Meet Vishal Sapra (Eden2Zion '16)


REALITY: Why did you go back to Reunion?

Vishal: I'm in a lot of communities in New York and beyond, and part of the reason I stay involved with REALITY is that I think it's the only community I'm part of that has the facility and resource to make an impact. The rest are fun, educational, and provide amazing experiences and connection, but I doubled down to stay involved with Schusterman because it has a tangible output, through leadership development, service activities, and ongoing community building.

Going back to Israel was an opportunity to better understand a place that had a profound impact on my life over the past few years.

REALITY: Describe what you do and how you are trying to make an impact.

Vishal: I started my career off as an investment banker, and then went on to build a small social media agency called MRY (formally Mr Youth). I joined when it was 15 people, and we grew that to over 300. We eventually sold that agency to Publicis Group, a french holding company. After seven years, I left MRY to go work on Michael Bloomberg's potential bid for President in 2016, running all digital and media efforts.

Then I started Code & Culture; we partner brands with the most powerful communities, causes, start-ups and experiences fueling culture. It started as a creative sabbatical because I didn't know what I wanted to do next. I had kind of reflected on what was the most rewarding work that I did at MRY. To my surprise, it wasn't digital innovation; it was actually the experiences I made through partnerships (we did the first-ever brand partnership for Tinder and one of the biggest technology partnership for Spotify with Coca-Cola). Those types of things got me really excited. I represent a bunch of folks in the REALITY community, and I get to work on really fun, amazing experiences a lot of which my friends are involved in and I get to support.

REALITY: What was the most meaningful moment from your REALITY journey?

Vishal: The first moment that popped into my head was a moment that I had with one of my best friends who I've known for many years that happened to be on my trip. There's a photo of us in Jerusalem. It's really just an appreciation for the people who have been there and will be there and how this was such an incredible experience that we got to share together. That was the first time that I had ever had that thought because so much of what I acknowledge about REALITY is the new people I meet.

The bus is such a magical mystery. Every conversation had a lesson. It was just so phenomenal and there's something so funny about the bus that creates an environment that's just you and one other person… it allows you to connect in such an interesting way.

REALITY: How’s your REALITY shifted since your journey?

Vishal: I grew up in New Jersey and all my friends were Jewish. The one thing that bothered me about some of my Jewish friends was when they tell me that they could only marry a Jew. All these feelings would come up, like, “Oh you think you're better than everyone,” or “That's such an old way of thinking.” I just didn't get it, and I judged them for it. The shift that happened while I was in Israel was that I started understanding the size of Israel and how small it is (it’s as small as the state of New Jersey!) and what a big impact it has in the world. I also had a new understanding of the Holocaust and the impact it had. I think that all of that put into perspective the sentiment behind that belief, and my big shift was realizing that finding a Jewish partner is actually an act of service in a way. I shared that on the trip, and a few people came up to me afterwards and said to me, “I've had guilt about this my whole life, and to hear somebody who's not Jewish finally understand and say that out loud was really freeing for me.” That was amazing.

REALITY: How have you shifted REALITY since your journey?

Vishal: When I was asked to co-chair the New York City hub, it was a no-brainer. My work is all around supporting communities, and this was just a whole different way to experience community in a much more intimate way. Creating experience is one thing, but building a community is a whole other thing. It was exciting to be able to create what this experience was for me. and it kind of recommitted me and reignited a sense of service. I started a company in high school when I was 15, so service was a huge part of my teenage years and into college. When I became a banker, I lost that. This was the first time where I really had the opportunity to get back and do community service oriented work, and I saw the importance of it that I hadn't seen in a long time.

REALITY: How have you stayed connected to Israel since your journey?

Vishal: We met with some local partners on Reunion, and some of them were trying to source opportunities for their workforce. A couple of us from that trip are in the midst of exploring that. On the REALITY front, we have thrown amazing events since Reunion. We had a 150 person dim sum Shabbat-like experience (although it was on Thursday). We're figuring out what kind of service projects we can work on with Seeds of Peace. There's clear kind of alignment with them on the Israeli front, and they also do really great work with young people. We're trying to get our alumni community involved with what they're doing.

REALITY: Since REALITY, how “do” you Shabbat? Share a short story.

Vishal: The experience we had in Israel was just so remarkable… truly elevated. We've taken particular care in making the experiences we have in New York as special or as thoughtful as the experiences that we had in Israel. For us it's never about just having an event because we haven't had an event in a while. Our Shabbats have been pretty amazing. The dim sum event was amazing. We had live music and a DJ. and the environment was so next level. We had folks from out of town, and they were like, “Oh my god, we don't do stuff like this!” That's how it should be we should be creating the right type of programming so that it is worthwhile.

REALITY: What can the REALITY community contact you about?

Vishal: One is obviously on the work front. I always want to meet people who are doing rad, outlandish stuff and figure out how to support them. If folks want to partner with brands and they need help on their business development strategy, I love having those conversations.

I think everyone's still trying to figure out who they want to be when they grow up, and as much as it seems like I have it together, I still have no idea who I am, and I'm going through a healthy identity crisis. If anyone else is having an identity crisis, we can form a little support group. I think connecting what we do to our purpose is one of the hardest (and most important) challenge we can embark on, and it's constant work. Those are some of the richest conversations that I get to have with people.

The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation is proud to empower emerging leaders to explore their values, identity and new ways to strengthen their communities. We believe that as we work together to repair the world, it is important to share our diverse experiences and perspectives along the way. We encourage the expression of personal thoughts and reflections here on the Schusterman blog. Each post reflects solely the opinion of its author and does not necessarily represent the views of the Foundation, its partner organizations or all program participants.