SXSW throws a lot at its inhabitants over the course of a day.
Where else can you go to absorb the buzz about the latest issues in everything from journalism to science to the motion picture industry – from household names that include Julian Assange, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and actor Kevin Bacon, respectively? (And on one day and in one venue, I might add.) Top that heady mix with the raw potential of startup entrepreneurs and the yet-undiscovered, and the quirkiness factor skyrockets. The quirkiness takes on an especially “We aren’t in Kansas anymore” tinge after deGrasse Tyson glowingly describes Fox TV and Seth McFarlane’s roles in bringing his show Cosmos to viewers around the world.
Celebrity fever packed all the above sessions, with Kevin Bacon fans scrambling to snap smartphone pics as he settled down to talk about the phenomenon of the parlor game “Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon”, in which players determine the number of connections a given dramatist is from the highly prolific Mr. Bacon. After all, Bacon, has worked with a lot of actors. Bacon has since turned this phenomenon with which he was initially uncomfortable into a charitable organization (Six Degrees.org).
Talking with Joshua Jake Vaughan about how he came to found Connect 2 Good seemed at first like an abrupt departure from the big thinkers and celebrities I’d listened to earlier in the day. His global perspective on philanthropy, though, neatly aligns his aspirations with those I’d heard earlier from Assange and deGrasse Tyson, who both emphasized global cooperation in their talks.
Vaughan originally intended to follow a standard course of law school and pursuit of prosperity, but after graduating with a degree in philosophy found himself drawn to humanitarian work. Restless after a year and a half at the American Cancer Society, he sold his possessions and embarked on an epic period of travel to southeast Asia. It was while casually wandering through a Laos street that the sight of a young mother, sitting on a curb with her baby and surrounded by garbage stopped him in his tracks.
Returning home to Texas to pursue a career in sales in the tech industry, he was haunted by the image of the hopeless woman and her child. He began to read about the work of Mohammad Yunus, Nobel prize-winning founder of the Grameen Bank, a micro-lending bank that helps to lift women and their families out of poverty with small, low-interest loans.
With a group of friends, he founded Goodwill Globetrotting, an organization that matches idealistic travelers with volunteer opportunities all over the world. After running a 501C3 charity proved incompatible with his day job, Vaughan chose philanthropy and has never looked back.
Finding that many of the charities he worked with had material needs that they couldn’t afford to fulfill , in mid-2013 he created Connect 2 Good, a second charity that matches philanthropic organizations with people who have useful items to donate. Using asset mapping, a tool he discovered when he researched community development corporations, he assembled a tech team to create an app and began helping donors re-home their useful goods.
I missed Vaughan’s talk earlier today (Assets in Web 2.0: How to Kick Philanthropic A@! ), but he brings all the enthusiasm and passion to his subject that older and more renowned SXSW speakers bring to their audiences.
Could it really be that somewhere in this spicy southwest mix of get-rich entrepreneurialism, more social entrepreneurialism will also flourish? When a journalist confined to a small embassy room thousands of miles and an ocean away enthralls an Austin crowd, when a renowned scientist finds himself co-producing a science show with the creator of Family Guy, and a Hollywood actor unwittingly finds himself as an icon for social connections, anything is possible.