Interview with SXSW Interactive Festival Scholarship Winner Cara Willis

Written by Tammy Lynn Gilmore | Thursday, Dec 5, 2013

Cara Willis is one of the 2014 non-profit scholarship winners for SXSW Interactive

One of the opportunities for people doing great things in the world is the SXSW Interactive Scholarship Program. We were thrilled to announce our five winners in September and now we would like to tell you a bit more about their work. In that spirit, we gave the short version of our Proust-esque questionnaire to Cara Willis of Opportunity Nation.

What person inspires you?

I find inspiration from so many people, both in my professional life, and my "artistic" life (in my spare time, I'm the Coach for the Northeastern University Dance Team). Right now, I am particularly inspired by Malala Yousafzai (everyone should find inspiration in her!). One of my all-time favorite sources of inspiration is RuPaul. His intelligence, wit, confidence, and support for individuality is unmatched – "If you can't love yourself, how you gonna love somebody else?"

What is the first website you check in the morning?

Definitely Twitter, which is how I aggregate all of my news. I follow a lot of diverse sources – everything from MSNBC, the Atlantic, Politico, FOX News, etc. to People and Us Weekly. And of course the Twitter feed for the Boston subway line (#MBTA) so I know if I am going to be late to work that morning.

What do you hope to accomplish in your work for good in 2014?

Opportunity Nation just launched the 2013 Opportunity Index (the subject of my scholarship essay). The launch was beyond our wildest imaginations – we received unprecedented media coverage (hundreds of broadcast and written articles, totaling over 900,000,000 media impressions) and it brought national attention to the 5.8 million "disconnected youth" in this country – young adults not in school or working. The website paints an interactive picture of the landscape of opportunity in the U.S. and enables users to connect directly with organizations in the Opportunity Nation Coalition who are committed to restoring the American Dream for all Americans.

In 2014, I hope to capitalize on this attention by continuing to grow the Index as a tool for the "opportunity" field and transition the conversation to one that is solutions-oriented – it is going to take a comprehensive, cross-sector and bipartisan approach to ensuring the next generation has an equal shot at the American Dream.

Some of the coverage we've received include:
Associated Press
Today Show
Wall Street Journal
FOX News

What sessions at the 2014 SXSW Interactive Festival are you most looking forward to attending at the 2014 SXSW Interactive Festival?

So many to choose from! Some standouts to me are the ones that encourage cross-sector collaborations and I'm a huge data nerd so panels like Why Nonprofits (Should) <3 Data Journalism and the Case Foundation's The Intersection of Big Data and the Social Sector have caught my eye thus far. As a former staffer for an elected official / candidate for public office, I also LOVE to see politicians embracing technology themselves so it's great to see a session like Rep. Issa's Policymakers and Startups Can Build Ecosystems.