By Steve Winter, on the scene at SXSW in Austin, Texas 

This is us.

We are Washington, D.C. … Northern Virginia … and Suburban Maryland.

We are the Washington, D.C. Economic Partnership, hosting for the fourth consecutive year the WeDC House; we are superstar chef José Andrés, serving on a panel entitled Changing the World Through Food; we are former presidential speechwriter Jon Favreau; and we are Michael Jordan’s business manager and spokesperson Estee Portnoy.

And we’re all here in Austin, Texas, for the South-By-Southwest (SXSW) interactive, film and music festival, showing how we impact the world around us through innovation, technology, philanthropy and public service.

For five days in this Texas town, WDCEP, Andrade, Favreau, Portnoy and others from the National Capital area are allowing us to see how the world is changing through their eyes, their vision and their action.

Yes, this is most definitely us …

Yet while Andrés, Portnoy, et al are showing us how their actions impact others, so too are a small cadre of Hollywood luminaries who, for the past 19 months, have provided us with a unique view of how we look at our lives, how we affect those around us, and how we can truly make a difference in a world that’s constantly changing and evolving.

Through the brilliance of Executive Producer Ken Olin, a team of talented writers and producers and an incredibly relatable yet diverse cast, the NBC hit television show This Is Us is also in Austin, providing all of us with a rare opportunity to see ourselves through the show’s own unique lens.

What does a comedic drama about thirty-something triplets and their extended families coming to terms with the untimely death of their virtuous yet slightly flawed father while dealing with their own personal dysfunctions have in common with South-By-Southwest?

Plenty, it would appear, according to Executive Producer Isaac Aptaker.  “Just the fact that we’re here at South-By is so meaningful to us,” he said.  “We always hear about the public reaction to our show while we’re in production, but seeing peoples’ responses right here, first-hand, makes us realize the impact this family ‘dramedy’ has on our fans.”

Impact, quite apparently, wears many hats.  Here in Austin, it begins with …

 The Presidential Speechwriter

A former staffer on John Kerry’s 2004 presidential bid and later the speechwriter for President Obama for six years, Jon Favreau joined CNN pundit and former Obama Chief Presidential Campaign Strategist David Axelrod for a live taping of The Axe Files podcast.  For more than an hour, Favreau and Axelrod swapped stories and reminisced about their time together in Washington and the impact they both had on the 44th President’s administration.

Among Favreau’s most poignant comments was the understanding that politics is very much more a marathon than a sprint.  “Even a great president who believes strongly and represents everything you believe in isn’t going to fix everything,” Favreau said.  “Politics is an everyday struggle.  I’m often asked ‘how long will it take to repair the damage caused by the Trump administration if we ultimately defeat him in 2020?’   Under a perfect world, I suppose we can all go back home, relive our lives and not worry about politics anymore; but it just doesn’t work that way.

“If there is any silver lining to this crisis, it’s the fact that we are in the process of creating an understanding among young people that we’re in this for the long haul.”

Officially tagged as Axe Files episode #224, the Podcast went live on Monday, March 12.

The Humanitarian Chef

José Andrés, meanwhile, internationally-recognized culinary innovator, author, educator, TV personality and chef/owner of several prominent D.C. dining institutions, spent an hour with former Washington Post and Wall Street Journal veteran Kara Swisher, now the co-founder of Recode, and another hour on a panel entitled Changing the World through Food.

Through his action-based non-profit World Central Kitchen, Andrés is dedicated to providing smart solutions to hunger and poverty throughout the world by building “smart kitchens” and training personnel in Central America and the Caribbean, South America and Africa.  He is now legendary for his relief activity in Puerto Rico where, in the aftermath of Hurricane Maria, his efforts delivered more than 3.5 million meals to 70 different locations throughout the island.

“My main interest for being here at South-by-Southwest is a discussion about coming up with a system to provide food for emergencies and setting up a program that allows Americans to take care of their fellow Americans after a disaster,” he said.  “We always know there’s going to be earthquakes in California; in a few months there will be more hurricanes and more tornados.  It seems we are always reacting and not being proactive.  We have to be prepared and have a clear set of guidelines before a catastrophe.  My role here is to help spread the word that we should learn from our experiences and participate – in a bi-partisan way – to prepare in advance for when these situations arise so we can feed people after an emergency.

“What we saw in Puerto Rico should never happen again here in America.  That’s the message I’m looking to relate.”

Michael’s Business Manager

Headquartered in Washington, D.C., Estee Portnoy oversees the day-to-day business and marketing activities for NBA legend Michael Jordan.  In this role, she has worked extensively with the longtime Chicago Bulls star (who finished his career as a Washington Wizard) for more than two decades, managing and growing the Jordan brand and public persona.  She played a major role on Jordan’s behalf while dealing with such companies as Nike, Gatorade, Upper Deck and others, facilitating strategy, promotions, licensing, media and ad campaigns after launching her career in support of Jordan’s role in the live-action animated sports comedy film Space Jam.

At SXSW, Portnoy partnered with Asani Swann, VP of Business Strategy for Carmelo Anthony’s Melo Enterprises and Larry Miller, Nike’s Jordan Brand President for a sports-focused panel entitled “Business Beyond the Ball” where the speakers focused on their experiences along with the diverse opportunities available within the sports industry.

Among her most relevant accomplishments was the role Portnoy played in positioning Jordan as the world’s first pure celebrity endorsement athlete.  “One of things I loved about working with Michael is that he was authentic,” she said.  “The secret to that success was making sure that we only supported the projects that were meaningful, and that really made sense for Michael.  When we ventured outside of our comfort zone it usually turned out to be not such a great idea.  Ultimately, we probably turned down some very good opportunities but in the end, we did the right thing for Michael … and his brand.”

 The Public-Private Partnership

A six-year fixture in Austin designed to draw attention to Washington’s burgeoning start-up community, WDCEP once again hosted the WeDC House which served as a showcase to all things innovation from our region.

“This year’s focus at SXSW is the message of inclusiveness and innovation within the Nation’s Capital,” said Keith Sellars, President and CEO of the Washington, D.C. Economic Partnership (WDCEP).  “Our secret sauce this year is our ambassadors’ program.  We have 10 companies – all local startups – who are helping us bring that message to the community, both those gathered here in Austin and back home in D.C.”

In addition to a dynamic party celebrating the best of DC-centric music, food and drink, the WeDC House presented two full days of diversity-focused programming including sessions on female entrepreneurship, a “Black Girls Venture Pop Up and Pitch Competition,” the building of an LGBT inclusive workplace and a political playbook conversation led by POLITICO authors Anna Palmer and Jake Sherman.

*   *   *

Favreau, Andrés, Portnoy, Sellars and others from the Nation’s Capital have clearly done a quality job of showcasing the impact our town has made – and continues to make – on the various vertical industries represented here in Austin.  At the same time, a case can truly be made that a TV show like This Is Us provides a similar window to our world.  As we are all too well aware, it often takes the power of Hollywood to hammer home a concept, and this tears-and-laughter-infused series about the Pearson family seems to achieve the exact same thing, albeit on a far more personal level.

 And So … Hollywood Speaks

On Tuesday morning, This Is Us castmembers Milo Ventimiglia, Mandy Moore and Justin Hartley joined Show Creator Dan Fogelman and Executive Producer Aptaker for a highly-entertaining a panel discussion that effectively wrapped up the program’s second season.  The night before a crowd of more than a thousand fans wound around the block for an advance look at Tuesday night’s season finale, and a personal glimpse at the stars of the to whom most admit they can clearly relate.

By Steve Winter, president of Brotman|Winter|Fried, a Sage Communications Company

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