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Allie Watson's favorite keynote speaker at the SXSW conference was the Mayor of London, Sadiq Kahn.

This blog is written by one of 15 individuals attending the South By Southwest Conference in Austin with the intention to bring back ideas and to reimagine Richland County.

As we sat at dinner one night in Austin the conversation turned from identifying favorite speakers and sessions to themes that keep popping up with speakers. Architect Matthew Stanfield saw human centered design. Maura Teynor saw public art and the need to brand our community. The theme that is intertwined through every session for me was diversity, equity and inclusion.  

Allie Watson

Allie Watson.

The fact is great ideas come from diverse perspectives. The benefits of bringing 15 diverse perspectives to the table for the SXSW adventure was strategic and will strengthen the plan for redevelopment in downtown Mansfield. Diverse perspectives create better ideas, stronger conversations, more profitable companies and healthier communities. Here are a few examples where this theme popped up at SXSW.

I was so excited to hear Melinda Gates speak at SXSW.  From a funder’s perspective Melinda Gates is the philanthropist to follow. With over 1,500 employees, the Gates Foundation funds huge initiatives around the world.

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The summary I read prior to the session of “Interactive Keynote: Melinda Gates” talked about the way the workforce has transformed and Melinda (because we’re on a first name basis now) would talk with a panel of innovators on new technologies, business models and social movements.  

What actually happened was a conversation about how the workforce has changed and evolved but the workplace has remained largely the same as it was 50 years ago. Our workforce in America has become more diverse with the addition of women and people of color yet our workplaces remain largely run by white men.

Melinda spoke about how the American workplace hasn’t caught up to the workforce and that it works well for the educated white man but “Can it work for people who don’t look like my dad?”

In another session President and Founder of STEM Innovation Consultants in DC, Ashley Huderson, PhD talked about how many makerspaces are developed by white men whereas makers are extremely diverse individuals.

If the platform is created for all and not for a few, the makerspaces created can be more successful. She spoke about Makers Fairs being held in DC which can bring in many makers to one space.

My favorite keynote speaker was the Mayor of London, Sadiq Kahn (largely for content and partly for accent) who spoke about some hateful tweets he has received being the first Muslim mayor of London.  

He spoke about responsibility of the systems to take a stand and create environments where intolerance is unacceptable. He spoke about being a feminist and said, “We have too few women in positions of power and influence and that’s an asset we should be tapping into.”

The session following Kahn was Dominique Jordan Turner, president and CEO of Chicago Scholars.  Chicago Scholars works to fill 600 positions in their program each year with over 2,500 applicants and they work to choose the best candidates.

Turner spoke about creating a more diverse workplace and if we are to have a majority minority population by the year 2044 we need to be proactive in our hiring practices now so we are not reactionary later.  

Turner explained the buying power of black and brown communities is more than $3 trillion and if employers are interested in staying in the game, they will need to look beyond the white male candidate.

A main takeaway from the sessions with regards to diversity, equity and inclusion is that we as a community need to be open and welcoming to all people. It will be imperative for the success of our area to become more reflective of the community we represent.

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South By Southwest Conference Blogger

Senior Community Investment Officer at Richland County Foundation. Allie helps donors fulfill their charitable wishes through grant making. She discovers and discusses community opportunities, projects and programs with donors and grant recipients.