SXSW is wasting the chance to take on world-changing issues

President Barack Obama speaks at the South by Southwest Interactive conference in Austin, Texas on March 11, 2016

GUEST:

Each year, SXSW brings together a unique mix of people in the world of technology, design, media, film, music, and — as of late — an increasing number of people associated with the worlds of philanthropy and social change. The event provides a unique opportunity to cross-pollinate thinking and partner on efforts related to addressing the most interesting and serious issues facing our global society today.

In other words, SXSW should be the ultimate playground for people trying to solve complex problems and have a meaningful, measurable impact on the world.

Unfortunately, that isn’t happening. The tens of thousands of smart, passionate, talented people who descend on Austin each March are not committing themselves to solving the most interesting and important problems. The potential that exists to dramatically transform the way we address serious global issues simply isn’t being realized.

When I first started attending SXSW 15 years ago, I could count on one hand the number of people attending who were working in the social-good space. There weren’t very many people who focused on politics and government, media, or really anything that wasn’t directly connected to technology startups or marketing. As SXSW has grown, more attention has been paid to serious issues. Only on a few occasions – such as when a devastating earthquake struck Japan at the same time as SXSW was happening – has philanthropy been one of the hottest topics of discussion around the whole event.

SXSW is often credited with being an incubator, or an accelerator, for some of the most market-changing technologies – Twitter, Meerkat, and others have emerged from SXSW and gone on to influence the world. But the conversation about how to address serious issues in a connected society and the role technology can play in serving humanity hasn’t evolved.

What is happening? There are panel discussions and workshops exploring the work of nonprofits and social cause programs, but they are hosted and attended mostly by people already inside the social change community. The people who are committed to social issues are simply talking to themselves. When the best and brightest in digital, creative, and other fields do focus on social issues, the conversation is on building awareness, telling stories, and raising funds. But greater awareness of social causes doesn’t accomplish enough on its own. Instead, what we need is recognition that technology can play a significant role in addressing the global refugee crisis or solving climate change, and a commitment to action. The focus of all that intellect and creativity at SXSW is being misapplied and underutilized.

Many small, smart, innovative organizations are trying to change how we think about addressing serious issues, and they’re doing so using some new and very cool ways of collecting and organizing data, deploying technology, and more to solve problems. They should be celebrated. But much more is needed to dramatically rethink and reimagine our approach to serious issues. More people need to become engaged in these efforts. And that will require an entirely different approach.

A lot of people have criticized SXSW for becoming big and impersonal – for losing its innovative spirit, for becoming so spread out and disjointed that it is hard to find quality panel discussions, make the right connections, or break through with a new idea or company. That is a symptom, not the problem. In fact, the bigger SXSW grows, and the more people who attend, with all their different interests and abilities, the more SXSW becomes an even greater opportunity to transform the way we address serious issues.

SXSW organizers need to ensure that conversations about social good are not treated as special; conversely, they must be at the core of the business imperative that drives the conference as a whole. The technology, design, media, and other communities should be challenged to solve these problems. The humanitarian sector needs to recognize that its framing and approach to solving complex problems is not working and embrace the opportunity to truly disrupt and transform its model.

We must engage people who are not already part of the social-good discussion and encourage those deeply invested in social good to do more to take advantage of everything else that SXSW offers in terms of expertise and ideas. There are so many ways that SXSW could change the way we think, operate, and organize around big ideas, exciting new tools, important issues, and as a community of smart, passionate people.

SXSW is already disrupting the ways that we think about how technology can be used, creativity should be applied, what communications can achieve – but that predominantly only happens during the event, and the momentum behind so many potentially exciting things is lost when everyone flies back home. SXSW’s original goal was “to create an event that would act as a tool for creative people and the companies they work with to develop their careers, to bring together people from a wide area to meet and share ideas.” Not only can that still happen, but the very same approach can be used to save the world.

Brian Reich is the director for the Hive, a special project and innovation lab of USA for UNCHR that uses advanced data science to develop groundbreaking new models for consumer engagement. USA for UNHCR helps and protects refugees and people displaced by violence, conflict, and persecution.

