The Schwartz Family Penn Social Impact House brought together 22 Penn students and recent alumni for two weeks to design effective solutions for social change. Three SP2 affiliates share their experiences.
Celina de Sola, MSW’00 – Glasswing International
“I didn’t know I was going to start a nonprofit social enterprise,” Celina de Sola, MSW’00 and co-founder of Glasswing International, said. “I have no doubt that the skill, knowledge, experiences, and friendships I acquired through SP2 helped shape me as a person and as a professional.”
de Sola is the founder of Glasswing International, a nonprofit which works to promote strategic social investment through the creation of networks among businesses, foundations, governmental, and nonprofit organizations. The company was founded in El Salvador and currently operates in six countries throughout Central America, benefiting hundreds of thousands of individuals and mobilizing over 50,000 volunteers through programs in public schools, health facilities, and communities.
“The Schwartz Family Penn Social Impact House was incredibly inspiring, provided a space for reflection and deep thought, and injected in me a renewed sense of passion for the impact we are trying to achieve as a team,” de Sola explained. “There are few, if any, opportunities like this to learn from so many leaders in this industry as well as other young and inspirational entrepreneurs.”
Glasswing International began almost seven years ago, hoping to leverage and integrate community resources and achieve a greater impact with less funding. After working with mentors like Dr. Sara Minard at the Penn Social Impact House, de Sola says they will try to develop stronger partnerships with organizations and institutions to deepen and expand the impact they have.
“SP2 prepared me to think creatively and holistically about how to approach challenges in health, education, and other areas of development,” de Sola reflected. “[My experiences there] illustrated to me the importance of empowering people rather than just solving people’s problems.”
Cherlyn Lim, MSW Candidate – Project in development
“I really want to start a connection revolution to bring together marginalized populations and help them reconnect back to the community,” Cherlyn Lim, MSW Candidate and Penn Social Impact House Fellow explained.
Lim, a probation officer in Singapore, was inspired to reach out to at-risk youth and the aging population.
“Working with youth has always been my passion. For some students, traditional school is just not the right fit,” Lim said. “I also saw how my grandma was deteriorating and losing connection with her community. The question I had as a social worker was, ‘what can these people offer and who can benefit?’”
Lim’s solution is an intergenerational project that will connect the marginalized aging population and at-risk youth through storytelling. Aging adults will be paired with youth production teams to have their stories recorded. The youth teams will have mentors and resources to create professional grade multi-media recordings of the stories. Finally, the recordings will be shared at a community event highlighting the aging persons and the youth production teams.
“Isolation is a serious problem because it puts people at risk for a lot of mental health issues. I wanted to develop a way to reconnect these marginalized populations back to the community,” Lim explained. “Through this process the youth will gain mentors and materials to build out a portfolio while the aging persons will have found some meaning and purpose to their life and experiences.”
A large part of the entrepreneurial process is developing a program and getting it off the ground. Part of Lim’s process was attending the Schwartz Family Penn Social Impact House this summer.
“I feel so blessed to be selected! I have no idea why I was picked, but I’m so glad I was,” Lim gushed. “I remember the first day when I started I had no idea how to articulate my idea. Hannah [Lane, one of the program organizers,] really helped me apply the lessons of design thinking to better organize and articulate my ideas.”
This semester Lim is doing an internship at the Department of Human Services in Philadelphia. She has been given the opportunity to pilot this 10-week program through DHS and is currently working out the implementation details with community partners.
“The assumption is that by reconnecting the marginalized groups we can reduce feelings of isolation,” Lim said. “If this could have a positive contribution in Philadelphia that would be really exciting.”
Lansie Sylvia, NPL’10 – Philly Give & Get
“With entrepreneurship there is so much focus on the founder as the leader. The dominant attitude is that if something is successful, it is the leader’s triumph, and if something fails, it’s the leader’s fault. You need to be invested in everything and that can feel very singular,” said Lansie Sylvia, NPL’10, from the patio of the 2013 Schwartz Family Penn Social Impact House, looking out over the wooded hills of Berkshires, Mass..
Sylvia, Founder of Philly Give & Get and one of 22 Penn students and alumni to be accepted to the fellowship program, was inspired by the idea that bringing people together and engaging them outside of their comfort zone can lower barriers that often hinder engaging dialogue.
“[Philly Give & Get is] a new spin on the traditional date auction. Instead of auctioning off bachelors and bachelorettes, we auction off valuable time with local experts and artisans, coupled with unique experiences in Philadelphia,” Sylvia explained.
The organization, which Sylvia founded in January 2013, has already hosted two auctions, both of which have been extremely successful. The first auction, held during Philly Tech Week in April 2013, raised more than $5,000 for the Philadelphia Center for Arts & Technology, a nonprofit run out of North Philadelphia that teaches children science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics. Sylvia applied for the Schwartz Family Penn Social Impact House only days after her organization’s first event.
“I was busy thinking, ‘Is this idea even going to work?’ Now that I know what the program is like, I realize I could have brought a failed venture into the program and started to rebuild and figure out what needed to change,” Sylvia said.
“We would love to figure out how to make Philly Give & Get more impactful by looking at a specific stakeholder community and really enhancing their experience. Right now everyone benefits equally at a middle level,” Sylvia explained. “Being at the Penn Social Impact House has really helped me to engage with these higher level discussions.”