This week a few of my Monsanto colleagues and I attended SXSW Eco for the first time. It’s a conference that brings together a variety of people who all touch environmental topics and being in the midst of all those perspectives was a pretty amazing experience.
SXSW always hosts events with engaged participants who want to discuss important topics, and Eco is no different. We decided to attend the conference this year because, like other participants, we want to participate in the dialogue that inspires action toward addressing important challenges in our changing world.
Throughout the week, I had the opportunity to listen and learn from thoughtful panel conversations and presentations on important topics like water, climate change, soil health and food waste. What stands out for me though isn’t topics but the people I had a chance to connect with, fascinating and passionate attendees from around the world. I met them in sessions, networking events and even as we waited in the hallway.
I know that Monsanto hasn’t been involved in these conversations at events like Eco in the past. We came committed to showing up, listening and engaging in these conversations – especially those with people who have a different point of view. This year we submitted a handful of panels on our own and we also contributed in helping to pull together another panel of farmers and bloggers focused on how the world will feed a growing population. All of the panel submissions were ideas we thought would start valuable and diverse conversation at the conference. Two of these panels were accepted – one we submitted about honey bee health and one we collaborated on with a group of farmers and bloggers – with diverse viewpoints – with whom we’ve interacted online over the years.
As part of this process we reached out to various experts who would bring diverse and systemic perspectives to the conference. For both panels that were selected, we offered to pay travel/hotel expenses for the panelists and we asked that the participants fully disclose this – both on social media and at the beginning of the panel discussions. The goal was open honest dialogue – something all of us agreed was paramount.
We were encouraged by the packed rooms at both panels, robust conversations in Q&A sessions and the great interactions we had all week –some supportive, some with opposing viewpoints. On my last day at Eco, we were criticized for the process behind our involvement in these two panels.
I recognize that some people may not trust our intentions, but I can tell you that we were committed to being absolutely transparent about our involvement at Eco.
The big challenges in agriculture and sustainability can only be solved when lots of different people and ideas come together to talk. The reality is Monsanto has been absent from these conversations for too long and I am personally thrilled to be part of the new engagement efforts. We will continue to be a part of this dialogue moving forward, even when some people don’t agree with our point of view. We look forward to continuing to take part in these types of conversations – at SXSW Eco and other important opportunities moving forward.
My colleagues and I have tremendous respect for SXSW Eco, the community, and organizers and we want to continue to be a part of the conversations to address big global challenges.
Looking forward to next year, we will continue to stay committed to dialogue on these issues and be fully transparent in our presence.
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