In March, 20 alumni of the American Express Leadership Academy network met up in Austin, Texas, and turned the annual South by Southwest creative gathering into a leadership development and network-building opportunity. Here is the second post in this series (more on that below).
Thanks to #amexleads and its support for nonprofit and social impact leaders across the country, I had the opportunity to attend #SXSW earlier this month. Not knowing what to expect, I took the experience day-by-day. Here are the highlights:
Expect the Unexpected
Each day I made a list of the things I wanted to do, checking the festival app multiple times but, when I arrived at the festival, everything changed. I thought I was in line to see Barry Jenkins (big fan of his beautiful and artistic film Moonlight, which won a bunch of awards including the 2017 Academy Award for Best Motion Picture), but it turned out to be a session about tech trends with Amy Webb. It was serendipity - she was the most dynamic speaker I saw at SXSW, as she took what could have been a very dry topic and made it funny, relatable and personal. While I was initially disappointed that I didn’t get to see Barry, I was pleasantly surprised and happy to discover something new. One highlight from the session was that Amy commented that 2018 marks the beginning of the end of traditional smartphones and we're moving towards a society outfitted in wearable gadgets. Read more about what you can expect in the 2018 Tech Trend report.
Volunteers Add to the Experience
I naturally gravitate to people who volunteer for conferences and festivals since that has been such a large part of my life. In addition, volunteers often have the best information on where to go, how to navigate the event, and how to make the best of your time in the city.
While waiting in line for STARZ house, I met a couple of volunteers whose role was to transport speakers from the airport to their sessions. One of them transported the elusive Barry Jenkins! They shared how kind Barry was and how they found it rewarding to volunteer and attend the festival events in their downtime.
Don't forget to chat with volunteers: they are a bonus resource at any event!
Connect Before, During & After
Before I attended the festival, I met a woman in DC at a screen printing workshop who was going to SXSW. She was leading some of the WeDC House events at the festival, so we met up at one and she shared how DC is helping entrepreneurs and startups, making DC a top location for new business opportunities. I also re-connected with my Airbnb host from Toronto at the DC House and heard more about his work with the music industry and his company’s foundation, SOCAN.
Probably the best connections I made were with fellow #AmExLeads alumni at SXSW. During the festival, I attended the #AmeExLeads Alumni session and got the chance to learn about the nonprofit and corporate community in Austin, and apply our experience and knowledge to a leadership challenge of a growing nonprofit in Austin, I Live Here I Give Here. What I enjoyed most during this session was hearing Celeste Flores, executive director of I Live Here I Give Here, share the organization's story and listening to the different perspectives of people who live inside and outside of Austin. I was impressed by her organization's commitment and passion to ensure Austin is on the list as one of the top cities for giving. I immediately followed up afterwards to see where other cities rate on charitable giving from the Chronicle of Philanthropy's report on How America Gives.
Get Inspired by Other People's Creativity
Sara Brinton told me about her startup, Penguino Travel, at the Female Founders Brunch hosted by Techstars. Penguino Travel helps people traveling with kids by recruiting local families to create travel plans that include kid-friendly activities. She developed her startup based on an idea that she and her husband had when they struggled to plan family-friendly, immersive trips with their children. Because of the couple’s background in e-commerce, they were able to start Penguino Travel by selling travel products targeted for families before they launched their full service worldwide.
Her advice to any startup? Do the research and gain access to accelerators like Techstars to help you get on track with your idea.
So What Are You Waiting For?
I’m so glad I had a chance to attend the SXSW festival and see Austin up close. I walked away from the festival with a renewed spirit to keep thinking creatively and to challenge myself to push ahead with my ideas. I would definitely recommend it to any other alumni or people who are looking for a conference or event that will encourage you to step outside of your normal day-to-day thinking. The people you meet and the experiences you have will be invaluable even if you don't get to meet Barry Jenkins.
This blog is one of a four-part series of reflections from the #amexleads leadership meetup at this year's South by Southwest festival. We will update this post with each week's new blog.
Part 1: Building Leadership Ecosystems that Thrive by Blair Glencorse
Part 2: How I Didn't Meet Barry Jenkins - My Experience at SXSW by Kim Gube
Part 3: The “Reach Out” versus Networking: A Conversation with Molly Beck of Messy Bun by Julie Smith
Part 4: What's a Conservation Nerd Doing at #SXSW? by Mary Burke