Engage, Inspire, Ignite: Participant Media at SXSW

Words by Victoria Prescott, Secretary of the SOW UT chapter. Victoria currently studies film at UT Austin.
March 10th, 2014

South by Southwest (SXSW) dashed out the gate of its first weekend, into a corner of downtown Austin. Outside the Wanderlust Yoga studio at 206 E 4th Street, a cloudy overcast draped the sky. Meanwhile inside, the environment couldn’t have been brighter. Companies like Tumblr, NPR, and the Global Poverty Project were there at Wanderlust. Our goal as the Students of the World SXSW media team, was to bring that same inspiration to the folks who could not make it down to Austin this year.

A quote heard floating during the day captured the culminated energy of all involved: “If you know what you’re trying to do, you can target exactly what you need to take action in, and be more effective.” This idea joined organizations together for Participant Media’s day of panels during SXSW. The conversations held on this day further interlaced digital platforms, the consumer, innovator, the understanding of community and culture, and the power of the individual to make an impact on this world.

The conversations held examined an exchange of ideas as a driving force for a socially-conscious global community. These panels, organizations, their missions, and people have been and continue to engage, inspire, and ignite the driving force that connects humanity and reach for equality in us all.

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One particularly stand out panel, “Innovating for Social Good” asked professionals from Google, Mastercard, myAgro, and the World Food Program to converse over how technological innovation (ex. online petitions, awareness campaigns, apps for social good, etc.) can connect with off-line, on-the-ground social good.

myAGRO’s speaker, a favorite of the SXSW media team, spoke on an example of her work. myAGRO utilizes texting, a technology already widely used in Mali, like in many countries, to open the door for farmers to make payments on grain, and create savings through SMS. These companies have shown that by creating non-profits and businesses with social good in mind, you can make a globe shaking impact in the way people do business, make livings, and how we can come together in crisis to work on common struggles. We can no longer focus on the company alone; we must take a broader look at the world it impacts as well. These companies have proven success and sustainability can co-exist in our world. today.

Participant Media Social Good panels at SXSW

The Social Good of Representation

Taking a step towards media and art, the social good of representation begins with the idea that everyone’s stories are crucial to understanding the human experience. It is paramount that the people who are at the heart of understanding their own experience tell, and along with that, have the opportunity to tell, their own stories for the end means they have in mind.

A few paraphrased words of wisdom from Kamau Bell on representation in the media shed some light on the way, especially young folks who are working to carve a place for themselves in the media industry, address representation in their own work. This panel was a further extension of the previous panel he took part in, "Pivot: TV for New Heroes."

Bell brought up the recent “Saturday Night Live” incident regarding the lack of diversity on the show. Viewers made noise for change, and soon after, change was seen. Bell addressed this as key in acting to change the tides on current patterns of representation. We have to be the voices of our generation and the history in us all; to see ourselves on screen and in positions of power, accurately, diversely, and honestly represented. We have the opportunity in social media to voice these needs until it becomes the norm. Bell also brought up the importance of supporting diverse backstage work and ownership, everywhere from the writer’s room to the corporate media ownership levels.

We have this wide-open platform to demand and make change in this 21st century for the good of our world. Through the panels we’ve seen that this global community is taking action to do so. At the same time, the job is not entirely done, and can always use more hearts, minds, and hands ready to work for tangible, sustainable, real change.

The 2014 Participant Media panels at SXSW shined a spotlight on the impact a diverse congregation of organizations are making, as well as the steps forward they are taking in order to continue paving a path for relevant, powerful, and necessary social good. Here’s to unleashing that social good in 2014. Until next year keep on engaging, inspiring and igniting social good through your social media, through consuming responsible products, through your stories, and through each opportunity in daily life.

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