Welcome to the Penn Social Impact House blog! We kick off another year of PSIH in the beautiful land that is Great Barrington, MA. Being an East Coast kid with a love for the abundant green, I believe there’s no better place to remove oneself from the daily stresses of life and facilitate thinking than a remote sea of green (sorry beach and palm trees - you don’t do the trick).

As the fellows, staff, and mentors build a community here, I’ll be your unofficial MC – Master of (Blog) Communications – highlighting the amazing work going on here, including everything from reflections on the activities to experiences with mentors. My name is Eric Shapiro, a rising senior at Penn and a 2014 PSIH fellow. If you want to learn more about me and the rest of the fellows check the rest of this blog out. Check back in here as the days progress to learn even more about us and what’s going on here! I won’t be doing this every day (all fellows will be contributing!), but given that the school year is finally over and something more exciting has begun (i.e. PSIH), I’ll dedicate this first blog to reflections and lessons.

Having just been at Penn’s 258th commencement and now coming off some energizing introductory activities, a few phrases from both are stuck in my head and, maybe more importantly, my heart. John Legend, R&B singer and songwriter, left this year’s graduates with some wise words about love. Love to Legend is active; it requires reading, traveling, and interacting with others at the minimum. Love goes beyond personal success but defines your professional success, namely in the form of passion. But none of these make love easy because the “only way you’ll reach any height in life and in love is by taking the chance that you might fall.” These were great words, yes, but they seemed limiting to me at the moment. How can words, and thus love, change the world if those things are only shared between close friends and family? And then PSIH started.

Scott asked us to find a stranger (which for most of the fellows here was almost everyone else). We were tasked with sitting down next to our partners and talk about the question Scott asked until he asked another one. There was no form or structure to this. Simply talk. And that’s what we all did. We shared our singing habits, our proudest moments, and who we would take to dinner, among many other things. What seemed like an innocuous act – talking, some would say networking – suddenly became an exercise in creating a bond with someone else. The more vulnerable I was, the more I felt it was reciprocated by my partner. We walked away with a deeper relationship and I realized that love could be fostered with almost complete strangers. By being vulnerable and carefully listening, I suddenly had a new friend.

I share this story because, more than a description of the beautiful house we’re in or the awesome people at this house, this activity illustrates the bonding and community building that is at the core of PSIH. It’s only just begun and yet so much has already happened with such a simple exercise! As an entrepreneur surrounded by entrepreneurs, I have to agree with John Legend when he says, more than cool detachment or irony, passion, and by extension love, “makes you a better entrepreneur, a better leader, a better philanthropist” and a better human. I cannot wait to see how the bonds formed here push us as individuals and challenge us to love ourselves, those around us, and even a bunch of strangers. It is with these bonds that we can further develop our own passions for social entrepreneurship and hone our ideas to change the world.

Until next time,