It might be known for its buzz bands or latest innovations, but for nearly 20 years South by Southwest also has helped uplift communities in unique ways.
Through its SXSW Community Service Awards, which offers $4,000 grants to six individuals and six organizations committed to improving the lives of the disenfranchised, SXSW has aided social issues ranging from boosting care for orphan children to transforming in-home senior care.
The awards, created to honor the vision of the late SXSW Interactive co-founder Dewey Winburne, will celebrate its 20th anniversary next spring by recognizing another cohort of inspiring groups and leaders dedicated to creating change. The deadline to apply is Thursday.
“South by Southwest has always had a strong community focus,” said Hugh Forrest, the festival’s chief programming officer. And while parts of SXSW have changed over the years, he said, the community service awards and the importance of giving back remain relevant.
“In the mid-1990s, most of us didn’t know what the Internet was,” Forrest said, “but Winburne believed it would level the playing field between the haves and have nots.” At the time, Winburne was particularly passionate about improving education through technology. “He was a ball of energy and enthusiasm,” Forrest said.
Over the years, the awards have evolved to include honorees from both in and out of Austin, as well as grant money with the recognition.
For local nonprofit Urban Roots, a farm-based youth leadership group, receiving a 2018 SXSW award and grant not only boosted the East Austin-based group’s visibility but also provided funds to offer teens and young adults paid internships at the 3.5-acre farm.
At Urban Roots, interns learn how to grow food, run farm stands, lead volunteers and more, while building self-confidence and leadership skills.
“By the end of the internship, they’re a fuller version of themselves,” said Emily Mares, Urban Roots’ development director. About 40 percent of the produce grown, she said, is donated to organizations such as the Central Texas Food Bank.
In many ways, Forrest said, the community service awards also inspired SXSW to build what’s now called the Social & Global Impact Track at the festival. While attendees enjoy learning about new gadgets, he said, they also love learning from inspirational community leaders and hearing their powerful stories.
Forrest said he hopes the awards can create more financial opportunities for winners as the event progresses.
“We want to continue to shed light on people who are working hard to improve their section of the world,” he said.
About the awards
To learn more about how to apply for a SXSW Community Service Award, visit sxsw.com/awards/sxsw-community-service-award. Winners receive a grant, complimentary entry to South by Southwest and an opportunity to spread the word about their work to the SXSW community.
The deadline to apply is Thursday.