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#SXSW18: Digital Diplomacy IRL

What is South by Southwest and why should the world care? Nearly 70,000 paid attendees flock to Austin to listen and learn from thousands of speakers. There’s a trade show and plenty of brand-hosted parties in and around Austin. All in, there’s more than 300,000 people interacting directly with SXSW activities. Among them, thought leadership entrepreneurs, whose minds are open and who are on the prowl for the next best thing in the digital space, in journalism and government or in music and comedy. You go to SXSW to see something new, or something new to you, and countries are taking advantage of that opportunity.

Three days into SXSW, the organizers announced this year’s theme: “Globally Connected”

The theme is no surprise. On and off the stage, and throughout Austin, SXSW has moved in a few short years from being a local music festival to a global event celebrating arts, innovation and ideas.

EU at SXSW

I was honored to participate in South By Southwest (known as SXSW) as part of a great line up presented by the European Union. Over a period of 3 days they held event after event on two stages touching all EU member countries and addressing a myriad of issues and of course, having fun. You can check out their line up here. And of course you can check out our panel. #EUatSXSW was a good representation of the opportunity countries see in SXSW: new and innovative people from around the world eager to learn.

Throughout my time at SXSW, I had the opportunity to check out the scene, but kept a special eye out for international presence at SXSW. Having served in the State Department at the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Public Affairs for Digital Strategy, I had countless conversations convincing governments to start paying attention to how digital tools can transform their relationships with their own people and the world. Those conversations from long ago seem to have worked, and digital was just the beginning.

These are my take aways:

Brazil Went Big. If you went to SouthBy, you heard from Brazil. Their hashtag graced the bag given to every participant. They had a room in one of the main hotels and were featured prominently on the trade show floor. Everywhere you turned: Brazil.

Europe was front and center. In addition to the EU house, many European countries were represented. One of the earliest and stalwart participants in SXSW is the British Music Embassy who showed up again for the 11th year. But other countries like Poland were new this year and brought some cool businesses that are scalable and applicable to US markets.

Every Continent Was Represented. Sadly, I didn’t make it over to Africa House, and it looks like I missed out. Not only did they have great (women) entrepreneurs on stage, but they made it their mission to represent Wakanda at SXSW.

Otherwise, my passport was stamped on every continent, all within a few short blocks. I’m thankful for that because there were many cocktails to sample. SXSW is known for a good cocktail and generally each country stuck to their specialty. But in that spirit, the prize goes to Peru House with some truly fantastic pisco drinks at the bar.

Some Regions Were…Quiet. One of the most striking things about SXSW is that you’d sit down to have BBQ anywhere in town and hear multiple languages coming from every table. But where some countries went big, some regions were noticeably quiet. In particular, the Middle East was certainly represented on stage but the average SXSW participant would not have had the opportunity to run into something new and innovative from the region. It’s a shame because there are so many vibrant spots.

Two countries were conspicuously absent. As a former diplomat and someone who helped make sure President Obama blew the minds of SXSW in 2016, the lack of the US government at SXSW was disappointing. The U.S. Department of Transportation had a booth to address innovation in driverless cars, and several US officials participated on panels. What was missing were the approachable booths of NASA and the innovators hosted by USAID. In the same vein, I really expected India to be front and center. Perhaps India didn’t need to go to SXSW because everyone is coming to them.

Duty called, and I didn’t have time to stay at SXSW to see everything, hear every lecture or band, or see every activation. As a result, I know I need to go back.

So tell me…what did I miss at #SXSW2018? Which country did it best in your opinion?

 


Moira Whelan is a Partner at BlueDot Strategies and former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Digital Strategy at the US State Department. She is also a member of the Digital Diplomacy Coalition Washington team.

This post originally appeared on Medium.

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Five Must Listen Podcasts for the Digital Diplomat

audio_waveI love podcasts. Often, they are the thing that I can put on in the background while I do other things, and still have the chance to stay up to speed on the latest developments. As an avid consumer of news, this takes me out of the headlines and allows me to focus on the things I most care about.

Given how fast technology is changing our world, it’s critical that we stay on the cutting edge. Technology is creating new opportunities and challenges for the world. Diplomats must remain informed. This is a challenge to diplomats who are often caught in meetings, drained by bureaucracy or buried in emails. Having been recently freed from those challenges, I now have the chance to focus on the important not just the immediate.

That said, diplomats do have times they can dive into listening experiences. If you’re a digital diplomat, a long flight is probably somewhere in your future. These are my recommendations for what to download to get you through it.

On the Media: This has been my go-to podcast for years. Brooke and Bob are guiding us through the new world we’re living in with a mixture of dulcet tones and outrage. They take a tough look at media: how stories get covered, and what gets ignored. They also dig into how the digital landscape is changing the news, discussing everything from Wikileaks to terrorist recruitment with experts you need to know. Favorite episode: can’t pick but the episodes on fake news and how the media deals with leaks are especially insightful. Also loved the “Bob’s Grill” short series over the summer in which Bob Garfield called out some pretty bad actors in journalism and digital information.

World Economic Forum: Glimpse into the Future  The word from Davos was that technology and governance was front and center. Blockchain, computing, AI all played a role in the annual gathering of change makers this year. Taped on the sidelines, this podcast gives you some great insights into the conversations that were taking place and how some of the biggest brains and bold-faced names are thinking about these issues. Favorite episode: ‘Technology and governments’ with the former president of Estonia. Who doesn’t love E-stonia? Also thought about mapping situations and AI in a different way…

Click: If you need to keep up to speed on the latest and greatest when it comes to technology and governance and can only fit in about 30 minutes, this is the podcast for you. Not only is everything the BBC does fantastic, podcasts are just better in a British accent. Favorite episode: February 28 discussion with Nesta’s Eddie Cooper about how democracies around the world are using digital tools to increase political participation.

Too Embarrassed to Ask by Recode: Let’s face it, if you’re in this line of work, people assume you have a crazy depth of technical knowledge that you just may not have. You try to keep up with Recode and TechCrunch but sometimes, it just gets beyond you. Now you can get smart on this stuff on a treadmill and no one needs to know. Favorite episode: big fan of the recent efforts to get me up to speed on all this Cloud business.

Meet the Ambassadors: This is a shameless personal plug, but doing this podcast series was definitely a highlight of my time serving as the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Digital Strategy at the US State Department. Less digital and more diplomacy, it’s a chance to get to know the diverse individuals who lead US embassies around the world and what their days are really like. Favorite episode: All of my pals are interesting, but you can’t beat Ted Osius’s description of the “typical American family,” and who doesn’t love a good Ruth Bader Ginsberg story?

What about you? What do you listen to? What podcasts should we make sure to listen to?

 


 

Moira Whelan is a Partner at BlueDot Strategies and former Deputy Assistant Secretary for Digital Strategy at the US State Department. She is also a member of the DDC Washington leadership team.

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