Adam Braun was a Brown University student planning a career in high finance when he was inspired by a film to travel to developing countries to see poverty firsthand.
In India, he asked a boy he encountered what he wanted most. The reply stunned him: "a pencil." Braun gave the boy his pencil and never forgot how his face lit up.
That encounter, and others on Braun's semester abroad, made him realize the power of education to change lives. He returned home with a goal to gain enough financial expertise to start an organization to raise money to build a school overseas.
Since 2009, Pencils of Promise has partnered with communities and governments to build 206 schools in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa and Asia. It also trains teachers and covers other school costs. Braun's book, The Promise of a Pencil, released this spring, was a New York Times best-seller.
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Braun will be in Lexington on Thursday to be the keynote speaker at Emerge 14, a one-day conference organized by Commerce Lexington to engage young professionals in the community.
Other speakers include Josh Nadzam, founder of Lexington's Manchester Bidwell Replication Project, which aims to create a version of a Pittsburgh program that fights poverty through arts education and job training; Whit Hiler and Griffin Van Meter of the state pride organization Kentucky for Kentucky; and Matt Jones, founder of Kentucky Sports Radio.
Breakout session topics include "turning your passion into reality," "leveraging the community to grow your business," "pursuing elected leadership," "developing your best professional self" and "growing a movement."
The conference will be at the Hilton Lexington/Downtown hotel, with breakout sessions at nearby locations.
The idea for the conference, which is planned as an annual event, came from Commerce Lexington's Leadership Visit last year to Omaha, Neb., which hosts a similar conference, where Braun has been one of its most popular speakers.
Not only are Braun's personal story and accomplishments inspiring, but New York-based Pencils of Promise represents a new business model for doing good that is gaining attention from many young professionals.
In many ways it resembles a traditional nonprofit organization, but Pencils of Promise uses for-profit business strategies to accomplish its goals. All donations go to programs, and overhead, which accounts for less than 20 percent of the organization's budget, comes from other sources. All finances are disclosed online at Pencilsofpromise.org.