South By SouthWest, With a Twist of ROI

by Rebecca Youngerman

This past week in Austin, Texas, 20 young Jews from cities as diverse as San Francisco, Tel Aviv, and Berlin wrote a new chapter of the ROI Community story, introducing the 2012 South By SouthWest (SXSW) conference attendees to a different meaning of ROI Community. As part of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation’s pilot initiative in Austin, ROIers traded falafel stands for food trailers, setting out to create, connect, learn, and innovate our way through the Interactive, Film, and Music components of the annual conference.

The experience of SXSW reminded me of Open Space, a signature exercise that the ROI Community engages in each summer at their global Summits in Israel. Open Space puts forth two simple guidelines: whoever shows up is exactly who’s supposed to be there, and if you aren’t learning something where you are, use your two feet to take you to a place where you are learning. Keeping in mind these principles, I jumped right into SXSW Interactive, making my way to interesting sessions, connecting with old and new friends, and exploring SXSW’s infamous party scene.

Like many people, I try to take risks and put myself in unfamiliar and challenging situations. True, it’s not always the easiest way to go about things, but I often find that getting out of my comfort zone leads me to different, unexpected outcomes, often with deeper learning, more interesting conversations, and unexpected rewards. That’s exactly why I joined the ROI Community at SXSW.

Yes, it may seem a little unusual for a group that typically convenes in Israel to travel from near and far to meet in Texas. But as soon as we arrived, our purpose was clear. Taking the road less traveled keeps the ROI Community on our toes; we are not a group known for complacency. Our shared sense of curiosity and endless drive often reveals new meaning, different learning opportunities, and unexpected partners. As a young Jewish leader, I am fortunate to be part of a community that is constantly looking for innovative ways to fulfill its mission of creating and connecting, while exploring new spaces that attract other risk-takers.

This week, we immersed ourselves in the SXSW energy, weaving together our collective professional and personal experiences and our shared ROI connection. Together, we are defining what this new chapter means on a global scale for Jewish innovators, entrepreneurs, and change-makers. I can’t wait to see where we find ourselves next.

Rebecca Youngerman is the Associate Director of Alumni Relations at American University’s Kogod School of Business in Washington, DC. She has been a member of the ROI Community since 2008.

Connected by the ROI Community of Jewish Innovators.