The Promise of a Pencil: How an Ordinary Person Can Create Extraordinary Change

The Promise of a Pencil: How an Ordinary Person Can Create Extraordinary Change

4.9 14
by Adam Braun

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The riveting story of how a young man turned $25 into more than 200 schools around the world and the guiding steps anyone can take to lead a successful and significant life.

Adam Braun began working summers at hedge funds when he was just sixteen years old, sprinting down the path to a successful Wall Street career. But while traveling he met a young boy… See more details below


The riveting story of how a young man turned $25 into more than 200 schools around the world and the guiding steps anyone can take to lead a successful and significant life.

Adam Braun began working summers at hedge funds when he was just sixteen years old, sprinting down the path to a successful Wall Street career. But while traveling he met a young boy begging on the streets of India, who after being asked what he wanted most in the world, simply answered, “A pencil.” This small request led to a staggering series of events that took Braun backpacking through dozens of countries before eventually leaving one of the world’s most prestigious jobs to found Pencils of Promise, the organization he started with just $25 that has since built more than 200 schools around the world.

The Promise of a Pencil chronicles Braun’s journey to find his calling, as each chapter explains one clear step that every person can take to turn your biggest ambitions into reality, even if you start with as little as $25. His story takes readers behind the scenes with business moguls and village chiefs, world-famous celebrities and hometown heroes. Driven by compelling stories and shareable insights, this is a vivid and inspiring book that will give you the tools to make your own life a story worth telling.

*All proceeds from this book will support Pencils of Promise.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
★ 01/06/2014
Despite the subtitle, just a few pages into this exuberant testimony to the power of idealism, readers will realize that Braun is not an ordinary person. Raised in affluent Greenwich, Conn., by parents who embraced noncomformity and charity as sidelines to a good job and six-figure income, Braun struggled to reconcile the materialistic and spiritual. After graduating from Brown University, he worked at a prestigious consulting firm in New York City and at age 25, in the fall of 2008, started Pencils of Promise (PoP), a nonprofit organization that partners with local communities in Asia, Latin America, and Africa to build schools, train teachers, offer scholarships, and supply educational materials. The memoir consists of 30 chapters titled for lessons he learned while developing PoP. Braun has directed the building of more than 150 schools by raising funds and motivating volunteers, as well as drawing attention from national media, wealthy benefactors, humanitarians, and celebrities. In this introspective story, Braun reflects on dangers like a near-shipwreck that brought mortality close, a period of staying out late and drinking too much to mask dissatisfaction with the corporate world, lucrative job offers that threatened his resolve, and overcoming fear of public speaking and soliciting donations. While few wrestle so strongly with the profit-or-purpose dilemma, Braun’s story forcefully presents the advantages of silencing the head and listening to the heart. (Mar.)
Success Magazine
“Braun combines his laid-back storytelling style with simple yet sage advice….The Promise of a Pencil is engaging, instructive and inspiring reading for anyone who wants to change his or her life, change the world, or simply feel better about humanity.”
"[Braun's] trailblazing story takes readers behind the scenes with business moguls and village chiefs, world-famous celebrities and hometown heroes. Driven by compelling stories and shareable insights, this is a vivid and inspiring book that will give readers the tools to unlock their own extraordinary journey of self-discovery."
LinkedIn's "Can't-Miss Business Books for Spring and Summer"
"A playbook for aspiring social entrepreneurs, offering a vision for uniting business and philanthropy around a “for-purpose” mission powered by social media."
"Braun shares his story of how he started Pencils of Promise, what he learned from Wall Street that has helped he’s leveraged social networks to generate donations, and his best career advice."
"[A] page-turning debut."
Ann Veneman

"Adam Braun is a leader amongst an emerging generation of change makers who are proving that every person can be a force for positive change. His inspiring work is truly giving children around the world hope and the opportunity for a better future."
Jared Cohen

“With relentless optimism and the idealism of a seasoned traveler, Adam Braun tells an incredibly personal story about his journey from student to philanthropist. What's so extraordinary about Braun's story is how he built a simple gesture of kindness - one pencil for one child --into a movement that has inspired and influenced a new generation of philanthropists and entrepreneurs. And he's just getting started.”
Gary Vaynerchuk
“A perfect step-by-step guide to building the life you've always wanted on your own terms. . . Start reading and don't put the book down until you're finished.”
Charles Best

“Adam’s story is iconic and riveting. The Promise of a Pencil will inspire the next generation of social entrepreneurs and persuade readers to lead lives of purpose.”
Sir Richard Branson
"For anyone with a big dream to transform the world, this book will show you how to get it done."
#1 New York Times bestselling author and co-creator of The Buried Life - Ben Nemtin

"Adam nails a truth we live by. The biggest difference between the person who lives their dream and the person who continues to dream is their decision to take the first step--even if the second step is unknown. Honest and entertaining. A great read."
Lauren Bush

