Note from Beth: Every now and then, I get asked when did you first discover the power of the social web? I actually have a repertoire of stories, but one of them is about Michaela Hackner (Kalabird.) I connected with her through her amazing photos of Cambodia on Flickr when I was covering the Cambodian blogosphere for Global Voices over five years ago.
Somewhere around 2006 or 2007, I got a call from Michaela asking for advice on a career path for Nonprofit Technology. I spent some time on the phone answering questions, referring resources, and later introduced her to colleagues.
In 2008, I had my first opportunity to speak on a panel at SXSW called "Pimp My Nonprofit" with Ed Schipul as the moderator. We had to replace one of the speakers and I recommended Michaela. She did a fantastic job. At this year's SXSW, I was invited to participate on a flash panel about women and technology conferences which ended up being about mentoring. I used the example of recommending a Michaela, relative newcomer to the nonprofit technology field at the time,for a SXSW panel.
So, it is with a great pleasure that Michaela shares some of her experience and takeaways from this year's SXSW.
Andrew, Bill, and I just got back from the South by Southwest Interactive Festival, where we spent nearly a week drinking from the proverbial technology innovation firehose. We attended numerous panels, connected with colleagues and friends on nonprofit technology and social good, and had skillets of queso in between. We heard a lot about the use of crowdsourcing, the latest Twitter apps, and why content strategy is so important. We also "checked in" using FourSquare and Gowalla everywhere.
But beyond all of the hype and noise, the most dominant theme I keep coming back to is that community is and always will be King. Even if you have the most awesome web site, campaign, or cause out there, you need a thoughtful and dedicated community behind it in order for it to be successful.
Both online and offline, communities are not only the way we identify ourselves, but more importantly, they are the most authentic and powerful vehicle for change. Our communities vet good ideas, apply the "trust" layer, and motivate us to take real action — from donating to becoming an advocate. It is the groundswell of communities that provides the momentum and sustainability for social change.
This week has reminded me that the power and benefits of getting communities together in person shouldn't be overlooked. We are all part of several communities in our own lives — some we connect with regularly, others maybe every few months. Some may exist solely online. South by Southwest reinforced the true value of connecting like-minded groups in person — particularly in our field. It will not only strengthen pre-existing ties, but that real-time collaboration and connection will also lead to innovation and initiate numerous trajectories for social good.
And, it's amazing what we can accomplish when we get together. For example, through a Twitter campaign during the conference, Mark Horwath raised $50,000 for his organization InvisiblePeople.tv to help promote awareness of homelessness in America. During a panel on fundraising, Donors Choose raised enough money to fund a music classroom project in Austin. Other panels on social good explored crowdsourcing ideas to change the world, and brought folks together during the CauseLabs to brainstorm offline solutions to ending hunger in America. Many of these examples leveraged online network lessons, however, the follow-through and enthusiasm around them was fostered by in-person connections.
Human contact leverages passion that sometimes gets lost online. It re-energizes and inspires. It reminds us why we do what we do. And am I ever energized.
My first South by Southwest experience was three years ago, when I wandered from panel to panel, seeking like-minded folks, intent on using technology for good. I came across very few and was slightly discouraged that the groups that mattered most weren't tapping into the valuable information generated by the conference.
Two years ago I was a panelist on one of the few nonprofit technology panels, "Pimp My Nonprofit." A few of us got together to talk about nonprofit technology in the hopes of generating more interest from our community and broadening the focus of the festival. We received a lot of great feedback and the idea took.
This year there was an entire conference track dedicated to social good. In the maelstrom of consumerism and high tech gadgetry, the idea of changing the world bubbled to the top. Even if people weren't nonprofit technologists, many were still focused on making the world a greener, more diverse, and selfless place. The positive intentions from folks were heartening and awe-inspiring, and contagious. I felt honored to be part of such an amazing group of people using their awesome technology powers for good. And, being there in person allowed me to build new relationships with other changemakers, and further cement the connections I had within the NPTech community. I am ready to do big things, help people, and make some real strides this year. I know my dreams are possible because of everyone else I met who is equally committed to those goals.
Together we can do it. We will use technology to stay in touch and collaborate on ideas. Hopefully, just as our passion starts to dwindle, we'll find ourselves in the same room again, sharing examples and learnings, promoting the causes we care about, and collaborating on how we can heal this world a little bit more each day. And that will make all the difference.