SXSW 2017: Giving back in and out of the workplace

For any of us, finding the balance between work and charitable giving is a tough thing to do. Even if time isn’t a concern, there’s also the issue of figuring out where you can do the most good with your time and resources. In two panels at South by Southwest Interactive today, speakers from wildly different fields shared how they use their respective talents and audiences to shape the world around them.

In The Kind Side: Compassion on and off the Field, two NFL players and the woman behind NBA star Carmelo Anthony’s charitable foundation shared how athletes decide how to use their reach beyond the court or field. Asani Swann, who Anthony hired to revamp his brand, said the most important thing in giving back is that the cause is something the client believes in.

She noted Anthony’s Courts for Kids program, which she said stemmed from Anthony’s experience on unsafe courts as a child. “Compassion comes from a place of authenticity,” Swann said. “It didn’t have to be created.”

Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Torrey Smith responded to a question about how his family fund focuses on hyperlocal acts of giving, including mentorship. “I was one of those kids that needed help, needed guidance, and I wouldn’t be here at South by without the people who helped me,” he said.

The central topic at AI for Good: Harnessing Power to Solve Problems was how the technology community can devote more than just the typical resources – volunteer hours and cash donations – to solve problems created by “bad actors” using their products to commit crimes against children.

Most of the talk centered around the partnerships between companies and nonprofits rather than the nuts and bolts of how the work is done. Mark Gianturco of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children said the program didn’t speak to many specifics out of fear of helping predators avoid detection.

Alison Yu of software company Cloudera recounted how she and her colleagues started to serve the community, initially through helping feed their local homeless. “Even if you don’t have a formal program at your company, there’s always time to change,” Yu said.

Eventually, she said, the group began to consider how to use their tech skills to give back. Today company hosted another of its hackathons, this time to make it easier for authorities in Central Texas to find missing kids.

That led them to working with Tech Innovation to Fight Child Sexual Exploitation to use the data they have available to target people who exploit children online. Thorn’s Federico Gomez Suarez assured the crowd, however, that the same principles can apply in any field.

“I’ve gotten so much back from it,” he said. “If anyone has a cause they’re passionate about, I think it’s something great to pursue.”



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