SXSW 2017 PanelPicker – Vote Today

Every year the Case Foundation and our partners submit innovative and compelling panel ideas for consideration to be included at South by Southwest Interactive (SXSW). Last year, we were excited to host or be a part of 12 amazing sessions at SXSW, ranging from inclusive entrepreneurship to online movement building through hashtags. All included incredible speakers, invaluable lessons and memorable quotes to walk away with.

This year, we’ve submitted 11 fantastic panel ideas for the SXSW PanelPicker process, and we need your help to vote to get them to SXSW 2017. Below are descriptions of each panel, along with the link that takes you directly to the page to vote for that session, and a tweet for you to share with your networks to help spread the word. Find your favorite panels below and be sure to vote by September 2, 2016!

Changing the Face of Entrepreneurship

Vote at:

SXSWPanel_Ent4AllJeanHow can we level the playing field for all entrepreneurs—particularly women and people of color—in all places in order to create stronger communities, close the opportunity gap and scale creative solutions to persistent problems? Join tech pioneer and investor Jean Case as she challenges the traditional notions that entrepreneurs are wealthy, white men in this discussion on how women and entrepreneurs of color are fueling economic growth and creating scalable businesses. Talent is everywhere, opportunity is not. Explore the journeys of fearless entrepreneurs of color and women who are changing what it means to be a startup founder.


Tweet this: Talent is everywhere, opportunity is not. Vote for “Changing the Face of Entrepreneurship” in the #SXSWPanelPicker


Emerging Explorers Changing the World Through Tech

Vote at:

SXSWPanel_ExplorersNational Geographic is one of the world’s largest scientific and education organizations working to turn interest into action—to inspire people to care about the planet and protect it through exploration. Through the Emerging Explorers program, they unite fearless young scientists, conservationists, storytellers, and innovators who are harnessing technology to expand the frontiers of exploration. Join Jean Case and Gary Knell of National Geographic as they highlight the next generation of explorers who are taking risks, being bold and failing forward to change the world through technology for good.



Tweet this: #SXSWPanelPicker Vote to hear how @NatGeoExplorers harness #tech to expand frontiers of exploration #BeFearless


Using Data to Unlock Capital

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SXSWPanel_DataCapitalAcross the country, data scientists and developers are working alongside experts in the impact market to forge connections through data that can scale innovative social businesses. Sounds great! So what’s the problem? Data can be hard to come by and the path to connecting people to good data isn’t always clear. Luckily, a growing number of tools with innovative, data-powered interfaces are being developed right now that empower investors, consumers and entrepreneurs to make informed, socially responsible decisions with strong information. What’s ultimately decided around data transparency and reliability has the potential to change the future of how we invest in and grow transformative ideas.


Tweet this: How can data unlock capital for social impact? Vote to help this panel get to #SXSW #impinv


How to Fundraise Without Silicon Valley

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SXSWPanel_FundraiseSVWe are witnessing a new wave of investment and entrepreneurship in the United States. How can we level the playing field for women entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs of color to fund, grow and scale their thriving businesses? Learn both investor and entrepreneur perspectives on what it takes to build and back inspiring companies and bring the deal process to life for diverse founders.




Tweet this: How can we level the field for women & entrepreneurs of color to fund, grow & scale? Vote this panel to #SXSW


Best of SXSW

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SXSWPanel_BLabBusinesses are the engine of economic growth, and B Lab believes that they are also an engine for good social and environmental outcomes. Best of SXSW invites business leaders at SXSW to measure, compare and improve their impact. Take the Quick Impact Assessment to see how your business stacks up, then learn how you can improve your score and your impact. Hear from the B Lab team and meet other local and global business leaders striving to improve the quality of life for their employees, customers and communities. B Lab is seeking to empower all businesses to be a force for good by measuring what matters, and now you can be a part of the movement.


