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  • >>Adam Braun: So my name is Adam Braun. And I am the founder of an organization called

  • Pencils of Promise. >>Woohoo!

  • >>Adam Braun: Yeah. Thank you. I was born in New York City; but I grew up in Connecticut

  • with a really, really closely knit family. This is my cousins, my brother, my grandmother.

  • And I'm the awesome kid in the yellow sweater over here.

  • [ Laughter ] >>Adam Braun: So from a really, really early

  • age, it was incredibly clear to me one thing, that I was not going to have a career in fashion.

  • I did have a very distinct interest instead, though. I was really, really interested in

  • money, in particular, finance. This isn't a joke. Finance I was really, really drawn

  • by. My mother was an orthodontist. My father was

  • a dentist. But most of the people in the community where I grew up were bankers that were going

  • back and forth between Connecticut and New York City either on Wall Street or running

  • companies. So I was really, really fascinated by how money flowed, how Wall Street worked.

  • So a lot of my early formative experiences in life were opening up kind of stock market

  • accounts, doing a little bit of trading, but more than anything working at hedge funds,

  • at fund of funds, private equity, and institutional banks. So my background, when you hear what

  • I do, is a bit atraditional. When I was about 20, I was a student at Brown

  • University. I was really loving my life. I was playing college basketball. Great girlfriend,

  • great friends, close family, everything seemed to be going right. But I saw a film called

  • "Baraka." It was shot all around the world in 24 different countries. And there was one

  • scene in particular that was shot in India. And it just blew my mind. And, before I went

  • down this clear-cut path, I said I have to go down there and see it with my own eyes.

  • I discovered a program called Semester at Sea. It's a cruise ship that goes around the

  • world. And it's a floating campus. And so I quit the basketball team, broke up with

  • my girlfriend, didn't tell any of my friends the I was going and, very logically, went

  • on Semester at Sea. I'm going to show you a very quick clip of what happened to us.

  • This is my ship. It's a thousand person cruise ship 900 miles from land. We got hit by a

  • rogue wave, 60-foot wave, in the middle of the ocean. You're about to see the wave in

  • a few seconds. You'll see it shatters the glass on the 6th floor, the bridge.

  • And it flooded the area where all the navigational equipment was. And, by the time the Coast

  • Guard got to us, we had no power. And I was on this boat.

  • Again, I was there. You guys don't have to freak out.

  • [ Laughter ] >>Adam Braun: And, as you can imagine, this

  • wasn't a near-death experience. It was certain death. No question at all. This announcement

  • comes. I hope I never experience something like this again. But get to the 5th floor,

  • higher. Help the women and children up the stairs. Get to the muster stations, which

  • is where you evacuate the ship from. And we're looking at 40-foot swells in the North Pacific

  • in winter. Hypothermia immediately. And so I had this feeling of my time is done. But

  • this overwhelming calm settled over me and this renewed sense of purpose.

  • It was clear to me that I just had more to do. It wasn't 21-year-old man perishes at

  • sea. That wasn't what I was supposed to leave behind. And so, of course, with this renewed

  • sense of purpose, I went out into the developing world. We got shipwrecked, and then we continued

  • to travel. I had a habit of asking one kid per country what they wanted most in the world,

  • expecting to hear a Playstation, a flat screen TV, all the things that we take for granted.

  • I asked a young girl in Hawaii where we were shipwrecked -- again, a terrible place to

  • get shipwrecked, Hawaii. I said, "What do you want most in the world?" This young beautiful

  • young girl said, "To dance." Then I asked a girl in China. I said, "What

  • do you want most in the world?" She said, "A book."

  • And then I got to Hong Kong, and I heard my favorite answer, which was "magic," just magic.

  • By the time I got to India, the reason I went on this trip, the kind of karmic compulsion

  • to go in the first place, I asked this boy begging on the streets where the poverty is

  • overwhelming and you can't give money because it perpetuates this cycle of begging. And,

  • you know, candy works really well. But, as I mentioned, my mother is an orthodontist

  • and my father is a dentist. They'd be very upset with me. I said, "What do you want most

  • in the world" to this young boy. And he looked at me. And he said, "A pencil." That was it.

