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SXSW Daily round up – Day One

With celebrations and protests marking International Women’s Day, it was appropriate that Day One of this year’s SXSW festival would be led largely by female speakers and issues.

Joining traditional festival opener Hugh Forrest was author and speaker Brené Brown, whose TED Talks speech on vulnerability back in 2010 not only became the fourth most watched in the series but also established her as an A-Lister on the speaker circuit. Returning in some way to the theme today, Brown led a discussion about belonging in what can often be a cruel tech-led society, and the importance of relationships in terms of life quality. She ended on a high note with a huge singalong – setting the tone for the first day in a festival known for forging its own unique path.

Also on the huge and varied bill on Day One was Priscilla Chan, wife of Mark Zuckerberg who spoke about the plans of the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative to bring together those in technology with people and organizations on the frontline who, despite their need, often struggle for access to the right tech and innovation – such as scientists working on disease prevention, prosecutors working to make the criminal justice system more fair and teachers struggling to meet the needs of their students. 

Even without official figures released, it’s clear that there is a much more gender-diverse audience this year, an observation given more weight by Ann Rosenberg, Senior VP & Global Head of SAP Next-Gen, who reported that it was even to her surprise that a tech conference she attended in Salt Lake City last week had reported a 60:40 female-male split in attendance. 

Elsewhere on the first day, Starbucks former Chairman and CEO of Starbucks Howard Schultz who stepped down from the company after four decades last year, gave a presentation on his career and the role of for-profit organizations and how they can help their employees share in a company’s success. The fact that Schultz announced last month he is seriously running for the US Presidency next year underlined how politics has taken on an increasingly political appetite over recent years, in which Barack and Michelle Obama and presidential candidate Bernie Sanders have all appeared. Several high ranking politicians will be here this year too.

Meanwhile, Artificial Intelligence will figure prominently this year so it was no surprise to see a packed out hall for a seminar on “Scaling AI for the Future Workforce,” and finally on a brighter note, a subtle dig at perennial SXSW favorite Elon Musk in the form of James Adomian’s “The Frightening and Awful Future of Humanity” gave the day a suitably surreal and amusing lift. Roll on Day Two!

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