SXSW Interactive is about tech, of course, but President Obama’ was there to talk civic engagement. The President stated at one point during his interview with Texas Tribune Editor Evan Smith, “Remember, it wasn’t ‘Yes, I can.” It was ‘Yes, we can.’” Obama used the SXSW stage to encourage the world’s creative minds to help find solutions to the many challenges this country faces, like making voting more accessible and helping individuals like seniors and veterans easily access government services online.

Obama knows his audience. Just before him, MBAs Across America founder Casey Gerald spoke of our “Deep hunger for purpose and meaning.” The idea to start MBAs Across America came to Casey and his two friends while they were on a summer road trip during their time at Harvard Business School. Realizing that, because of their education, they had power to improve people’s lives, they founded the organization in 2012 to connect graduate students to those in need throughout the country. The work isn’t about technology; it’s about humanity. Gerald’s remarks encapsulated a lot of what we’ve been talking about here at NewCo: purpose-driven work built upon the open sharing of ideas is key to successfully implementing positive change.

The theme of authentic engagement and service repeated itself on the SXSW Trade Show, where artist Doug Burnett of #FlashDrivesForFreedom reminded festival-goers that their old flash drives aren’t obsolete. In fact, “In a society without internet, with total government censorship, and with no independent media, North Koreans rely on these little pieces of plastic. Filled with films, books, and internet content, they are windows to the outside world.” Similar to #FlashDrivesForFreedom’s use of technology to connect individuals to eye-opening ideas, the UN’s social good presence at the SXgood’s Hub utilized VR to connect users to the struggles of a Nigerian ebola survivor.

In our “Stories of Purpose-Driven Companies” panel, moderator and NewCo founder John Battelle explored what it takes for companies to be on a mission with Nuna Health founder and CEO Jini Kim, Earnest CEO and founder Louis Beryl, and Embrace Innovation founder and CEO Jane Chen. Beryl noted that his company, which focuses on disrupting the financial industry through “merit-based lending,” measures success in “Decades, not dollars”; he reminds his staff that “The things we do today are going to be broken tomorrow.” Recognizing that change is constant, Chen noted that “values and culture are the true north of an organization.” The panelists acknowledged that there are real challenges running mission-driven organizations. As Kim put it, to be successful, you have to have to be “really very clear about your story as a company and communicate it over and over again.”

Finding the NewCo narrative at SXSW Interactive wasn’t hard. When you look beyond the product launches and the branding, you see real people just trying to make positive change.

Photo: SXSW

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