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Opening the doors to South by Southwestern #SXSW23


Local people comment that it’s either unbearably hot or miserable and gloomy at one of the biggest conferences and festival in Austin’s annual calendar. This year the weather is more bearable than most. Which is important. Especially as much of downtown Austin is transformed into a hotbed of festivities.

The queues were impressive first thing in the morning today. Hundreds if not thousands of people were queueing up to get their SXSW 2023 experience going. And English wasn’t the only language you could hear whilst getting into the first session of the day.

SXSW Co-President and Chief Programming Officer Hugh Forrest officially kicked off the 8 day event. Some attendees couldn’t fit into the room there was such interest from the participants.

March Magic 2023

Just prior to opening SXSW Hugh shared how he had met a group of international attendees. He shared with the thousands of attendees in the audience why this meeting had been important.

“Because international registrants are an even higher percentage of this year’s event than they were pre-pandemic,” Hugh shared.

“In 2023 about 30% of SXSW badge holders come from outside the U.S.,” he continued. “This compares to about 25% in 2018 and 2019.” Interestingly, the largest group of international attendees are from Brazil at this years event. A fact that was met with a big roar of satisfaction by the visiting Brazilian attendees.

But that was only part of the message that Hugh was trying to convey. He was also very keen on explaining the ‘recipe for success’ at SXSW:

“Consume lots of content, particularly in topics you are unfamiliar with,

“Make a ton of new professional connections via the many many many networking events,

“Create a new friendship by reaching out to someone completely new.”

And, with the above recipe in mind, some of the speakers that #DisruptionBanking will be following at this years event include Greg Brockman of OpenAI, Amy Webb, and many more.

The first session was with a local Texas-born speaker. #DisruptionBanking was there to ensure that we could share the experience with our readers.

The Light We Give with Simran Jeet Singh

Simran Jeet Singh, Ph.D., is the Executive Director of the Religion & Society Program at the Aspen Institute and the author of the national bestseller The Light We Give. Simran was born and raised in San Antonio, Texas, just down the road from where SXSW is located.

Simran started by sharing how grateful he was having grown up an hour down the road to be at SXSW. How he could never have dreamed of becoming part of SXSW and how he was thankful to all the work done by the organizers over the years to get the event to where it is today.

He explained how it had been hard for him growing up in Texas. Simran has three brothers and they experienced racism during their time growing up in the Lone Star State. In fact, Simran often wondered why his parents thought Texas would be a good place to raise turban wearing boys.

One of the transformational moments in Simran’s life was 9/11. Things had been challenging up till that point, however, after the twin towers fell and Osama Bin Laden’s pictures started to circulate online, things became more difficult.

The sentiment in America today

America today is a land divided. Simran shared another story with the audience about how in 2012, seven members of a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin had been killed by an avowed white supremacist. And how this story had a profound affect on him.

He shared how he had overcome his anger towards the white supremacist with the audience. How he wanted to be able to help others to focus on greatfulness, empathy and what he called ‘sweetness’, which Simran reminded us is all around us.

Simran’s speech was met with a standing ovation. The tone of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion as a prominent message was met with enthusiasm and the festival is now in full swing.

And, whilst this story may not reflect our normal banking and fintech stories at #DisruptionBanking, the sentiment in the U.S. today is of huge significance to the global economy. And Simran couldn’t have summed it up any better.

Author: Andy Samu

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