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Gen Z Tips for Thriving at SXSW

Gen Z Spills on SXSW 2023

By: Grace Greene (she/her) and Eric Stinehart (he/him)

Where’s one place where a researcher and an investor can go to find interesting, diverse topics? SXSW, of course. We sent our Gen Z squad: Grace Greene, Hopelab’s research associate, and Eric Stinehart, from our Ventures team to scope out emerging trends and to see how leaders in analogous spaces are thinking about inclusivity and harm reduction in digital spaces, equitable approaches, processes, and tools for design, and cutting-edge technology. Check out their key takeaways and valuable tips for attending SXSW (and events in general) in the future.

Join us on a typical day in Austin.

Talking A Lot of Game About DEI

Diversity, equity, and inclusion was a hot topic across various fields – from entertainment to design to digital spaces and the metaverse – even showing up in a panel on psychedelics. DEI was a central topic to SXSW, and while great to hear so much about it and know that it is top of mind for many, as we actually took in our surroundings, we noticed that the conference wasn’t representative of the inclusivity these panelists promoted.

Noticeably absent: young people and their voices, experiences, and ideas about innovation. The panel, “New Digital Natives Gen, A, Z, and Virtual Worlds” talked about the experiences of digital natives but didn’t include any young person’s perspective on the panel (nor could we find anyone under the age of 30 in the audience). We started thinking about how the SXSW experience might be different for everyone if young people were more included in the conversation – both as panelists and audience members. Likely a lot different.

As we returned home, we’ve been thinking directly about how we might continue to be more cognizant of the role Hopelab can play in connecting young people to opportunities that share their voice and experience. We’re excited about our work with youth-led organizations focused on shaping the responsible tech movement through our funding of the Responsible Tech Youth Power Fund. Along with 13 other organizations we’re excited to see how young people will leverage technology platforms to address social, cultural, political, and environmental issues and ensure more equitable access to the benefits of technology.

There’s Nothing Like IRL

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We’ve been on Zoom for the majority of our careers because of the pandemic and remote work setups. Attending SXSW gave us the opportunity to have in-person time so we could cultivate new connections and meet with partners familiar to us only from behind the screen. We met with Mica Le John at the Lush House for her panel exploring digital safety in the metaverse. She spoke about the progress she’s made pushing cultural inclusivity forward while positively affecting self-expression and mental health outcomes on her platform, Idoru. And we heard about breakthroughs in machine learning, VR, and gaming in the context of digital health delivery systems from Hopelab advisor, Solome Tibebu. Honestly, panels and learnings aside, connecting outside of the official programming to dive deeper into these topics really infused passion and purpose into our work. The rich conversations allowed us to dive into deeper discussions and connect their work more closely to ours. The IRL time was truly invaluable.

Self-care is No Joke

It is so easy to run yourself ragged at events like SXSW. The culture promotes 24/7 engagement with programming starting at daybreak and extracurricular events lasting into the late-night hours. FOMO is real, especially when you have the desire to take advantage of in-person time and make meaningful connections. We went all-in the first few days we were in Austin, taking in everything we could, and then burnout started to hit. We were exhausted physically but also starting to feel the emotional effects of so much learning – especially about the topics we were drawn to. So, we took a step back and took some time to recharge. It was incredible what just a few hours of downtime did for our mental health. Hopelab works hard to support and empower young people to have agency over their mental health and well-being. It’s important that we also model that behavior and invest in our own physical and emotional health.

We’d love to hear your tips; connect with us on LinkedIn and share your insights for event travel and let us know where we might find you next!

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Find Grace on LinkedIn

Find Eric on LinkedIn

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