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Work collaboration platform Teambition raises $12M to take on Microsoft 365

teambition-1

Shanghai-based workplace collaboration platform Teambition announced this week that it has raised $ 12 million in Series B funding from investors including NLVC, IDG, Vangoo Capital, and Gobi Partners.

Teambition is an online platform that allows for workplace collaboration on things like events, tasks, posts, and cloud-based file libraries. Immediate comparisons that come to mind include Planner, Asana, Basecamp, Wunderlist, Trello, Slack, Jive, Dropbox, Google for Work, and even Microsoft 365.

This Series B round brings Teambition’s total funding to date to $ 17 million — it previously raised a $ 5 million Series A in December last year, and was, ironically, a 2013 graduate of Microsoft Ventures Accelerator program in Beijing. The company declined to comment on valuation.

The money will be used to further build out its existing freemium model, expand sales efforts, diversify the team, and hire more global talent from outside China. It also plans to adapt and customize the product “to what specific industries need to collaborate.”

Qi Junyuan

Above: Qi Junyuan

Teambition’s chief executive, Junyuan Qi, a 2012 graduate in management information systems from the Shanghai Jiao Tong University, told VentureBeat he is confident of strong traction in China going forward, but is also looking to grow internationally.

To that end, the company recently hired Paris-based Florian Monfort to head up international growth. Monfort, who has experience at companies like Dropbox and LibreOffice, will be moving to Shanghai in the coming weeks.

From VentureBeat

Location, location, location — Not using geolocation to reach your mobile customers? Your competitors are. Find out what you’re missing.

“If you think about services available on the Market today, they are mostly separate and/or bundled,” Monfort told VentureBeat. “This is as close as we get to any form of integration and interaction between each collaboration function.”

“We tackle this by creating an application that has the primary features those services provides, all integrated into one app. This means one account that everybody can use without having to jump between services and apps all the time,” he added.

Teambition is available on both Android and iOS, but also Mac and Windows. Here’s a further breakdown of some of the key functionality it offers, as laid out in the product description:

Tasks — On Task Board, you can share project progress with your colleagues straightforwardly, break tasks down to sub-tasks, add attachments and deadline. And all of these can be discussed in real-time .

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Posts — You can share your ideas and knowledge with other members on Post Wall. All the posts are editable, and all the involved members will be noticed when the posts are updated. We also provide a Chrome add-on to help you sharing posts easier.

File library — As convenient as Dropbox, File Library is where to share documents with your colleagues and keep them updated. Each shared document can be discussed specifically. And best of all, Teambition File Library offers unlimited storage.

Events — Arrange a meeting and invite members to participate, and start online discussion on Teambition Events. We offer a subscription link which you can subscribe to your calendar app.

But to gain popularity and grow beyond China — clearly something that is playing on the company’s mind, now more than ever — it will need to persuade both free and paying users that it can be trusted with their data. As of now, all of its servers are still based inside mainland China, and that might not sit comfortably with everyone.

Monfort offers an example of how a developer who’s doing some programming based on a task on the platform may benefit.

“The task has some content linked to it: a design file, a post, and an event,” he said. “We let people link content, not only files. People can link to a task Teambition posts, events, or other tasks. Now, every time the designer will change the mock-ups, the developer will receive a notification in this task saying something has been updated.”

Screen Shot 2015-09-24 at 17.09.20“This means at the end of the day, everybody works on the same content and items, in the search for a precise goal defined by the project itself. No need for extra services, everything you need is in there. We also put an extreme emphasis on mobile. Being China based, we evolve in a market where mobile and apps dominate,” he added.

In its home market, the company faces the strongest competition in its space from local players, including Worktile, Tower, and Mingdao. As of now, the only number it’s sharing is users, which stand at 500,000, as of August. It declined to comment on revenue or China market share.

Ultimately, Teambition sees Microsoft 365 as its single biggest competitor globally — Monfort believes the Redmond-based giant has moved forward by leaps and bounds on the productivity front under Satya Nadella’s leadership.

“This has made it a bit more difficult today, though I also believe that our value proposition sets us apart enough that we can feed on different pies,” he concluded.

Bringing in more integration with existing players is something that the company may consider going forward, but for now it wants to focus on creating a solid user experience — and not risk sacrificing that by stretching its “limited resources” too thin.

If you’re a China tech watcher, these guys are probably worth keeping on your radar.


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