The Promise of a Pencil

The Promise of a Pencil

In The Promise of a Pencil, social entrepreneur Adam Braun tells his story of backpacking through Southeast Asia, Africa, and Central America in his 20’s, being blow away when he asked young children what they wanted more than anything in the world – “a pencil” – and being blown away again by the joy and delight he saw in their eyes when he gave them a pencil.

Still in his 20’s, Braun found the vision of building schools in remote areas of Laos, Ghana, and Guatemala so compelling that he re-arranged his entire professional life to create a non-profit (a for-purpose) organization, Pencils of Promise raise money through social media, ($10,000 per classroom),create the buy-in and governance of local communities, and build his first school in Laos in 2009. By the time The Promise of a Pencil was published five years later in 2014, PoP had broken ground on 200 schools. At the time of this posting, PoP has built 268 schools.

Each chapter of Braun’s book, subtitled How an Ordinary Person Can Create Extraordinary Change, is a mantra, and the series of mantras leads the reader through a trajectory of social change (and is an excellent read):

1. Why be normal
2. Get out of your comfort zone
3. Know that you have a purpose
4. Every pencil holds a promise
5. Do the small things that make others feel big
6. Tourists, see, travelers seek
7. Asking for permission is asking for denial
8. Embrace the lightning moments
9. Big dreams start with small, unreasonable act
10. Practice humility over hubris
11. Speak the language of the person you want to become
12. Walk with a purpose
13. Happiness is found in celebrating others
14. Find the impossible ones
15. Focus on one person in every room
16. Read the signs along the path
17. Create separation to build connection
18. Never take no from someone who can’t say yes
19. Stay guided by your values, not your necessities
20. You cannot fake authenticity
21. There is only one chance at a first imporesssion
22. Fes up to your failures
23. Learn to close the loop
24. Change yours words to change your worth
25. A goal realized is a goal defined
26. Surround yourself with those who make you better
27. Vulnerability is vital
28. Listen to your echoes
29. If your dreams don’t scare you, they’re not big enough
30. Make your life a story worth telling.


Read The Promise of a Pencil to inspire and embolden you in your own vision of social change.

(Contribute to Pencils of Promise if you wish: http://pencilsofpromise.org/ seasonofpromise ($25 is enough to supply materials to one child for a full year.)

Find a vision or cause compelling enough that passion becomes your motivation and perseverance your path.

Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs are people who have come alive.
– Howard Thurman

Anything, or anyone, that doesn’t bring you fully alive is too small for you.
– David Whyte 

You don’t need to do everything. Do what calls your heart; effective action comes from love. It is unstoppable, and it is enough.
– Joanna Macy.

Wisdom & inspiration direct to your inbox