  • Just a pencil. I had one, and I gave him my pencil. And he lit up completely. And he held

  • it in the air. And there was an instant moment of transformation in me. He went -- this act,

  • two things happened. I realized the incredible power of education in the hands of locals,

  • not just us as westerners kind of imparting our ideals onto others, but the pencil as

  • a tool for empowerment. And, secondly, even as a young person, I could actually help somebody

  • in a meaningful way. It wasn't just about, you know, the select few. The creation of

  • good is a space that should be accessible to all.

  • And so I continued to travel the world, passing out pens and pencils that fostered dialogues

  • around education. And I came back 21 years old, a man on fire. I wanted to change the

  • world, and I wanted to help try and build one school.

  • But I found that there was kind of two types of nonprofits in existence. There were those

  • that were kind of mom and pop in the field doing international education work specific

  • to education space. But they really, really got how communities worked. They usually lived

  • there. These were really passionate individuals, but they always lacked for-profit business

  • acumen. They had never run real businesses, and they could never scale efficiently.

  • The other type was somebody who had a tremendous amount of business experience but often had

  • never really spent tons and tons of time in the community. I was kind of on this finance

  • path, but now I was this guy obsessed with backpacking and going to now more than 70

  • countries just backpacking. So I figured why not try to become a hybrid of the two? So

  • I went through interviews with investment banks and management consulting firms and

  • private equity and was really fortunate to land a job at Bain & Company. I spent a few

  • years working at Bain in management consulting. And, just as my friends started to leave to

  • go to Harvard Business School and Wharton and Stanford GSB and Blackstone and KK -- all

  • these places that you guys know well -- I did something that my parents weren't really,

  • really happy about. I decided to start a nonprofit that was driven by for-profit business principles

  • with kind of this nonprofit set of ideals. And so I really believe this: Big dreams start

  • with small and reasonable acts. I was about to turn 25. I was 24. I went to the bank.

  • And I said, "I want to start this organization called Pencils of Promise and I want to try

  • to build one school. What do I have to start with?"

  • They said, "Well, $25." I said, "That's a good sign. I'm about to

  • turn 25." So I put $25 into a bank account. This is the actual deposit. And asked my friends

  • to come to the birthday party. I was in Mark Zuckerberg's year in college. I was at Brown

  • in the sophomore class when he launched it as a sophomore at Harvard. So I was probably

  • one of the first 5,000 people on what is now 7- or 800 million, whatever the number is

  • now. All my friends were on it. It was the way we conversed with one another. I sent

  • out a Facebook invite. I said give $20 at the door. Every dollar is going to Pencils

  • of Promise. We, basically, found any excuse to throw a small event for young professionals

  • in New York City. And, in our first two years, 98% of the donations that we received were

  • in amounts of $100 or less from young people. This is a very, very atraditional approach

  • to starting a nonprofit. And every person said to me. "It's impossible. Can't be done.

  • Completely impossible. You need your pillars." So what happened was I said all right, these

  • people can't donate money. But what they can do is donate skills, their ability, their

  • energy. So this is the Bain office at 10:00 p.m. These are people -- I won't go through

  • their backgrounds, but this is the top pedigree across New York City. And we formed this a

  • model of how we were going to do work. We built it on management consultant principles

  • of community evaluation, monitoring, and data tracking, really. And not just having kind

  • of this compassion, but backing it up with a sense of true sustainability. And so, you

  • know, then we sent people into the field. And we took these beautiful pictures. And

  • we GPS located everything. And we proposed something that was foreign to the space. And

  • we said we propose radical transparency. We're going to put everything on our Web site, absolutely

  • everything. You can see all the data. And we're going to build one of the most beautiful

  • Web sites you've ever seen. And so we literally started sharing pictures like this. There's

  • a big bent on empowerment of girls in the developing world. And we really focus on that