“Adam Braun has built a wonderful organization that provides education and a solid start to children around the world. His journey captured here should inspire others to similarly follow their hearts and passions in making the world a better place.”
Wendy Kopp
“A vivid, heartfelt account of the power of education and the ability of one person to impact the world.”
Deepak Chopra
"A remarkably inspiring story that shares the essential lessons to creating a life of meaning, passion and purpose."
Jessica Jackley
"Braun's lessons are memorable, accessible, and powerful. This is a must-read, and a must-re-read, and a must-keep-in-view-on-bookshelf kind of book."
United States Senator Cory Booker
“A compelling and singular story filled with universal truths everyone needs to hear.”
Keith Ferrazzi
“Braun takes you on a mesmerizing round-the-world adventure, while sharing the concrete steps necessary to turn your own ideas into reality. He has his finger on the pulse of what's next and when he speaks you should be listening.”
Kirkus Reviews
The founder and CEO of the nonprofit Pencils of Promise explains the secret of his success: reliance on social media and "cause marketing." In 2008, Braun left his career as a management consultant to devote himself to global education. His first plan was to build schools for impoverished children in Asia, Latin America and Africa. Encouraged by his initial success, he expanded his goal. "I wasn't just interested in building one school anymore," he writes. "I wanted to build a movement that changed people's perception of charity." In 2013, PoP built its 100th school, in Ghana. The author credits his upbringing for his remarkable success. Although he was raised in an affluent environment, he was never allowed to develop a sense of entitlement. While an undergraduate at Brown University, he joined the Semester at Sea program. His near-death experience during a ferocious storm at sea and the poverty he witnessed backpacking in Asia altered his life. "I now knew my life had a purpose," he writes. The author's choice of a name for the nonprofit was inspired by an experience during his travels; he asked a boy what he would choose if he could have anything he wanted. Despite Braun's prestigious Wall Street job, by his 25th birthday, his life felt empty, so he took on an after-hours project to fundraise for a Cambodian school. Then, with help from a wide circle of friends, he decided to strike out on his own and raised $25,000 to build a school in Laos. He solicited practical and financial support from personal friends and a growing Facebook group, and he was able to elicit backing from the business community. The author skillfully weaves together his personal memoir and the professional challenges he faced. Informative and inspiring but somewhat marred by a self-congratulatory tone.

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The Promise of a Pencil

  • On a sunny autumn afternoon just before my twenty-fifth birthday, I walked into a large bank in my hometown. At the time, I had everything I thought would make me happy—the job, the apartment, the life. My closet was full of impressive corporate clothing, and my business card carried the name of a prestigious company that garnered respect in every room I entered. I looked like a guy on the right path who was most likely walking into the bank to deposit his monthly paycheck.

    But deep down inside, I was no longer enamored with the life I’d created. The only purpose I was serving was self-interest. While I rarely showed it to outsiders, my happiness waned day after day. A restless voice kept me up at night, telling me that until I found meaning, the money wouldn’t matter. It told me that I’d find far more fulfillment if I measured my life in purpose, not profits. And that I didn’t have to keep waiting, that now was the perfect moment to start chasing my biggest dreams.

    It’s strange how you can sometimes feel a yearning that seems bigger than your actual body. That’s how I felt that day. I wanted to be a part of something that extended far beyond my two hands and the possessions they could hold. No matter how scared I was of getting off my safe path, I needed to see what would happen if I finally stepped into the uncharted territory where unbridled ambition and opportunity reside.

    The scariest part was that I wasn’t some successful businessman who’d built and sold companies. I didn’t have a lengthy career to prove I would succeed. Nor did I have millions of dollars in financial backing. I was just a regular guy with $25 who wanted to prove that regardless of age, status, or location, every person has the capacity to change the world. So I used that small amount to open a new account in hopes of one day building a school. Everything that came after was a result of that first step. That leap of faith rippled outward, spanning cultures and continents.

    Since then I’ve immersed myself in the field of global education. I believe that where you start in life should not dictate where you finish. And that no tool can more profoundly unlock a person’s ability to change his or her place in life than access to quality education. The good news is that we have the ability to provide quality education to every child on earth right now. We are not looking for a miracle vaccine or drilling for a hidden resource that may not exist. We have all the tools necessary at this very moment. Yet we still have 57 million children out of school, and millions more who sit in classrooms each day but remain illiterate.

    Education is a complex issue, which requires a complex set of solutions. There is no silver-bullet answer to educating the children of the world, but the global education crisis remains the single most solvable and important human rights issue of our time. The knowledge that it can be solved gives me hope and purpose. But no individual can solve the world’s problems alone. A collective effort is required, and we each have a unique role to play.

    *  *  *

    This is the story about what happens when you acknowledge that there’s more for you to become, and that you don’t have to have enormous resources to make a difference in the world. It’s a story about what can unfold when inspiration strikes and you realize that the rewards of living a purposeful life are rich and lasting. It’s the story of my life (although I have changed the names of several people at their request), but it’s a story that can belong to anyone.

    Each of the thirty chapters in this book is titled with a mantra. These mantras have served as my guideposts as I’ve faced decisions both large and small. They have become my essential truths. I’ve written them with the hope that they will be carried forward, shared with others, and adopted in ways that help you on your own journey as well. Each story stands on its own, but taken together they create a roadmap that I hope will enable you to turn your own dreams into reality.

    If one of these stories ignites something within you, listen to that restless feeling that your head may tell you to ignore but your heart will tell you to pursue. The biggest difference between the person who lives his or her dreams and the person who aspires is the decision to convert that first spark of motivation into immediate action. Take the first small step, then chase the footprints you aspire to leave behind. Every person has a revolution beating within his or her chest. I hope that this book helps you find yours.

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