We came. We saw. We conquered.
In between the music, the parties and the Meerkat-ing, one thing was clear—SXSW was ground zero once again for new opportunities for cross-sector collaboration and innovation in the social good space. While previously left out of the festival all together just a few years ago, this year’s expanded Social Good Hub and Startup Village brought government, nonprofits, foundations, impact-driven startups and entrepreneurs front and center with a strong message: we can and should act on a level playing field with corporations and for-profit entities.
This year’s festival brought many newcomers, from impact investors to civic leaders. The DC government even hosted its own lounge—We DC House—across from the convention center. Tracks focused on industry verticals, like healthcare, fashion and education, instead of traditional skill-sets, causing a collision of cross-disciplinary attendees.
And come we did. This relatively new approach to format at SXSW has been embraced by both organizations and attendees alike, igniting several big trends that we at the Case Foundation are helping to spearhead:
1. Collaboration and Unlikely Partnerships Drive Success
In the third wave of the Internet, big successes won’t come from isolated efforts, but rather unlikely partnerships will be required to accelerate growth and impact, said the Case Foundation’s Chairman Steve Case in his Saturday keynote. This sentiment was an undercurrent throughout SXSW. U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker, also speaking at SXSW discussed innovating in government as a multi-stakeholder process that can be driven by public and private sector collaboration. Even Yahoo’s Chief Information Security Officer, Alex Stamos, raised how the company was breaking down internal silos to create new partnerships between user experience and security to create new alternatives to passwords.
2. Social Returns are as Important as Profit
It’s going to be transformative breakthrough businesses that come to the table to solve the world’s biggest problems, said CEO Jean Case at the Impact Investing Rumble, where two teams went head-to-head in a debate about whether one can earn financial and social returns on investments. This was one of many featured talks at the SXSW Social Good Hub. The concept of not only making a profit but having a purpose resounded everywhere—including startups looking to change their community through technology to energy efficient internet of things devices.
3. The Rest is Rising Through Entrepreneurship
Entrepreneurship provides the promise of economic mobility and the power to lift up communities. With nearly double the space devoted to entrepreneurship from last year, the startup community continues to grow in visibility at SXSW. From Colorado to Iowa, local innovators outside of Silicon Valley came out to learn, share ideas and disrupt their sectors. UP Global’s Startup Oasis was bustling with pitch competitions and community-centered happy hours.
4. Diversity and Inclusion are Still an Issue
Diversity has been an ongoing challenge in technology, but many at SXSW are actively calling for inclusion regardless of culture, race and gender. A female founders panel on accelerators and investors noted 88 percent of venture-backed companies have no female leadership. There is a business reason to have diversity and inclusion in entrepreneurship, to bring all voices to the table, said the Case Foundation’s CEO Jean Case at the Kapor Center Diversity Lunch and Pitch Competition. Entrepreneurship shouldn’t just be for the privileged. One way of policing panels for inclusion was the Gender Avenger app that allowed attendees to shame panels that didn’t have any marginalized voices represented.
5. Big Data and Measurement are Driving Innovation
In the push for impact and transparency, data, metrics and measurement are becoming critical in aiding experimentation and rapidly assessing success. When evaluating our metrics, we see “failures” as a red badge of courage and experimentation, said Tom Nelson, president of Share Our Strength at the Case Foundation’s Be Fearless session. Many other organizations participating at SXSW such as USAID’s innovation lab, which leveraged health data to inform the fight on Ebola; and the ASPCA, which utilized adoption data and visualizations to identify gaps in their adoption programs are actively engaging on the data front as well. Increasingly, more organizations, such as Open Supporter Data Interface are working to form standards for open data and APIs to streamline integration of multiple data sets and development so measurement and evaluation can be easier and more accessible.