Wildlife Crime Tech Challenge

Photo Credit: USAID
The Challenge Blog

SXSW Interactive Sparks Ideas on Innovation for Social Good

Ebola Tiger Suit - Old and New
The old Ebola treatment suit (left) and the new Ebola suit prototype (right) at SXSW Photo credit: USAID

South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive is an incubator of cutting-edge technologies and innovation that converges on Austin, Texas, every year. Bringing together the brightest minds in emerging science, tech, and digital, the festival has launched some of the world's most revolutionary tech startups, including Twitter and Foursquare.

But SXSW is more than just a place where revolutionary technologies are born – it is where leading innovators for social good convene to amplify their impact. With more than 30,000 participants from across the world, SXSW 2015 featured more opportunities to connect and learn than ever before – and, of course, a great venue for the Wildlife Crime Technology Challenge to engage potential innovators.

We hit the ground running, and we left inspired by the many organizations and individuals we encountered using tech to blaze a trail for social good. Here are three insights we took away from the festival.

Innovation for social good can compete with Ryan Gosling

More than 150 SXSW sessions were dedicated to social good and crowdsolving the world’s toughest problems. We attended panels by the U.S. Global Development Lab and the Smithsonian, our partner, as well as sessions led by thought leaders from NASA, the United Nations Foundation, and open innovation startups TechShop and Not Impossible Labs, among many others.

Despite a time slot conflict with Ryan Gosling, the USAID Global Development Lab attracted a standing-room only crowd eager to learn about the Fighting Ebola Grand Challenge, which attracted more than 1,500 applications. The Lab revealed some of the winning innovations, including a prototype for a new Ebola treatment suit.

“Traditionally people think of government and innovation as an oxymoron, and we’re out to change that thinking,” said Ann Mei Chang, the Lab’s executive director.

Judging from the crowd and social media traffic following the session, plenty of folks got the message and are eager to spread the word about innovating for social good.

Innovation grows out of unlikely partnerships

Successful innovation often stems from collaboration between non-traditional partners. At SXSW, Smithsonian’s National Zoo described its partnership with indie band Portugal. The Man to launch an innovative social media campaign to engage a new generation in the fight against wildlife crime. The #EndangeredSong campaign inspired influencers and young people to digitize and share a previously unreleased song via social media to help raise awareness about the fact that only 400 Sumatran tigers remain in the wild. 

The Endangered Song - Sumaran Tiger CampaignThis campaign shows that new ideas that reap real results emerge when people and organizations with different missions team to achieve a shared goal. We encourage you to leverage your existing network or create new ones to generate new ideas that can help stop wildlife trafficking.

Innovation works best when designed with the user in mind

Thought leaders at SXSW emphasized the importance of designing tech solutions that would work in New Delhi and Dakar, not just in London and Los Angeles.

“Invention comes from where the problem is,” said Nathaniel Manning of Ushahidi, a Kenya-based innovation startup partnering with USAID to launch the Making All Voices Count Grand Challenge (MAVC). Through MAVC, USAID is encouraging development of new digital solutions to improve engagement between government and citizens that can be applied where the needs are greatest.

The same is true of the Challenge. Solutions for combating wildlife crime may come from within or outside the areas most affected by the illegal wildlife trade, but they should be designed with the relevant environment in mind.

From these three lessons, we encourage you to join with new partners and begin generating ideas to help those on the frontlines of conservation to detect transit routes, strengthen forensic evidence and intelligence, reduce demand, and tackle corruption across the illegal wildlife supply chain.

Let’s keep the #SXgood conversations and inspiration flowing.

What were your favorite sessions, and what did you learn?

Share your thoughts and reactions from SXSW or other social-good inspired events below.

Whitney Romanoff,
Challenge Communications Team



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