Tweet this: Vote to hear @BCorporation & @CaseFoundation at #SXSW on how business can be a force for #good


Going Live With 2 Billion Of Your Closest Friends

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SXSWPanel_FBLiveTake a deep dive into Facebook Live with digital leaders from the Case Foundation, AJ+ and Facebook. Explore how brands are captivating audiences and using powerful, real-time storytelling through the largest social media platform in the world. From going live with refugees in the Mediterranean Sea, to bringing Broadway to the digital world, to activating the Millennial generation for good, learn from our panelists’ wealth of experience covering global events and high-profile influencers. This workshop will leave participants with tangible methods to experiment and expand their own Facebook Live activations. Leave with best practices on how to set up a quality broadcast on any budget.


Tweet this: Take a deep dive into #FacebookLive w/digital leaders @CaseFoundation @ajplus @Facebook. Vote for this #SXSW panel:


Follow the Crowd—for Good

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SXSWPanel_GoodWorldCrowdfunding is changing the landscape for nonprofit fundraising online. Today there is a growing phenomenon, with dozens of platforms helping organizations using crowd-based tools to reach and exceed their fundraising goals. Join digital pioneers and fundraising champions from the Case Foundation, GoodWorld and more as we explore new and tested approaches to crowdfunding, the power of experimentation, how to tailor creative projects for your campaigns, and what’s new in rewards-based fundraising. Learn how to unlock the power of crowdfunding to drive new innovations, advance game-changing projects and ultimately harness energy and dollars to change the world.


Tweet this: Follow the Crowd — for Good! Vote on #SXSWPanelPicker to learn how crowdfunding is changing nonprofit fundraising:


Virtual Reality—A New Lens for Social Change

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SXSWPanel_VR4GoodVirtual reality is taking the multimedia world by storm. Whether you’ve been transported to Pluto, melting glaciers, or the frontlines of the refugee crisis, immersive video experiences such as these are transforming how stories are being told and experiences are being shared. The ability to bring an issue to life such as hunger, poverty, climate change and countless other challenges is game changing for the social sector. Join us as we explore the new frontiers of virtual reality with leading technology developers and storytellers who are using VR for Good.



  • Emily Yu, The Case Foundation (@DCxchange)
  • Sally Smith, The Nexus Fund (@Smith_Sally)
  • Chris Milk  (@milk)

Tweet this: Vote to help the panel “Virtual Reality – A New Lens for Social Change” make it to #SXSW


How Elections Change Next Gen Cause Engagement

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SXSWPanel_10Fact: Millennials value cause engagement. But what happens during an election year? Could politics possibly influence how this generation participates in social causes? In November, we learn not only who the next President of the United States will be, but also, for the first time, we are able to track and document the impact of an election on the way in which Millennials engage with social causes. Through the 2016 Millennial Impact Report, Achieve and the Case Foundation identified what—if any—demographic factors are connected to engagement trends. Join us as we release the final wave of survey results exclusively at SXSW and share how organizations can motivate this generation.


Tweet this: Learn How Elections Change NextGen Cause Engagement – vote to see this panel at #SXSW:


Gaming for Good: Changemaking Becomes A Gamechanger

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SXSWPanel_Gaming4GoodIncentivizing people to do good is nothing new… but making it fun and entertaining, now that’s a more recent shift in how changemaking is conceived, thought of and done. Whether it is through raising money through crowdfunding platforms; offering prizes in exchange for actions taken; or watching your favorite gamer play a game and tipping them—knowing that a portion of the money will go to support a nonprofit. The increasing popularity of gamification for good online is helping to bring forth new models of engagement that are creating real world solutions to some of society’s most pressing challenges. Find out how games are fundamentally changing how change is made.


Tweet this: How is #gaming fundamentally changing how change is made? Vote to see this panel @ #SXSW


How Media Brands Thrive 100+ Years Later

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SXSWPanel_Media100YrsMore than 200 years of content and rich history exists between the global media powerhouses of National Geographic and Atlantic Magazine. While new technology and changing business models usher in a steady stream of competition, these brands continue to thrive. So what sets them apart? Learn from the media platforms that have adapted over decades and are still publishing today reaching nearly 1 billion consumers across the globe. Explore the evolution of their digital platforms, the shifts in American news consumption, trends that are captivating the media industry, key findings on the habits of the modern news consumer, and the standout traits of the most enduring media brands.


