The Marginalian
The Marginalian

Pencils of Promise: Grassroots School-Building

In an ideal world, an invisible hand would be balancing the supply-demand ratio of help for humanity’s problems. The world, however, is far from ideal and we’re faced with more challenges than help is readily available for. And when help does present itself, it’s mostly in the form of donations — which often lack the immediacy of more hands-on approaches that give the help-giver a sense of ownership over the problem, in turn infecting the helpee with this we-can-solve-it resolve and unleashing a chain reaction of empowerment.

That’s exactly the kind of thinking that inspired Pencils of Promise — a powerful grassroots movement that seeks to solve the global education crisis from the bottom up and inside out. The nonprofit is 100% volunteer and its primary goal is to build schools and related facilites across the developing world, but it also embodies something we celebrate here at Brain Pickings — the cross-pollination of skills and perspectives — by empowering people to contribute whatever they are best at and cover different facets of the problem, rather than merely making impersonal and distanced donations.

The project began in 2008, when founder Adam Braun, fresh out of college himself, set out to build a single school in Laos. He put $25 into a bank account and asked friends to contribute however much they could. Little did he anticipate that in a little over a year, they would’ve raised $200,000 through the donations of thousands of individuals and over 150 volunteers would’ve joined the movement.

Our biggest commitment is to sustainability, which means PoP schools aren’t gifted but instead created by the community itself. The entire village helps builds their own school, leading to true ownership and a lasting commitment to their children’s educational future. ~ Adam Braun, Founder, Executive Director

Granted, as much as we’d want to, not all of us can drop our responsibilities and head East to build schools. But here’s how you can help:

Last December, Pencils of Promise won $25,000 through the Chase Community Giving Campaign on Facebook, which made them eligible for the million-dollar grand grant. And because the competition is user-driven, your vote can help tip the scale in the winning direction.

To sweeten the deal, Pencils of Promise is also using a voting system to decide which country to build schools in next — a little something they call “democratic social giving.” And in light of last week’s Haiti colossal earthquake disaster, PoP have just vouched to donate at least $100,000 towards youth-oriented initiatives in Haiti if they win the $1MM grant — a massive gesture of karmic kindness.

So go ahead and cast your vote for PoP in the Chase competition before Friday, when the voting closes — it’s a small effort on your part that can have momentous impact on entire communities. Which certainly beats another mindless round of FarmVille.

Published January 18, 2010




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