SXSL: What Happens When Tech Innovators Descend on the White House Lawn

SXSL: What Happens When Tech Innovators Descend on the White House Lawn


"The vote is precious, it is almost sacred, it is the most powerful nonviolent instrument or tool that we have in a democratic society, and we must use it. So, you must go out all across America, and tell young people, and people not so young, tell all of us: Vote! The vote is powerful."

– Congressman John Lewis, Making Change Happen at SXSL


On October 3rd the White House held their first South by South Lawn (SXSL), a smaller replication of Austin's SXSW. The entire day was inspiring, and innovative. I'm really proud to have had the Craig Newmark Foundation sponsor SXSL alongside National Geographic, DAQRI, Exelon Foundation, Hyatt, Obvious Ventures, Sara & Evan Williams Foundation, Simons Foundation, Starbucks, and Target. I was represented there by my team. This is about civic engagement, and doing what's right for our country.

One of the panels, Making Change Happen, had lots of great advice and perspectives from the people who really have their boots on the ground doing good work. The panel was centered around the question, What role do citizens have in bringing real and lasting change to our country?

john lewis

“America is not the project of any one person,” President Obama said in Selma last year. “The single-most powerful word in our democracy is the word ‘We.'” Topics that the panel covered ranged from the struggle for LGBT rights to shining a new light on the enduring struggle for civil rights, and a conversation about Black Lives Matter. The folks on this panel have transformed hashtags into movements and have delivered real progress. The panel was introduced by The Honorable John Lewis (Congressman and Civil Rights Activist), and moderated by Anil Dash (Entrepreneur and Activist). The panelists were: Brittany Packnett (VP of National Community Alliances at Teach For America and Co-founder of Campaign Zero), Carmen Rojas, (CEO of The Workers Lab), and Evan Wolfson (Founder and President of Freedom to Marry).


While this barely begins to cover it, here's a recap of some of the exhibits and events from SXSL:

Solitary Confinement Virtual Reality (VR) – Folks had the opportunity to learn firsthand what it’s like to be locked up in solitary confinement in a VR experience that placed the viewer inside a 6×9-foot cell with little more than a bed and toilet. It was a 9-minute experience that allowed people to witness the psychological impacts of confinement like blurred vision, hallucinations, and a sense of floating – things that may occur after long-term sensory deprivation. The innovative documentary, conceived by The Guardian and created in collaboration with The Mill, was generated using game engine technology, using first person accounts.

Cancer Moonshot – At the Cancer Moonshoot booth, people could interact with tech and experience the future of cancer care, share how they’ve been affected by cancer as part of a compiled video diary, and learn about volunteer opportunities. One of the points was to illustrate how wearable tech can enable greater collaboration between cancer patients, physicians, and scientists to improve cancer care.

#FacesOfFounders – This new campaign's celebrating the millions of diverse entrepreneurs nationwide. As I've mentioned previously (and through my work with the Women Startup Challenge), women entrepreneurs and entrepreneurs of color are often left out of the conversation, and the funding streams. #FacesOfFounders was launched by the Case Foundation, the Blackstone Charitable Foundation, Google for Entrepreneurs, UBS and Fast Company. Their goal's to redefine who is and can be an entrepreneur.

Food + Future – This group of entrepreneurs is exploring the future of food, solving major food challenges, and building food-related businesses. Target, IDEO, and MIT Media Lab are collaborating to help people understand more about their food. The interactive space featured three initiatives:

– POLY helps kids understand where their food comes from through fun, interactive classroom experiments.

– Illuminate helps individuals and companies understand exactly what they are selling and buying — and how their choices will personally impact people.

– The Open Agriculture initiative helps farmers of all size understand the science of their environment in order to help them create healthier, more sustainable food systems.

Seed to Stove – Lots of places around the world don't have access to efficient, sustainable and affordable clean cooking technologies. The Seed to Stove exhibit featured clean cookstove demonstrations by Chef José Andrés and his team. These are the folks who also support DC Central Kitchen, an organization replacing homelessness, addiction, and incarceration in DC with culinary classes.

If you were at SXSL, or tuned into the live-stream, what was your favorite part? If you missed it, you can watch the panels here. I'd love to hear what civic engagement this inspired for you. This shouldn't be a one-time event, but an ongoing conversation. And, please, remember to vote in November 8th!


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