Tweet this: 200+ yrs of experience exist btwn @NatGeo & @TheAtlantic —Vote 4 this #SXSW panel on how 100 yo media brands thrive

5 Lessons From a 128 Year Old Millennial

MCON, the Millennial Engagement Conference, was a resounding success this year. From incredible mainstage speakers and fun and enlightening behind-the-scenes interviews on Facebook Live, to engaging online attendee conversations on social media and in-person networking at official MCON evening events, this year’s MCON festival offered participants three action-packed days. It was incredible to hear from Millennial leaders about how they were changing the world, and to hear from innovative brands on how they are working to engage this cause-driven generation.

You can see all of the MCON mainstage talks on YouTube, but our favorite talk was from our CEO Jean Case, sharing how a brand that is 128 years old, National Geographic, continues to stay relevant today and has cultivated Millennial talent and attention. You can see Jean’s full talk below, complete with her “5 reasons National Geographic is really just a 128 year-old Millennial,” followed by a brief Q&A session with CBS News Anchor Reena Ninan.

Header photo courtesy of MCON.

30 SXSW Speakers to Follow on Twitter

As SXSW Interactive kicks off this morning, the excitement and energy is palpable. Even the President of the United States doesn’t want to miss SXSW this year, and with good reason: the innovators and visionaries here are some of the best in the world.

Earlier this month, we shared 12 sessions you can’t miss at SXSW Interactive 2016, and if you’re lucky enough to attend in person, we hope to see you there. But so much of what happens at the festival is shared and enriched by the conversations that happen online, namely via Twitter. Even if you can’t be at SXSW in person, you can still keep up with what is happening by following the related hashtags and Twitter handles. To make it easy for you, we’ve created this Twitter list of 30 SXSW speakers and panelists to keep an eye on, all of who will be participating in sessions with the Case Foundation staff.

Hashtags to follow: #CaseSXSW, #Ent4All, #News4Good, #WhatsGoodMixer, #SXSWeco, #SXSW, #SXgood

And of course, be sure to follow us @CaseFoundation for updates on what we are hearing and seeing, and @SXSW for official festival tweets.

30 SXSW Speakers to Follow*:

(In order of when they will be speaking at SXSW… And remember, you can access every Twitter handle on this list with one easy click through our Twitter list.)

