This year, over 500 community leaders from over 75 countries gathered in Downtown Las Vegas, the startup hub of Nevada and product of Tony Hsieh's vision for a bustling entrepreneurial community. With the Las Vegas strip just about 10 minutes away, the downtown startup hustle and energy provided a powerful juxtaposition to the typical features of "The Strip." In just a few days, the UP Global community gathered to share best practices, stories of failure and success, party, explore, and connect over a common interest in bettering the world through the transformative power of entrepreneurship.
At one point, I was fortunate enough to hear the story of one young woman who has dedicated her life to innovating education in New York. As we filmed her recounting her narrative, she teared up describing the opportunities that her mother fought to give her in the form of education. Today, she is a leader and advocate in the ed-tech space in New York, hosting Startup Education events and consulting with early education startups to help change the face of the industry and, as she puts it, "make education accessible to everyone, and not as a result of luck."
Another community leader stopped me to tell me how important it was that New Zealand build the strongest possible group around innovation and opportunity. "Our country is small, but we have some of the most passionate people around, and we've hosted more events than many other much larger countries." In every person I had the opportunity to speak with, this same sense of pride and ownership came through; people expressed, over and over, that their personal success rested in the public success of their own community. This narrative of sacrifice and leadership is powerful to see in just one person -- but try being around 500 of these leaders at once. It is inevitably a disruptive and exciting experience.
For me, the most rewarding moment came at the Startup Women dinner, which I had been working on with a few fantastic co workers for months. I feared that the message of inclusion and collaboration would be lost over assumptions that the initiative was just "another women-only thing." I underestimated the positive outlook of the community, though, and was blown away by the support that I witnessed at this particular event; men and women both opted to attend this dinner to show their passion around the subject. One community leader from Seattle -- a young man -- came up to me and said, "I elected to attend this dinner because I think this topic is the most important." Another leader from Palestine - another young man - came up to me to say, "Helping more women become leaders in my community is my top priority." Hearing this, and looking out at the crowd of engaged community members and genuinely concerned, invested, and optimistic people - I was filled with a type of hope for real change to unfold as a result of our work together. After studying gender and society for years now, I have been all-too familiar with feelings of resentment, even anger, as I try to understand how to evoke change around me; but this gathering and the sentiments shared by everyone there proved to me that we have a rare opportunity to make a real dent. We don't have time to be angry, we must keep working and show others how we work.
I would be dishonest if I said I wasn't ready to go home at the end of this whirlwind: it was probably one of the most exhausting things I've ever done, both physically and mentally. But this type of exhaustion is inevitable when you've just spent time with genuine, committed people in a hyper-social atmosphere, and it is all worth it for the experience of sharing what you are passionate about, learning about new people and new communities, and looking for ways to take action today for a better future.