Guest Post: What I Learned at the Penn Social Impact House - Generocity Philly


Sep. 5, 2013 2:11 pm

Guest Post: What I Learned at the Penn Social Impact House

The PSIH was one part academic institute, one part project incubator, and one part summer camp — a combination that proved to be both transformational and valuable. By coupling hands-on experiential workshops within a beautiful setting and interdisciplinary community, the PSIH created the ideal location for both formal and informal learning.

Thanks to the amazing generosity of Philly Give & Get’s supporters on CrowdTilt and my friends at Indy Hall, I was recently able to take part in the Schwartz Family Penn Social Impact House for two weeks this August as a 2013 Penn Social Impact Fellow.

The PSIH was one part academic institute, one part project incubator, and one part summer camp — a combination that proved to be both transformational and valuable. By coupling hands-on experiential workshops within a beautiful setting and interdisciplinary community, the PSIH created the ideal location for both formal and informal learning.

I learned so much that I’m going to be bringing to the implementation of Philly Give & Get’s MAKER Edition Auction on October 10th at Johnny Brenda’s. Here are some of my key takeaways:

1. Ask for help!

There was a huge emphasis on collaboration and innovation at PSIH as well as “learning out loud,” which is the idea that externalizing your thought process can bring other people into it and thus create more possibilities. This was a pretty scary concept for me. I’m very comfortable keeping things to myself until I’ve 100% worked them all out (or at least 90%). Only then do I present them to the world and ask for feedback.

Too often this results in missed opportunities for partnership as well as me completely burning/freaking myself out.

At PSIH, I learned that sometimes the only way out my jungle-y maze of a brain is to ask for help, early and often. Doing everything on your own is overrated.


2. Fail fast. Fail forward.

We were very lucky to have Kate Canales, director of design and innovation programs at the Lyle School of Engineering at SMU, as our instructor for a three-day Design Thinking course. The concept of “design thinking” was very new to me. Basically, it is a problem solving process that emphasizes iteration and modification. You’re always attempting to learn more about your environment and create products and services that empathize with the “user” and take their needs and desires into consideration, first and foremost. (You also use a lot of Post-It Notes. So. Many. Post-it. Notes.)

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Empathizing with the user can be hard to do.

It means the ideas in your brain, in isolation, have to get out into the world and be tested, over and over again. In other words, if you fail… great! Move forward. Failure is only detrimental to a project if you don’t learn something. Every “failure” in service or product design can be seen as an iteration to move the project in a better direction. Rapid prototyping can create lots of “failures” that ultimately propel a project to new possibilities and great heights.

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3. The company you keep can keep you accountable.

Surrounding yourself with inspirational, driven people is like receiving a shot of adrenaline with every conversation. From the 21 other Fellows that I lived, work, ate, swam, drove, laughed, and cleaned with, to the constant renewal of talent from the daily infusion of new mentors, there was always someone to talk to and learn from.

At PSIH we were encouraged to support one another, eat really well, exercise, and create a “culture that celebrates.” It resulted in lots of positivity and energy.

Sharing a common purpose — to create change and perfect our social ventures — meant that we all had a vested interest in building each other up, not tearing each other down.

We even had “accountabil-a-buddies” — dedicated partners that checked in with us every few days to make sure that each person was keeping pace and accomplishing their goals.

Mine was Will Morris, who encouraged me to connect with more mentors and pushed me to “write it all down” when I had new ideas that needed time to crystallize.

 4. Group hugs are awesome.

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I didn’t know it before, but I know it now.

Thank you to all of Philly Give & Get’s amazing supporters, the mentors and organizers at PSIH, and all of my fellow Fellows for creating a one-of-a-kind experience. Now… onto Philly Give & Get MAKER EDITION!


no textLansie Sylvia has worked as a fundraising, communications, and marketing professional in a variety of Philadelphia-based arts, culture, and youth education nonprofit organizations and is currently the Director of Communications at EHL Consulting. 
Lansie was selected as a 2013 Social Impact Fellow by the University of Pennsylvania because of her leadership as founder of Philly Give & Get.

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