Jean Case
CEO, The Case Foundation; Chairman, National Geographic Society
Steve Case
Co-founder of AOL; now Chairman of Case Foundation and Revolution (LivingSocial, Zipcar, Exclusive Resorts, Everyday Health, FedBid, Miraval, etc)
Benjamin Johnson
Hosting @MarketplaceTech for @Marketplace. Droiding despite my Apple upbringing. Formerly and fondly rocked @YouTube, blogs for @Slate. Sick Jams.
Allie Burns
SVP Comms at @CaseFoundation & @Revolution, proud board member @sanergy, food, wine & travel lover, runner, sports fan and social citizen.
Jerry Nemorin
Founder & CEO at LendStreet. Social Entrepreneur.
Maria Lajewski
Fueling innovation and driving impact to improve your financial health @cfsinnovation
Village Capital
We democratize entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurs themselves build and invest in world-changing companies. A new type of VC.
Jade Floyd
Senior Director of Communications @CaseFoundation + @Revolution | Food + Wine + Design Addict
Katerina Matsa
Greek-Athenian. @Georgetown & LSE alumna. Tweets about media & data. Research Associate @pewresearch & PhD candidate @AU_SOC.
Shadi Rahimi
Senior Producer @AJPlus | Building mobile journalism army #mojo
Jean Ellen Cowgill
Supporter of middle names and other surprising life choices. President of @amstrategy, the digital consultancy of @atlanticmedia.
Tony Aguilar
Co-founder/CEO @MySLGenius | Ex-poker pro | Runner | Sports nut
Cedric Brown
People & Possibilities | Old skool & newfangled. Author of Tar Heel Born
Matchfire Co.
Enabling brands, agencies, and publishers to create omni-channel experiences that deliver more meaningful and personalized moments to consumers.
Chris Noble
Piratical Nerve, Vaudevillian style. Working with startups to help brands do good in the world. CEO Cause Media/Matchfire
Shira Lazar
Media Empress, Co-Founder/CEO/Host @whatstrending
What’s Trending
Your source for all that’s trending.
Cause Media
At causemedia group we create media interruptions that raise money for charitable causes, engage millions of consumers, and drive interaction with brands
Laura Weidman Powers
Co-Founder, CEO of @CODE2040. I like food, startups, yoga, and doing good. I have been to 39 countries. New Yorker in California.
Kesha Cash
Partner & Director of Investments @ Impact America Fund
Ben Jealous
Civil Rights Leader. Author. Social Impact Investor.
Earl Robinson
CEO, New Orleans Startup Fund & PowerMoves.NOLA: Providing underrepresented, early-stage treps with access to capital, guidance and a national ecosystem.
Casey Gerald
Dreamer. Doer. Texan. Co-founder and CEO of MBAs Across America.
Erica Berger
Adventures in conscious media. Founder @Catchpool, @mileagetribe, Writer. Forbes 30U30. Cheers @NPRGenListen @thousandnetwork. B4 @theeconomist @storyful @USC.
NPR GenerationListen
Where curious minds connect.
Sheila Herrling
SVP Social Innovation @CaseFoundation; ex @MCCgov @CGDev @USTreasury Passionate about family, friends, fun, well articulated views, bourbon.
The Case Foundation
We invest in people and ideas that change the world. Founded by Steve and Jean Case in 1997. Take risks. Be Bold. Fail forward. Be Fearless.
Rajesh Anandan
Entrepreneur, Intrapreneur, Growth Architect
Ann Mei Chang
Chief Innovation Officer @USAID & Executive Director @GlobalDevLab – science, tech, innovation, and partnerships to #endpoverty
USAID’s Global Development Lab
The official Twitter for @USAID’s Global Development Lab; using science, tech, innov. & partnership to #endpoverty
*This list is provided for informational and educational purposes only. Inclusion on this list does not include endorsement by the Foundation.

UPDATED: 12 Can’t Miss Sessions at SXSW Interactive 2016

It’s that time of year again: We’re less than a month away from SXSW Interactive—a five-day festival that showcases a mix of digital creativity, emerging technology and unique networking events. With nearly 34,000 participants and countless panels, workshops and sessions, narrowing down your schedule can be a little overwhelming, but our staff of SXSW veterans have put together a list of 12 sessions you can’t miss.

From March 11 through 15, members of the Case Foundation team will be on-site learning about new trends in social good, philanthropy and technology from thought leaders in the sector and leading eight sessions on social good issues, inclusive entrepreneurship, philanthropy, innovation and more that we hope you will join us for:


11:00 am: Jean and Steve Case: A Roadmap for Innovators
Austin Convention Center, Room 18ABCD
Join our CEO Jean Case and Chairman Steve Case, two of the world’s most prominent technology pioneers, investors and philanthropists, as they talk with Ben Johnson of Marketplace Tech and share a roadmap for innovators and entrepreneurs who want to change the world.

2:30 pm: Inclusive Entrepreneurship Panel at SoFin @ SXSW
Cooper’s Old Time Pit Bar-B-Que, 217 Congress Ave.
Case Foundation SVP of Communications, Allie Burns, joins a panel at SoFin @ SXSW to explore the subject of inclusive entrepreneurship and why supporting entrepreneurs from under-represented backgrounds is the key to building a stronger future.


11:00 am: #Movements: When a Hashtag Breaks the News
W Marriott, Salon C
Our Senior Director of Communications, Jade Floyd, leads a discussion with researchers and journalists on how, in an age where more than half of all Facebook and Twitter users get their news from these sites, powerful hashtags like #BlackLivesMatter, #BringBackOurGirls, #GivingTuesday and more, are able to take over social media and momentous moments in time.

