It wasn’t long ago that Jen Padgett went off the grid to live in a yurt in the Santa Cruz mountains without a clue about how to build things, farm the land or rely on solar power. She figured, the best way to learn is out of necessity.

Seven years later, she’s head of a tech-oriented nonprofit, one that develops data-driven solutions to poverty and homelessness. Though it’s a complete 180 from those days roughing it in the mountains, the same dream-it-do-it ethic applies.

As CEO of the Community Technology Alliance (CTA)—named this year as one of the best nonprofits to work for—she had led efforts to house more than 1,000 chronically homeless people and continues to work toward a goal of cutting the local poverty rate in half by 2020. Her organization provides phones to the homeless and has merged five local communities onto a single software platform to allow them to use money and resources more efficiently. In 2012, Silicon Valley Business Journal named her a “40 under 40″ for doubling the size of CTA and positioning it “as the technological backbone for nonprofit social service delivery in Silicon Valley.”

More recently, Padgett has expanded her vision to a global scale. In 2013, she helped come up with the idea of sending mobile hotspots to remote villages around the world. BeaconPack, a “beacon in a backpack,” leverages educational technology to connect people, stimulate local economics and inspired people in remote communities to learn about science, technology, engineering and mathematics. sat down with her to learn about her latest big idea.

What inspired you to approach technology as a social justice issue?

Community Technology Alliance was born 22 years ago and was inspired by the non-profit community working to end homeless who wanted a technology partner to think through the implications, policy, implementation and upkeep of that kind of infrastructure. I was inspired to work here because it is somewhere I could apply my skills to help in the fight to end homelessness.

The technology that we use, the integrity in which we implement privacy, data collection, sound systems and policy are all major factors in Social Justice as a whole. We must utilize technology to serve and the most important part of that service is to protect. Data from our systems allow for a way to effectively highlight and advocate for social justice.

What’s your vision for BeaconPack? How would you like to see it grow?

BeaconPack is just one of our many projects and is in an incubation phase right now. We’ve found a home for it to be incubated further at Santa Clara University’s Frugal Innovation Lab. Five students are working on the project now and will continue to work on it this fall as their Senior Project. I’d love for one or two of the students decide to turn this into a full-fledged business and make BeaconPack it’s own entity.

How has it been received so far in the communities you’ve reached? What communities have you brought it to, to date?

Since BeaconPack is in it’s incubation phase right now we have identified a partner and community in Ghana. The pilot project launched this month.

Can you tell us about the technology projects you have going in Silicon Valley, like your work with CTA and your outreach to the homeless?

The biggest project we have going on right now is the Homeless Management Information System (HMIS). Dozens of nonprofits collect and share information on thousands of clients. The system is being utilized to understand homelessness, advocate with the information we have, and to help coordinate service delivery and case manage clients.

In the works is a robust reporting system that will lay on top of HMIS and give better access to data and data visualizations that partners can use to understand the data. Also, a mobile app for outreach and a project called Mobile4All that provides a $20/month unlimited plan for homeless and very low-income.

Who inspires you? 

The list is too long to tell you everyone. Lots of people have inspirational qualities and I try to emulate the ones that I admire. I love ballsy people who take risks and just go for it. Dreamers living out their dreams. I also have a huge admiration for the Dalai Lama, who says kindness is his religion. In whatever I’m doing, I try to be kind.

What do you love most about San Jose?

I love that San Jose is so culturally diverse. Every day can be a lesson in culture, geography, history. It’s a great place to do business and really centrally located, close to San Fran and the beach.

Where would you have your last meal on earth? 

In San Jose—probably Bill’s Café. It’s my go-to and for my last meal, I’d probably want comfort food.

Where is a cool place to take an out-of-towner?

I like the Tech Museum. Everybody remembers the purple building.

Where is your favorite hole-in-the-wall place?

First Street Billiards. It’s been awhile—but I love to play pool and I love music – it has both!