CSIS Alum Spotlight: Stephanie Fenniri

Vaughn Sayers
October 9, 2019
Alumni Stories

Gain insight about Stephanie’s social impact journey through a CSIS interview and learn how you can grow as a social innovator, entrepreneur, community alchemist, and/or intrapreneur! A Dallas, TX native Stephanie Fenniri brings her endearing spirit to Philadelphia’s social sector. Before creating positive change in the Philadelphia community, a fateful google search brought Stephanie to The Center for Social Impact Strategy (CSIS) where she was accepted into the Executive Program in Social Impact Strategy and eventually became a graduate of the Nonprofit Leadership Program at The School of Social Policy and Practice (SP2) here at Penn. 

How would you describe your experience in the Executive Program and in the hybrid NPL? What were your favorite classes, instructors, or learning moments?

The Executive Program in Social Impact Strategy has been a life changing experience! As someone committed to being a lifelong learner, I’m always pursuing some type of learning, but I never imagined I would feel this way about a program. After my first convening, I knew I’d found my people. We all wanted to make a difference, were committed to creating a positive impact in the world and striving to find the tools to help us achieve change for our communities. Some of my favorite moments are those that I’ve spent with my 2017 and now the 2019 cohort over Jamouts, which are video conferencing sessions when you can connect with global changemakers. The personal connections are incredibly supportive and the global network is vast enough that you can find someone in any region of the world who is willing to assist you. The common thread that connects us is our desire to create tangible social impact in our communities. I also have to highlight my love/hate relationship with the Business Models for Social Enterprise course. While I had extensive experience creating presentations for work, I had never assembled one for myself and I found the exercise both exciting and daunting. Pitching your own idea is something everyone should experience! 

Being granted four units from the CSIS Exec program towards Hybrid NPL not only alleviated my course load, but also made it possible for me to work on my MS in Nonprofit Leadership  while working full-time. I’m not sure I would have pursued a second master’s degree if this weren’t the case. My favorite classes were: The Difficult Art of Listening with Dean John L. Jackson because I learned about the history of acoustemology and how to listen more intently; and, Social Impact Measurement with Sidney R. Hargro because he emphasized the value of lived experiences in the nonprofit/social impact sectors. 

What are you currently working on?

I recently launched RK Impact which is a Philadelphia-based consultancy that strives to strengthen grassroots nonprofit organizations through capacity building, social impact measurements, and racial equity and inclusion training. We are committed to fostering social impact in immigrant, minority-led, and LGBTQ-led nonprofits. RK Impact supports the nonprofit sector by donating 10% of all revenue to organizations whose missions aim to shift the social paradigm towards equity and inclusion. 

What inspired you to start this consultancy venture?

I owe this idea to my CSIS experience! Over the last three years, I’ve met hundreds of talented social impact change agents who have forced me out of my comfort zone and challenged me to think bigger. The populations I plan to engage align with my personal values. I believe that it’s incredibly important to strengthen populations and organizations that have historically been marginalized due to social and environmental inequities. Plus, my parents are immigrant entrepreneurs and are always starting a new business. I think it was only a matter of time before I started my own. 

What is the approach both you and RK Impact take to help grassroots organizations build capacity and measure social impact?

My first approach is to listen and observe. I never assume that an organization is broken, but rather that a few strategic changes could increase their impact. It’s all about perspective. Building capacity means understanding the difference between “nice-to-haves” and “must-haves.” What must an organization do in order to operate successfully versus what can be addressed later? These are questions that organizations have to slow down to answer before they decide to continue operating at 200mph. Measuring social impact is a little more involved. First of all, what do you need to measure versus what are you measuring now that you’re never actually analyzing? I love asking these questions and helping organizations arrive at these answers. 

Did the tools and knowledge gained from CSIS and the Executive Program help when developing RK Impact and the approach to your current work? 

Of course they did! The experience and connections I’ve gained from CSIS are invaluable. I have all of the coursework, assignments, templates and readings should I need to reference best practices. The real gems are the close friends and contacts I’ve made over the years. I know that I have a giant team of people who I can personally call upon for advice and support and I know that they’re all rooting for me to succeed. That’s priceless!

What excites you about the direction of social impact work?

I love that people are becoming more familiar with the term ‘social impact’ and are beginning to embrace its concepts by applying them to their work. The future of social impact lies in the belief that we can strengthen our communities by empowering leaders to advocate for disruptive change and innovations that will eradicate systemic inequalities. 

Stephanie R. Fenniri, founder and Chief Impact Officer of RK Impact has more than a decade of nonprofit and public service experience, specifically in the development and implementation of strategic initiatives for diverse populations. Stephanie holds an MS in Nonprofit Leadership and Executive Certificate in Social Impact Strategy from the University of Pennsylvania. She has also earned a professional certificate in Organizational Leadership from the Wharton School and a certificate in Professional Fundraising from Boston University. In May 2019, Stephanie was the recipient of the University of Pennsylvania’s Excellence in Social Impact Award.