3:00 pm: Village Capital 2016 FinTech Showcase
Maggie Mae’s, 323 E 6th St
Our CEO Jean Case joins our friends at Village Capital as a judge for their pitch competition focused on supporting financial inclusion entrepreneurs from around the US, particularly entrepreneurs from under-represented backgrounds in technology.


4:00 pm: #WhatsGoodMixer at SXSW 2016
The Connected Yard, 83 Rainey Street
Hosted by our CEO Jean Case, join CauseMedia Group and What’s Trending for a social good mixer, bringing together nonprofit leaders, social activists, technologists and corporate partners for a look at innovations in social good. You must RSVP for this event. Click here and use password whatsgood to RSVP today.


1:15 pm: SXgood Stories: Myth of the Entrepreneur
Palm Door on Sixth
The Case Foundation hosts an entertaining and eye opening storytelling session featuring four entrepreneurial thought leaders. These dynamic individuals will each share a brief story about the challenges and opportunities they face as entrepreneurs… but only two will be true, while the other two are false. Will you be able to tell fact from fiction?

2:30 pm: SXgood Lab: The Future of Entrepreneurship presented by the Case Foundation
Palm Door on Sixth Patio
Join the our SVP of Social Innovation, Sheila Herrling, and the Case Foundation for a lively group discussion to inspire ideas for how we can create a new narrative for the future of entrepreneurship together. This session is aimed at crafting actionable concepts for how we can create a more diverse and inclusive reality for our entrepreneurial community. Following the session, join us for a networking happy hour.

3:45 pm: Global Innovation Challenge: Lifting 1 billion people out of poverty presented by USAID
Palm Door on Sixth
USAID is calling on innovators everywhere to help end extreme poverty. Three social entrepreneurs will pitch their ideas to solve global development challenges in an interactive competition, and our CEO Jean Case will be one of the pitch competition judges.

We’re also excited to take part in the many sessions that promise to stretch our minds, inspire our creativity and just have fun, like the three sessions below. Have another can’t miss SXSW session we should know about? Tweet us the details using @CaseFoundation so we can share it with our community.


11:00 am: New World of Photography and Visual Storytelling
Hilton Austin Downtown, Salon F
Seasoned National Geographic photographer Joel Sartore has put the reach of modern media platforms to work through Photo Ark, using the power of both traditional and social media on National Geographic’s many publishing platforms to create a connection between animals and the people who can help protect them. Share in this panel’s lessons of making media meaningful, while enjoying amazing photos and videos.

12:30 pm: Social Activism: How to Ignite a Movement
JW Marriot, Salon C
What does it take to transform an idea into a viral movement for social good? Author and researcher Derrick Feldmann has spent the past two years talking with the people behind the biggest social movements of our time. He’ll share their stories and some of their secrets and what you can do to make your cause go viral.


9:30 am: Tech at Issue in 2016 Election
JW Marriott, Salon 5
With the 2016 presidential campaigns in full swing, we will take a deep dive into how issues around technology and entrepreneurship will impact politics and the presidential election.


12:30 pm: Swipe Left or Right: The Latino Millennial Vote
Austin Convention Center, Ballroom EFG
Join Maria Teresa Kumar for a deep dive into the mind of a Latino millennial: why and how they vote and how they’ll shape our political landscape for years to come.

Not headed to SXSW this year? Follow along with the Case Foundation team members on Twitter at @CaseFoundation, @JeanCase, @Sherrling, @AllieB, @JadeFloydDC, and our chairman at @SteveCase.

Photo credit: shelbysdrummond.

Changing the Face of Entrepreneurship

Throughout our nation’s history we have celebrated entrepreneurship as a key to unlocking economic and technologic advancement, seeing ourselves as a country of innovators, discoverers and inventors. And each February we honor the integral role that black history has played in building and strengthening our nation. This week, I am thrilled to be in Miami for Black Tech Week and the launch of our partner PowerMoves’ recent expansion into the region. I can’t think of a better way to honor the role that entrepreneurs of color have played in making America the greatest “startup” ever!

