Adam Braun | Pencils of Promise: How To Create Extraordinary Change (Episode 381)

An ordinary person can create extraordinary change.

“One of the biggest things missing in the nonprofit space is the sense of for-profit business acumen.” -Adam Braun

The Cheat Sheet:

  • With how much money did Adam Braun start Pencils of Promise?
  • Why must all communities that receive a school contribute twenty percent?
  • Why nonprofits can sometimes have adverse effects.
  • What are the three forms of compensation?
  • Adam shares what to consider when making your next career move.
  • And so much more…

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Many of us dream about giving back, adding meaning to our lives, and making a positive impact on the world. But how many of us do anything with that dream or even think we’re still capable of pursuing it?

Adam Braun of Pencils of Promise has pursued his passion for education and has now written his book, The Promise of a Pencil, to inspire and show the rest of us it’s not too late and that ordinary people can create extraordinary change. Join us as we chat about this and more on episode 381 of The Art of Charm.

More About This Show:

Founding an educational nonprofit wasn’t always a dream of Adam Braun’s. Born in New York City, he moved to the suburbs of Connecticut when he was a small child. His parents always placed a strong emphasis on education and he went to one of the best public schools available.

He played basketball while in school and saw the distinct economic gap that existed. Some of his teammates lived in the worst neighborhoods while others lived in large mansions. He was fascinated by this and asked the parents who lived in the mansions what they did for work. The resounding answer: Wall Street.

By thirteen, he was obsessed with getting a job on Wall Street and opened his own trading account. At sixteen, he spent a summer interning at a hedge fund. At twenty, he was exactly where he wanted to be: he was playing collegiate basketball for Brown University, studying economics, and on his way to his dream career on Wall Street.

All of that changed when he enrolled in a program called Semester at Sea. It’s a collegiate program in which students and faculty spend a semester on a cruise ship traveling and exploring ten different countries. Students, professors, and administrators come from over 200 different schools to participate and Adam was one of them.

Their first stop was South Korea, but on their way they were caught in a superstorm. Their ship was hit by a rogue sixty-foot wave that knocked out their power and navigation system. When the announcement came to get to their muster stations, everyone — including the adults on board — believed they were going to die.

After a few minutes though, Adam knew he was meant to do more than simply die at sea at the age of 21. A feeling of calm came over him, and soon everyone onboard was safe. They continued their semester at sea and Adam enjoyed backpacking and exploring each country.

As a project during his travels he asked a child in every country what their dream was. In India one child’s answer floored him. The child simply wanted a pencil. When Adam handed him his own pencil, the child lit up. That experience was the origin of Pencils of Promise.

On today’s episode we talk about the steps he took to building his nonprofit after that experience, why it’s been so wildly successful (people like Lewis Howes and Gary Vaynerchuk sit on the board) and how he wrote The Promise of a Pencil. He also shares how stepping away as the CEO of PoP actually helped the organization to grow and thrive, and he explains how you can apply his same lessons learned to your business.

It was a pleasure to have Adam here and to find out the fascinating story behind Pencils of Promise. Listen in, enjoy, and then join me in thanking Adam for being here with us. We’ll see you next time on The Art of Charm.


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AJ Harbinger - author of 1165 posts on The Art of Charm

AJ Harbinger is one of the world’s top relationship development experts. His company, The Art of Charm, is a leading training facility for top performers that want to overcome social anxiety, develop social capital and build relationships of the highest quality. Raised by a single father, AJ felt a strong desire to learn about relationships and the elements that make them successful. However, this interest went largely untapped for many years. Following the path set out for him by his family, AJ studied biology in college and went on to pursue a Ph.D. in Cancer Biology at the University of Michigan. It was at this time that he began to feel immense pressure from the cancer lab he worked in and began to explore other outlets for expression. It was at this point that The Art of Charm Podcast was born.

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