39 Schools and Counting: An Interview With Pencils of Promise’s Adam Braun
Adam Braun is the Founder & Executive Director of Pencils of Promise, one of the world’s most impactful new nonprofits as recognized by Nobel peace prize winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Barbara Walters, Katie Couric, and active supporter Justin Bieber. Prior to founding Pencils of Promise, Adam worked at leading consulting firm Bain & Company, and now spends half the year traveling on behalf of PoP and half the year at our global headquarters in New York City. Adam graduated magna cum laude and played varsity basketball for Brown University.
Can you tell us a little bit about the work that you do at Pencils of Promise, what was the inspiration behind it, and how you got started.
Can you tell us a story where you knew that starting Pencils of Pencils was the right thing to do?
When I started PoP, it was by myself in Laos, and one of the things I knew that if we wanted to have the lasting impact we wanted to make, we needed local staff on the ground doing the work and not moving back and forth. So I put out a search for a coordinator, and by chance at the guest house I was staying at, was a young women about 30 years old, who was changing the laundry sheets, cooking soup, and doing the dishes, she also happen to speak the best English out of everyone I met in the country, she is just a wonderful and beautiful person named Noy. So when I needed a translator to come with me to the first field location, I asked Noy if she wanted to be our first coordinator for PoP, I told her I couldn’t pay her yet, but as it kept growing I’d find a way to pay her full-time. She was flattered but told me to ask her mom first for permission, so I changed into the one button down I brought with me and came back to ask her mom for permission. Long story short she’s been working with us for two years now, and has become a person who was changing bed sheets at her home, to someone who is now running a staff of 20 and has helped opened up more than 20 schools.
Yes we do. We’ve built it into our programming where we are monitoring gender equality and we are focused on hiring women. One thing we learned though is that gender balance is more important than just girls. We realized that the schools need a lot of great male role models as well, since a lot of young men and boys lack strong male influences.
Yeah we actually do a lot. Our office itself has a large youth programming element to the organization so we have rotational classes for our interns where we train them to be the next generation of social entrepreneurs. Right now we have about 25 interns that are working out of our office for the summer. We also run something called the PoP leadership institute, its five days, with a host of fantastic speakers and industry leaders from lots of different places, and it is completely free. We really want young people to come out, meet each other and meet some of the leading advocates for social change and how they can be part of that. Then on the website we have a youth advocacy toolkit. So what we got a lot was kids asking what can I do, so we created this toolkit to inform a young person on how exactly they can get involved in creating change. I also do something called tinychat which is a live video conference I personally do once a week where I answer questions about the organization and social change, and as of the last one we have about 100 young leaders coming in from around the world.
Well the first thing I would say would be from the start that whatever it is you are doing that you have to have passion for it. You also have to speak the language of the movement not of the individual. So for example it is very rare that you will here me say the word “I” in reference to any of the accomplishments of the organization, it’s always “we.” So when I first started I still spoke the language of a movement even at the time it was just me on a motorbike. So I think speaking he language is essential. Then actually focusing a lot of your time on how others can become meaningful parts of that movement is a more powerful way to get it grow. People want their efforts to be recognized and appreciated and if you can make them feel like that what they are going to do is meaningful before they even take that first step then they are more likely to stay with you as the movement grows.
Can you tell us about the new campaign you are running Schools4All?
Schools4All is a campaign that launched 2 months ago. It’s a personal fundraising challenge where we are asking anybody out there to create a fundraising page, and it’s not just for students, but for parents, sibilings, basically no restrictions on it, you just have to be above the age of 13. So anyone who starts a page rallies their friends and families to donate through the page and the page that raises the most is going to be able to select whatever school in the US & Canada they want Justin Bieber and I to come visit and thank them in person. It’s been a little over 2 months and we have had more 20,000 personal pages and raised about $150,000 which should build about 7 schools. It ends June 30th midnight so if you would like to get involved please feel free to visit schools4all.org and sign up for a personal page.
How can our readership help Pencils of Promise?
Immediately, please feel to create a Schools4all page. You can also share the word! Tell their mothers, Tell their schools,and help us get to $250,000 which translates to ten news schools, but in the bigger picture we have a goal of building 100 schools by the end of 2012, so 60 more schools in the next 18 months. So if anyone out there wants to join us in building 100 schools by the end of 2012, I think that will be the start of something really special.