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White House Festival Salutes Spirit of Innovation

  • Mary Alice Salinas

Duane Rollins of Washington, D.C., tries an exhibit that simulates solitary confinement. He said "It takes away your humanity," he said. (M. Salinas/VOA)

Duane Rollins of Washington, D.C., tries an exhibit that simulates solitary confinement. He said "It takes away your humanity," he said. (M. Salinas/VOA)

U.S. President Barack Obama called on creative thinkers, entrepreneurs and artists to use their talents and abilities to "turn change into a force for good" at a time when so many are fearful of change.

The White House hosted the first "South by South Lawn" (SXSL) Monday, transforming the grounds into a festival celebrating the spirit of innovation with musical performances, art displays, film viewings and discussions on major issues of the day.

Obama told participants that changes in innovation and technology have transformed how people live. While those changes have created new opportunities, they have been seen by some people as "disruptive, even scary — and sometimes, they leave folks behind."

In this exhibit at the White House SXSL festival, people used sticky notes to share how they planned to make a positive contribution to their communities. (M. Salinas/VOA)

In this exhibit at the White House SXSL festival, people used sticky notes to share how they planned to make a positive contribution to their communities. (M. Salinas/VOA)

Obama urged the group to help "build a future that's more inclusive, tolerant and full of opportunity for everybody," and "create a world that's worthy of our brightest hopes."

The White House festival was modeled after a yearly event called South by Southwest.

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Obama attended that festival in Austin, Texas, in March, and he called for greater civic engagement and for innovators and entrepreneurs to help tackle the nation's toughest challenges.

Technology and poverty

Several attendees exemplified that.

Jukay Hsu founded Coalition for Queens, which uses technology to help residents of Queens, New York, lift themselves out of poverty.

The Iraq War veteran and Bronze Star recipient told reporters that technology has changed industries and reshaped the economy, edging out people who do not have the knowledge or skills to compete.

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Hsu said his business targets New Yorkers who did not attend college.

"Once going through the program, we raise people's average income, from $18,000 starting out to $85,000 a year after the program," he added. "If we can do it there and help support the growth in the New York technology community, we hope communities all across America can also have access to these opportunities and help grow our economy."

SXSL exhibits

Carmen Rojas, the chief executive officer of The Workers Lab, said her business shares cutting-edge technologies with entrepreneurs, community organizers and those who specialize in technology.

Rojas unveiled a digital platform she said will give young people digital tools to organize, tell their stories and connect with each other.

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Participant Dr. Nina Tandon founded the world's first company to grow living human bones to help with reconstruction and recovery.

Anil Dash is the co-founder of Makerbase, an online community for those who make apps and create websites. The tech entrepreneur is also a writer and activist pressing for a tech industry that is more inclusive, among other things.

Dash said the South Lawn festival was exciting, because it brought together people to advance the "promise of what we thought technology was going to do for the world."

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