The Promise of a Pencil: Changing the World One Child at a Time

Siobhan Ali
Friday 31 July 2020

By Eleanor Duce

Project: “How do we define what enterprise capabilities look like in real life?”

I ordered my copy of Adam Braun’s “The Promise of a Pencil” as soon as I decided it would be the perfect case study for my Enterprise Capabilities project. It arrived the next day, and by the following, I had read it cover to cover. Like this inspiring entrepreneur, I also aspire to be a leader in Global Education.

Founder of the “for-purpose” organisation “Pencils of Promise”, Braun left his corporate career to pursue his passion and fulfil his sense of moral obligation to make a profound impact through philanthropic endeavours. From its humble beginnings inspired by an encounter with a homeless Indian child whose greatest dream was to own a pencil, the organisation has achieved international recognition and success. Social media campaigns, donations from celebrity sponsors, and entrepreneurial high school students have funded the construction of 525 schools (and still counting!) across Ghana, Guatemala and Laos. Despite these enormous achievements, Pencils of Promise remains dedicated to its vision and aim of empowering communities through education. They do so not only by providing access and resources but also through developing robust evaluation programmes and teacher training, ensuring high quality of education.

Learning more about Braun’s journey and conviction in the transformative potential of education – as symbolised by the promise of a single pencil – really resonated with my own determination to pursue a career dedicated to achieving the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 4: “Quality Education of All”.

The Summer Teams Enterprise Programme has therefore been an incredibly enjoyable and stimulating experience for me, and each week I have looked forward to discussing the intersections of our entrepreneurs’ lives with the weekly workshop topics. Our team’s sustained engagement, mutual interest, and shared curiosity has sparked conversations and encouraged us to question and compare our case studies.

In his book, Braun emphasised the importance of engaging in a constant cycle of reflection and self-evaluation, challenging one’s limited beliefs, and seeking advice from mentors. Although I initially resented the weekly reflection tasks, often not knowing what to write or rejecting my ideas as insignificant, I came to realise the value of regularly recording my progress and being critical about my actions so I could intentionally improve my practices for the following week. As a consequence, I made adjustments to patterns of behaviour and bad habits (such as checking my phone during calls or workshops) and committed to detailed note-taking and reviewing to ensure I dedicated my undivided attention to the conversation and retained what was most valuable.

Communication is another theme which is integral to Braun’s narrative, and STEP offered a wonderful opportunity to exchange ideas and practice virtual cooperation. Despite encountering inevitable connectivity and technological challenges, our team was always courteous, understanding, and supportive which meant that communicating in our group calls and through chats was ultimately always both efficient and enjoyable. These online platforms will no doubt feature ever more prominently in the future world of work, and my lovely STEP team highlighted that above all else (and regardless of possibly precarious Internet reliability), effective communication relies on compassionate human connections.

Braun’s autobiography is structured into 30 chapters, each titled with a mantra which serves as valuable guidance for how to turn dreams into reality, offering a roadmap for success. These lessons are drawn from and shaped by his core values of integrity, humility, and excellence. Indeed, these characteristics appeared to be common amongst our chosen entrepreneurs’ success stories, and attributes I aspire to embody both in my project work and in future endeavours.

Through studying the enterprise capabilities in a real-life context, I learned that in addition to these skills, discovering and pursuing your passion and purpose is what makes your story memorable (for potential employers and business partners) and meaningful (for the people you serve).

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