1- Impact the world one little thing at the time
When Adam was traveling around the world, he questioned children on what they would ask for if they could have anything in the world? He received many answers, but a specific one triggered a series of deeper thoughts inside him. The answer came from a begging child in Northern India who asked for a simple thing, a pencil. Adam gave him a pencil and the child was amazed with an overwhelming sense of opportunity. That changed the young boy’s and Adam’s life.
When you have a big dream and the desire to pursue it, no amount is too small. Adam thus started Pencils of Promise with a $25 deposit slip. Now Pencils of Promise and it’s founder have raised millions of dollars, built more than 200 schools around the world and positively impacted more than 20,000 children with quality education.
2- Always learn to be ahead of the game
You will have a better chance to succeed in the social entrepreneurship industry if you learn from the best. This is why Adam decided to work two years at one of the world’s top tier leading consulting firms: Bain & Company. That decision helped him build a solid foundation of business and nonbusiness skills in several fields that he wanted to pursue.
Adam always has had the passion and the drive to be a successful non-profit founder, but he also wanted to have the formal business background. With that background, Adam was able to “capture youthful energy while running things like a top-notch industry leader”. Those years showed him that non-profit business needed to be managed with the same level of diligence, structure and commitment as for-profits organizations.
“The world changes so rapidly. If you are not putting yourself in a position to learn the things that others haven’t learned yet, then you’ll fall behind”.
3- Your purpose must resonate with people
A key in life is who knows you and what they think about you. Adam resonates with people, like in the eyes of Justin Bieber; “I could see how smart Adam was, but it was about the cause for me,” the teen phenom says. “I'm young, Pencils of Promise is a young charity and it's helping young people with schooling and education, so I really wanted to be a part of that.” People like Justin and his brother Scott have obviously been tremendous advocates of the organization. As a social entrepreneur, you should aim to convert the digital activity that those spokespersons give you into true advocates of your social enterprise. They will help accelerate your growth more than anything.
People want to resonate with a purpose, so you just have to share what you believe and people will get involved in your mission. Furthermore, with social networks, people won’t only connect to your mission, but their peers will donate to you because they’ll see how important your work is to their friends. If your social business story is worth telling, people will follow your legacy of the life you lived. They will be proud to talk about it. Start now and just do it ; you will see the result!
4- Find mentors
For Adam, his main mentors have always been his parents and grandparents. They helped him focus on a combination of integrity and ambition. His grandparents were holocaust survivors and that has given him a sincere appreciation of education and the importance of doing something meaningful in life. Those values are crucial in Adam’s family and they are even more crucial for a social entrepreneur. Those values are exactly the meaning behind Humble Dreamer.
5- Be passionate
Be passionate for the social organization that you want to build or the social cause you believe in, just like Adam is passionate about what his social enterprises does for him and people around the world. One day Adam went to the New York Philharmonic and a guy got up to play a thundering Rachmaninoff concerto. He remembers thinking: “I just want to be as passionate about one thing as this man is about his piano.”
6- Build a non-profit idealism with a for-profit principal
“The rise of social entrepreneurship that we’re seeing right now is the most promising way in which profitable purpose can become the norm.”
For Adam, you can absolutely impact the world positively with a for-profit company, because of it’s ability to align with the market interests. Adam always wanted to run a company with a for-profit mindset, but with the heart of a humanitarian company. Furthermore, Adam truly believes that associating businesses with the non-profit or for-profit tags does an injustice to the emerging landscape of businesses. For a better evaluation of the social benefits a company provides to society, we should use for-purpose or non-purpose tags. Adam believes that the purpose axis is more impactful than the profit axis, because “you will be able to have a solid mission that will resonate with the market even more.” Once we equally weight those two axes, we’ll have a true depiction of modern business. Because what I believe you’ll see is that “for-purpose” companies are those that are succeeding in making money and solving social issues.”
7- Create an innovative approach to overcome challenges
You can overcome any challenge with creativity and innovation. Adam founded Pencils of Promise during one of the worst market crashes, in 2008. But that didn’t stop him. That situation forced the entrepreneurial team of Pencils of Promise to approach their business in an innovative way and allowed them to raise millions of dollars. Thus, Adam and his team bet on two innovative approaches. The first one was the social media initiatives that helped them build an influential community. The second approach was the rise of cause marketing. Adam also used another creative idea to raise the first dollars for building a school. He threw a birthday party and asked every guest to give a few dollars to help build the first school. That night 400 people came and donated more than $8 000.
8- Get out of your comfort zone
If you truly want to find out who you are and what else is out there, you must leap off the edge of your comfort zone and be uncomfortable. By embracing the late, sleepless nights where you will be separated from the rest of the world and have the chance to find the breakthrough moments. By deciding to not follow the path that everybody is telling you to follow. By making the decision that resonates the most with your inner voice.
Adam decided to leave the for-profit path and follow the non-profit one, when he came from top consulting firm to found Pencils of Promise. His advice is : “When you’ve done something for a long period of time it’s difficult to acknowledge, accept, and then implement radical change. It has to happen incrementally.”
9- Find a niche market and change the world one step at a time
You will have a bigger impact if you chose the markets that potentially best fit your social ideas and where there is bigger needs than others. Adam decided to focus on three specific countries: Laos, Guatemala and Nicaragua. Why those countries? Social needs and the fact that they receive less attention than others. When you find the market that best fits you and your social ambition, Adam’s advice is to start the listening tour. You will have to ask questions to your customers or people with social needs in order to understand how you can create a better solution for them.
10- Results speak louder than actions & words
Adam was able to grow Pencils of Promise with real social impacts on education, because he focused, and still focuses on efficiency and measurement. In everything Adam does, from building schools to social media, you can feel his need to know if it will provide long-term ROI. What you can’t measure is what you can’t improve. Adam follows that mantra from finding the appropriate site in a village, building a physical school, hiring local talents and monitoring all schools to see the efficacy, attendance and the retention within each school. With that mindset, Adam can focus on impactful results more than anything else.
11- Create opportunities for others
His first non-profit, PoP (Pencils of Promise), was founded around the idea that one simple opportunity can change and impact positively anybody’s life. For Adam, the thing a pencil transforms itself into is an opportunity.
The mantra of Adam’s non-profit, Pencils of Promise, represents a major key to change the world positively: “A generation empowered will empower the world.” Creation of opportunity is the most important aspect of education and social entrepreneurship, because every single person has a purpose and, ultimately, incredible potential.
After helping thousand of childs with education in poor countries, Adam is working on a new social enterprise MissionU. Their mission is to prepare a forward-thinking, world-class education structure that prepares students for the real-world jobs, debt-free in the United-States of America. A better four-year college route will prepare young people with the core set of skills that they need to succeed in their dream jobs. Adam and MissionU are committed to investing in them for a year. And after, once they've attainted a job paying $50,000 or more, they give 15% of their income back to MissionU. That's how they sustain the program and allow young americans to be debt-free. With his new journey, Adam and is team at MissionU will be able to impact the world positively, help the development of thousands of young students in the United-States of America and why not million of students around the world!
By James Forbes
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