But here’s the rub: when we talk about startups and entrepreneurship today, why is it that we are so hard-pressed to name entrepreneurs of color that made history and shaped our collective future? Why does our collective conscience go to equating “entrepreneur” with a white guy in a hoodie, toiling away alone in his garage, until he has a Eureka moment that changes life as we know it? Myths of the Entrepreneur persist and are perhaps disproportionately holding back entrepreneurs of color when our nation needs them most.

Let’s be reminded of some of the greatest innovations of our time, all led by entrepreneurs of color:

  • The carbon-filament light bulb invented by Lewis Latimer in 1881. Thomas Edison gets all the glow (no pun intended), but Latimer’s filament made it cheaper, more efficient and, therefore, more practical and profitable.
  • The gas mask invented by Garrett A. Morgan, first used in 1916.
  • Blood banks, made possible by the invention of Dr. Charles Richard Drew in 1940, which allowed plasma to be dehydrated and countless lives saved since.
  • Refrigerators, invented by Frederick M. Jones in 1940, modernized farming and shipping, and led to the introduction of modern-day supermarkets.
  • The automatic oil cup for train parts, invented by Elijah McCoy; his design was so superior to the many knock-offs that engineers ordering them asked for “The Real McCoy” (ok – really, how many of you knew that’s where that term came from?!)
  • The potato chip! Invented by George Crum in 1853, the potato chip industry became a billion dollar business, creating a massive amount of jobs and certainly changed my world.

And let’s highlight some modern-day entrepreneurs of color showcasing the power and potential of diversifying the current state of our nation’s entrepreneurship:

  • Publisher John H. Johnson who started both the Ebony and Jet brands and the first African American to appear on the Forbes 400 list.
  • Financier Melody Hobson of Ariel Investments, which today is the largest minority owned investment firm in the world with nearly $11 billion in assets.
  • Hotelier and sports team owner Sheila Johnson, who was co-founder of BET and the first African American female billionaire.
  • Entrepreneur and investor Daymond John who is founder and CEO of FUBU and a judge on the hit show Shark Tank on ABC.
  • CEO Janice Bryant Howroyd of ACT-1 Group, the nation’s largest black female owned business with more than $1.4 billion in revenue.
  • Earl Robinson, CEO of PowerMoves (disclosure: PowerMoves is a grantee of the Case Foundation), which has backed 100 minority-founded companies, raising $27 million in venture capital and creating more than 350 jobs.
  • Kesha Cash, founder of Impact America, investing in underserved communities.
  • And venture capitalist Erik Moore with five exits under his belt and dozens of investments in companies like

So much history to celebrate. So much to be inspired by. And so much more to do to recognize and realize the full innovation potential of America by leveling the entrepreneurship playing field for all. Connecting social and financial capital to women and entrepreneurs of color who continue to be under-represented and whose success will serve as inspiration to a whole new set of young dreamers looking for role models to whom they can relate. Sadly, today only 3% of venture-backed companies have female CEOs and only 1% have founders of color; Project Diane’s report on the success of African American women in tech is best summarized by Wired as “embarrassing.” Making entrepreneurship more inclusive isn’t about charity or political correctness; it’s about sound business. Research shows that companies in the top quartile for gender, racial and ethnic diversity are more likely to have financial returns above their national industry medians. And in many respects, it’s about restoring the American dream.

The talent, the companies and the opportunities to level the playing field are out there. There just needs to be more intentionality in the discovery and sourcing process. Over the last two days, I’ve seen some of our future nation shapers on stage at PowerMoves Miami launch. Companies like Neurtronic Perpetual Innovations, LISNR, VOO Media Group and Kairos have all each raised more than $5 million with disruptive ideas. Watch out for Virgil, a mobile-first career navigation platform, who today won the Knight Foundation’s Angel Round Pitch Competition, which I had the honor of judging. And please, let’s model the secret sauce of PowerMoves in sourcing successful black female founders – of the 11 (yes, only 11!) black female founders that have raised more than $1 million in outside investment, four of them — Lisa Dyson of Kiverdi, Kellee James of Mercaris, Cheryl Contee of and Jewel Burks of Partpic (disclosure: Partpic is an investment of our founder Steve Case) — are alumna of the PowerMoves model, collectively raising nearly $50 million in capital.