  • within our programs. We're going to show you the girls that are sprinting to school now

  • because of your $20 contribution, your $25. And this one is in Guatemala. So I started

  • with this kind of humble ambition to build one school just under three years ago. And

  • so, in a few weeks, we'll turn three years old. So kind of what's happened? One, we've

  • broken ground on more than 40 schools across Laos, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. And, two,

  • we've built up the largest social media following out of any nonprofit startup in the last four

  • years. And, three, we've delivered more than a million educational hours in the developing

  • world. [ Applause ]

  • So thank you. >>Adam Braun: So how has it happened? There's

  • a few things I can share with this audience in terms of the spirit of the times. It's

  • the way we approach the work. We're not a nonprofit, at all. That's an oxymoron of a

  • term. We're a "for purpose." We want to make massive profits, but we're more driven by

  • our purpose than our profits. I really believe in this notion that there's change coming.

  • There is this angry, angry for-profit space and this doe-eyed kind of for-purpose space.

  • But there's this emerging change that's happening where the for-profits are actually creating

  • a lot of good through cause marketing and different initiatives, CSR, et cetera. What

  • I think is coming is the for-purpose space is, actually, going to start treating itself

  • more like the for-profit space and the intersection I call "profitable purpose." Okay? This is

  • a new term I'm, hopefully, going to start project without there. That's what I think

  • is the future. How does that happen? Five kind of really,

  • really simple steps but, again, somewhat atraditional. One, you find your revolution. I was really

  • inspired by the Rolling Stones and Bob Dylan and all these other individuals, who they

  • created a revolution within people. But it started within themselves. And I really believe

  • this. Every person is a revolution within themselves waiting to happen. Okay? So find

  • your revolution. You find what you love most. That's the first step.

  • Second, you speak the language of the person you want to become. If you run a company and

  • you have an interest in actually using your company to build true, true social change,

  • you just speak it. And then the universal energy of the world conspires to make it happen.

  • Third, you embrace the late sleepless nights. This stuff doesn't happen easily.

  • People say, "How did you build up hundreds of thousands of followers?"

  • Well, I spent a lot of time in front of a computer. That's how it happened. I mean,

  • we really -- we spend our time in the middle of the night dreaming up concepts that I think

  • only occur in this kind of weird state of liminality when the rest of the world is at

  • rest and we're still dreaming but kind of doing it while we're awake.

  • Fourth is, you seek out the impossible ones. I'm not a realist. I see no point in being

  • a realist and a pragmatist. I think of myself not even as an idealist. I'm an impossiblist.

  • I believe in things that are utterly impossible. We built 40 schools in three years. We now

  • really believe that we can build more than 100 by the end of next year. But it starts

  • with individuals who believe in the impossible. There's a 13 year old girl, her name is Katrina

  • Davies in New York City who just raised $27,000 a few months ago. Better than that, she made

  • me a friendship bracelet at camp and gave it to me.

  • [ Laughter ] >>Adam Braun: This girl's incredible. But

  • tossed at this pointed 27,000 to build a classroom and sustain it with a community's involvement

  • and true investment throughout. That means all we have to do is find 60 impossible ones.

  • Just by a show of hands, just curious, how many people believe that they are an impossible

  • one within this room, that they can actually achieve something that is impossible, utterly,

  • utterly impossible? I would hope so. I mean, this is Google; right?

  • And so the last thing that I'll leave you with is, there's this concept that I really

  • believe in called GTS. I think it's something that the millennial generation in particular

  • has really adopted. Countless people really believe in this. GTS, I think, is the way

  • that you cannot only access, but actually find the exact path through which that change

  • can be made. I really encourage all of you to practice

  • it. GTS, when you can't figure out what to do, Google that shit.

  • Thank you so much. [ Laughter ]

  • [ Applause ] >>Adam Braun: Our footprint awaits.

>>Adam Braun: So my name is Adam Braun. And I am the founder of an organization called

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Spirit of the time - Adam Braun at Zeitgeist Americas 2011

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    ANYI posted on 2015/01/27
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