2023 CSIS Alumni Gathering Recap

Ariel Schwartz
September 27, 2023
Alumni Stories, Event Summaries, Executive Programs

Last week, The Center for Social Impact Strategy congratulated its last batch of 2023 students for completing their program, and welcomed so many back to Penn at our annual alumni summit. A brief summary of both events follows. 

Certificate Ceremony for the 2023 Executive Program in Social Impact Strategy (SIS)

CSIS is proud to acknowledge the accomplishments of the 132 members of the 2023 cohort of the Executive Program in Social Impact Strategy (SIS). We marked the moment with a warm welcome and reflection from CSIS’ Ariel Schwartz, reflections from students Beau Lambert, Bree Davis, Héc Maldonado-Reis, and Paige Korbakes, and reflections and congratulations from Teaching Fellow Lindsay Young. Teaching Fellows Nicole Baptiste, Shamichael Hallman, Erin Harris, Kristen Rencher, and Lindsay Young honored our students by reading each of their names. We have so much gratitude for the teaching fellows mentioned above, as well as Gino Baltazar and Bronwen Henry for their attention and stewardship of the 2023 SIS class. Thanks also to Carl Sveen and Mandisa Thomas, who made this program run smoothly and shared so much knowledge and guidance with the students all year. Catch everyone’s comments by viewing the event’s recorded live stream on YouTube.

Gathering for all CSIS Alumni

With nearly 200 registrants, it was fantastic to see much of our student and alumni community online for the 2023 Alumni Summit. Our day together was short, and our agenda was packed.  Ariel Schwartz proudly welcomed all participants of CSIS executive and residential programs, from 2013 to today, back to Penn, and welcomed our ~190 2023 graduates across two executive programs and two impact houses into the alumni community. 

Lindsay Young guided our community in a Luck Circle, a format that we do in most of our programs that encourages the cultivation of meaningful connections and an opportunity for collective problem-solving and mentorship for each participant. 

We engaged in meaningful conversation around the book Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories from the Twenty-First Century, edited by Alice Wong as an output of her monumental Disability Visibility Project. Disability Visibility is this year’s One Book One SP2 selection. CSIS and NPL Alum Dom Kelly kicked off the session by describing some of the book’s themes and connecting them to his experience as a disabled person and an advocate for disability justice, most recently in his leadership on New Disabled South and New Disabled South Rising. Dom shared lessons from the book, including inviting the group to find ways to cultivate in all our social impact work a culture in which all people know they are cherished, respected, valued, and loved, help each other bring our whole selves to our work and find joy, and make sure to cultivate platforms for all to tell their own stories. Finally, in the discussion, Dom shared the 10 principles of disability justice by Sins Invalid.  

Cosmo Fujiyama Ghaznavi, a co-founder of CSIS, CSIS’ first managing director, and a beloved instructor in many of our early programs returned to share an update on her life as a mother of two sons, her work at The Management Center, and offer some reflections on her current work with changemakers. Cosmo invited engaging with Preferences, Traditions, and Requirements to combat burnout in a way that doesn’t put too much burden on an individual’s self-care, inviting us to notice and dismantle the unhelpful traditions of hustle culture, proving oneself, and fake it til you make it and cultivate more constructive ones around hope and possibility. She left us with two strong recommendations: First, Cosmo suggested that healthy and sustainable social impact organizations make the implicit explicit — our boundaries, what we do and don’t have, what we can and can’t do, how we will and won’t support the stakeholders to our work. This is a key tool in putting the conspire-and-align management approach into practice.  Second, Cosmo called on the group to continue our luck circle tradition, creating structured and frequent opportunities for everyone in our community to experience lucky breaks, and also to be careful to include people from many different identities and to keep expanding our circle. Second, 

Scott Shigeoka, an alum and an alumni facilitator in our Impact Houses program, shared about his new book, Seek: How Curiosity Can Transform Your Life and Change the World. Scott shared about his experiences exploring many divisive spaces and observing how so many people across differences are merely seeking a sense of belonging, acceptance, and community. Scott’s incredibly engaging stories sparked so much interest in reading further. 

Raja Schaar offered a keynote on “Inclusive and Ethical Design Futures,” in which she observed the ease with which the genre of speculative fiction has predicted, in plenty of time to adjust our plans, so many of the potential pitfalls of our celebrated modern innovations — plastics, AI scares, Minority Report warned about predictive policing, White Noise depicted the toxic chemical fallout of a train derailment in Ohio. As co-designers of our lives and our future, Raja referenced Octavia Butler’s Parable of the Sower to observe that we change everything we touch, and everything we touch changes us. If we can predict so many harms, we can, in fact be more prepared, and fiction can often help us think through our decision-making and how we can make better choices for all of society. As responsible designers, we must attend to the long-term impact of our designs, and Raja shared a framework for ethical life-cycle analysis of our design plans. Raja concluded by inviting us to refer to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as a source of inspiration for what to work on as well as a place to start assessing the performance of our interventions.  

CSIS Program Manager Carl Sveen resented about the many opportunities that alumni have invited to continue their participation in our community: by joining our private LinkedIn and Facebook groups, joining a monthly private call, applying for Teaching Fellowship, Nominating a friend or colleague to join one of our Executive Programs, and continuing their education in another CSIS program or the Master’s in Nonprofit Leadership. And, of course, joining us at future alumni summits and our other workshops. 

Finally, CSIS co-founder and frequent instructor Kaveh Sadeghian invoked a reflection on this liminal time of year, a harvest time, a time to take stock and integrate what we’ve been cultivating throughout the year. Kaveh invited us to develop an ability to hold the paradox, of self, where we end and others begin, and the interdependence that we all have for thriving. He reminded us that rest is resistance and recommended Bittersweet by Susan Cain, quoting, “Let hope and sorrow dance together as peers.” In sharing a poem by Rumi, he reminded us that our wonderful community is “a spring overflowing its springbox.” Hear hear!  

Next year, we will have a special alumni event on campus. Thank you to all alumni for joining us at this year’s Alumni Summit and for all that you do to make the world a better place. We look forward to connecting with you at future CSIS events. 

Thank you for your interest in the Center for Social Impact Strategy! Follow our LinkedIn page to hear about the brilliant world changers who participate in our programs, read our 2023-2024 Program Outlook about upcoming learning opportunities, or sign up for our upcoming information sessions to learn more and hear from our team. Applications for the Executive Program in Digital Media for Social Impact (DMSI) and the Executive Program in Social Impact Strategy (SIS) are due November 19, but those who apply by October 22, 2023 receive a $500 discount.

Our shorter program upcoming offering is Penn Social Impact Accelerator online Apr 11-12, 2024; May 1-2; or May 9-10, 2024; or in-person June 5-7, 2024 

CSIS executive education graduates can apply to the Master of Science in Nonprofit Leadership (NPL) in an accelerated, on-campus or online format. Learn more at the link provided above or reach out at