Join us in our crusade to diversify the face of entrepreneurship. Tell us which entrepreneurs of color are on your radar and what’s standing in the way of unleashing their full potential. Share with us on Twitter at @CaseFoundation using #Ent4All.

My (too) Close Encounter With Virtual Reality and How it Sparked Imagining VR for Good

In the spirit of learning, one of our staff ordered a Google Cardboard virtual reality (VR) viewer and brought it to a recent staff meeting for us to experience. The story we were watching to test out this new technology was The New York Times’ groundbreaking three-part series on the plight of refugee children, a series that I had previously read about, but had not yet had the chance to view. In “The Displaced,” viewers follow along on the harrowing journey of Chuol, a South Sudanese boy (only two years older than my eldest child).

In my excitement to try out this storytelling tech, I threw my hand up like an enthusiastic fifth grader would. My colleague reached across the conference room table to double check that I was holding the iPhone and VR goggles correctly as I adjusted the headphones and hit play. Immediately I was walking through a room, presumably an intro to the NYT VR series. I looked all around amazed that it really did feel like I was in that room, then the article title came up and I was thrust into Chuol’s story. It felt like I was really there, floating in a roughhewn wooden boat in the middle of a swamp under cloudy skies, and it suddenly hit me that I knew what the surrounding reeds were hiding: women and children in flight from unspeakable atrocities.

My pulse soared, my breath grew instantly shallow, my eyes burned and I began to sob. The virtual reality of Chuol’s actual reality was so vivid that it overwhelmed me. I pulled off the headphones and apologized through tears to my coworkers, some of whom had been trying to capture a fun video to share about our first collective experience with VR. Instead I’m sure they recorded my face unfolding in horror of what I knew lay ahead for that little boy.

It was too close for comfort, but maybe that was the point. My head and my heart were already hooked by the story that had received widespread coverage in the days leading up to this experience and the VR experience sealed it inextricably. I’ll never forget that moment of “seeing” through Chuol’s eyes. Short of a plane ticket and dropping into a conflict zone, the experience could not have been more authentic.

Marketers of all stripes will undoubtedly tap into this possibility of authenticity to attract, engage and retain their target audiences. But my hope is that we will also see VR storytelling as a method to win hearts and minds for good.

The 2013 Millennial Impact Research report found that 70 percent of Millennials are willing to raise money for causes they care about. What better way to capture a broader group of donors than to let them have a virtual experience around a cause? Potential donors could “explore” a pristine marine reserve before it has been destroyed to understand why it matters. “Listening in” on a prognosis meeting for a cancer patient might help articulate the intricacies of fighting that disease. Perhaps hearing a VR testimonial of a client that benefitted from post-incarceration training to land a new job might convey the need to support an effort typically difficult to fund.

Likewise, given the ubiquity of mobile technology around the globe and the exquisite simplicity and lower cost of a cardboard viewer (as one of many VR methods), imagine the possibilities for good beyond donations of money. A business owner in an emerging market could virtually walk the storeroom floor and peer around the globe to get some ideas on how to improve sales rather than examining floor plans; a student could augment their studies of ancient societies by “traipsing” along timeworn streets without needing to afford overseas studies; a homebound person could “climb” treacherous trails to visit impossibly constructed temples on mountain ridges. By using VR, people’s lives could be enriched by having access to knowledge and experience that was previously out of reach.

My incredibly visceral and brief experience with VR was more than enough to convince me of the power of this technology as it begins to enjoy widespread use. I can’t wait to see what the clever do-gooders of the world do next with this medium. Though, next time I strap on a VR viewer I might choose a less heartrending topic.

Interested in using #VR4Good? Share your ideas for this emerging technology with us on Twitter.

Header photo credit: Flickr user Nan Palmero, used via Creative Commons.