Reflections on SXSW

Cara -and-Opp-Baby by Cara Willis   •  

As some of you may have read via Opportunity Nation’s Senior Advisor Sarah Beaulieu’s Huffington Post blog: I Took My Baby to SXSW and Lived to Tell About It, I was beyond honored to attend SXSW Interactive as one of five Interactive Scholarship winners this past month.  Sarah and I (accompanied by Opportunity Baby) headed down to Austin, Texas to immerse ourselves in technology and introduce a whole new audience to the Opportunity Index.

We kicked off our SXSW experience with the annual Dewey Winburne Community Service Awards.  SXSW Interactive is remarkably committed to promoting social good, and honors their co-founder, Dewey Winburne, by recognizing 10 “digital do-gooders” each year. Social good programming was scheduled throughout the entire festival, including sessions with Participant Media,, the IF Hummingbird Foundation, the Case Foundation and more. 

There were so many incredible sessions and workshops to attend.  I found that I couldn’t possibly go to all of them. Some of the (many) highlights:

  • Women in Tech lunch and meetup organized by IEEE, Dell and AT&T
  • A panel on start-ups and advocacy with House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) and Rep. Suzan Delbene (D-WA)
  • Keynote address by Chelsea Clinton where she answered one of my questions via Twitter (Did you know that the original CARE packages to send food relief to Europe after World War II were organized by a coalition of organizations? Loved learning that and thinking about the power of Opportunity Nation’s coalition)
  • Workshop with Upworthy team members, Adam Mordecai, Rebecca Eisenberg and Joe Lamour.
  • Dinner with some new nonprofit friends, hosted by the Chronicle of Philanthropy
  • Mentor sessions with Viacom’s Marta Voda, Simply Hired’s Kristy Stromberg and General Motor’s Mary Henige.
Chairman Issa, Rep. DelBene and 1776 Global Affairs Dir, Brandon Pollack discuss start-ups and advocacy.

Chairman Issa, Rep. DelBene and 1776 Global Affairs Dir, Brandon Pollack discuss start-ups and advocacy.

Of course I had to check out some of the headliners too (i.e. Edward Snowden, George Takei, Mark Cuban, Mindy Kaling… and I even spun the Price is Right wheel – note to self, I need to workout if I ever get on the real show, that wheel is HEAVY).

But the biggest takeaway for me was continuing to drive home Opportunity Nation’s mission of breaking down silos and encouraging more cross-sector collaboration to expand opportunity for students and young adults.  The majority of attendees at SXSW were representatives and leaders of national employers who – as Interactive Director Hugh Forrest said – overwhelmingly respond on SXSW surveys that they want to learn more about social good and their impact. 


I attempt to spin the Price is Right wheel

I am excited to follow-up and reconnect with all of my new friends and connections that I made over five hectic, fun days in Texas.  I am so unbelievably grateful to Tammy Lynn Gilmore and the rest of the SXSW Interactive team for this amazing opportunity to learn and connect with leaders from around the world!

Cara Saudelli Willis is Opportunity Nation’s Director of Communications.  

Opportunity Nation sends our thoughts and condolences to those affected by the tragic events on March 13 during this year’s festival.  SXSW and the Austin Community Foundation have partnered together to launch the SXSW Cares Fund. Learn more about SXSW Cares.  

Cara-Willis-Bio-Photo Cara Willis

Cara Willis is the Director of Communications at Opportunity Nation, leading the campaign’s efforts to make economic opportunity a central part of the national dialogue. Cara also directs all of the campaign’s major events, including the National Opportunity Summit. Read Cara's bio.

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