Dallas to Host National Gathering of Social Changemakers: The 2023 Upswell Summit

The Upswell Summit is coming to Texas for the first time on Nov. 15–17. The Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Independent Sector is joining forces with community partner Social Venture Partners Dallas for a three-day conclave of minds, missions, and movements.

After three years of virtual events, the annual summit is back in person.

Calling all philanthropists, community leaders, social change organizations, and movement leaders: Dallas is set to be a nexus for social innovators as the city welcomes the 2023 Upswell Summit, a conclave of minds, missions, and movements from Nov. 15-17 at the Sheraton Dallas.

The Washington, D.C.-based Independent Sector’s annual convening is a meeting ground for changemakers nationwide. The nonprofit launched the Upswell platform in 2018 as a central hub for folks working to build a better future.

The Dallas summit is its first in-person summit in three years, after early events in Washington, D.C., Chicago, and Los Angeles. This year’s summit is expected to host more than 650 leaders and includes two free, virtual “Upswell Pop-Ups.”

Tony Fleo

Independent Sector prioritizes community-driven initiatives and works to localize its annual gatherings. In Dallas, the nonprofit is collaborating with Social Venture Partners Dallas, helmed by CEO Tony Fleo. 

SVP Dallas, with its tagline of “Do Good Better,” is known for its own annual social impact conference every fall, bigBANG!  This year, Fleo and SVP Dallas have put its long-running conference on pause to collaborate with Independent Sector on the national event. But bigBANG! will return in 2024, he says.

Fleo, with his deep connections in the region, is working to make the Upswell convening a rich experience in Dallas-Fort Worth. The SVP Dallas CEO, a “man of action” in the impact sector, says the collaboration with Independent Sector is an “excellent opportunity to welcome a national lens on local, innovative social justice and equity solutions.”

It will also inform SVP Dallas’ “thinking throughout the year and on the bigBANG! stage in October 2024,” he added in a statement.

With missions aligned, SVP Dallas will work with Independent Sector to “engage local leaders in the programming and design of Upswell 2023, including ensuring a track of programming on impact investing at the Summit,” according to the announcement.

Akilah Watkins

Akilah Watkins, president and CEO of Independent Sector is “grateful to have SVP Dallas as a strategic thought partner for Upswell 2023.” Watkins says local leaders “hold the wisdom and experience to tackle our biggest problems at the center of our innovation and solutions to create a just nation where all people thrive”

In a statement, Watkins said the collaboration with SVP Dallas “can serve as a model for the way national and local organizations bring their efforts together to ensure a high-quality program for all social changemakers.

What to expect at Upswell 2023

At the 2023 summit, cross-sector leaders will discuss nonprofit advocacy, trust, and impact, focusing on the challenges and achievements in communities often overlooked, a representative said in an email to Dallas Innovates.

Taking the stage, leaders from tech companies like Microsoft, think tanks such as the Aspen Institute, industry publications like The Chronicle of Philanthropy, as well as groups dedicated to Indigenous issues, volunteer service, data analysis, and non-profit advocacy like the Native Ways Federation, AmeriCorps, Edelman Data & Intelligence, and the National Council of NonProfits, will share “candid insights” on the charitable sector.  

The three-day summit experience, from Wednesday Nov. 15 to Friday Nov. 17, offers community dinners, tours, workshops, demonstrations, focus groups, and a “Public Square.” It’s all designed to exchange ideas and lessons learned, and to catalyze solutions.

Pre-event “Community Dinners” will start on Tuesday, Nov. 14, ahead of the summit.

The 2023 Upswell Summit event is backed by sponsors such as Walmart, Allstate Foundation, United Way Metropolitan Dallas, AT&T Foundation, Amazon, Communities Foundation of Texas, Rainwater Charitable Foundation, Toyota Foundation, and Vistra Energy, according to the nonprofit.

[Courtesy photo]

Strengthening civil society

Every year, the Upswell Summit focuses on strengthening a collective sense of belonging and trust, prioritizing self and community care, and building a healthy and racially just society, the group says. 

Independent Sector emphasizes the importance of civil society, which has been called a “bedrock of democracy,” as essential for a healthy society. The group works to strengthen that civil society as a collaborative space where people and groups can engage in dialogue, advocacy, and action to promote the common good and solve pressing issues.

Upswell’s focus on co-creation with partner-hosts like SVP Dallas aims to bring about real, feet-on-the-ground change by understanding and working within local contexts.

[Courtesy photo]

About Upswell Summit

The Upswell Summit, which hosted its first event in 2018, is the evolution of the Independent Sector Annual Conference. Established in 1980, nonprofit Independent Sector has organized annual meetings for sector leaders for years. The renaming to Upswell was a reimagining to embed a more community-driven and place-based design into its annual convenings, Independent Sector said.

Since then, Upswell said it has brought together—both in-person and virtually—more than 12,500 changemakers, including community activists, nonprofit leaders, philanthropists, business and corporate leaders, academics, and journalists for main stage presentations, panel presentations, workshops, and other opportunities to reflect, share ideas, and build relationships.

Independent Sector said it’s the only national membership organization that brings together a diverse community of changemakers, nonprofits, foundations, and corporations working to strengthen civil society and ensure all people in the United States have the opportunity to thrive.

You can learn more and register here.

Lance Murray contributed to this report. 

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