are just one segment of the highly diverse SXSW attendees, which ranges from technologists, web developers, tech startup founders, and more.

Beyond the planned breakout sessions, plenaries, and events, attendee lounges such as the Beacon Lounge offer a space for attendees to connect and build synergies. Now in its 6th year, the Lounge has become a hub for discussion and offers insight into core themes for nonprofits at SXSW, and the intersection of social good and technology.

“In 2014, we have 58 more sessions under Global Impact and Policy than we had in 2013 under the three categories we used that year as themes for this type of content (Community and Activism, Diversity and Emerging Markets and Government and Civic Engagement),” said Tammy Lynn Gilmore, nonprofit evangelist at SXSW. Gilmore added that she did not know the badge sales this year, but indicated they would have an idea until later this month.

“You either know about it or stumble upon it. This is a place to collaborate, connect and relax,” said Eve Simon, creative director at Beaconfire and the driving force behind the Lounge. “For example, last year the mobile app startup Crowdshout sat next to a representative from Change.org, and got early access to its API [application programming interface], and they were able to launch six months later because they made this connection.”

“I definitely see more nonprofits here than in previous years,” said Brian Robick, director of IT and cnline communications, senior policy strategist at the ACLU of Washington, who is attending SXSW for the sixth time. “I found out new ways to apply things to meet our mission that might have seemed like they didn’t apply before [in the breakout session], but I got to bounce ideas off of others in the lounge.”

This year, the Beacon Lounge added some formalized programming, the Do Good Dialogues, consisting of 15 minutes of ignite-style discussions from people who are working in the nonprofit and social good sector. “Whether you are building a tech tool, or you’re a nonprofit, or designer, or media — most of what people focus on is building awareness and maybe engagement,” said Brian Reich, managing director at Little M Media, based in New York, who led the dialogues with invited attendees.

Do Good Dialogue speakers included: Lawrence Grodeska and Amanda Kloer, Change.org; Tammy Gordon, AARP; Brad Smith, WebVisions; Michael Slaby, nonprofit advisor; Eilene Zimmerman, New York Times; and Jason Ulaszek, UX for Good.

Three themes came out of the Do Good Dialogues, as explained by Reich:

1. Technology for Social Good: “There are all kinds of uses for the technology that are being developed, particularly in the category of social good – from health to Millenials – that are not coming through because the people creating new technology are so narrowly focused on the task at hand,” said Reich.

2. The User Experience: “There were a number of people who were talking about the human experience, or user experience,” said Reich. “People were curious about how to add value or realize value in real people’s lives.” Brad Smith, Executive Director of WebVisions, explains this as the “future of interaction.”

3- The Future of Social Good: Integration of “social good efforts” was a big topic of discussion. “What will it take to get there, and why can’t we get the social good conversation integrated into everything else?” asked Reich.

“There’s always an opportunity for purpose,” said Michael Slaby, nonprofit advisor and former chief integration and innovation office at the Obama for America Campaign. “Everyone at SXSW has a role in solving complex humanitarian problems, and we are not likely to figure it out in a vacuum. The humility of “we are in process” is something that we need to embrace right now.”