Our Blog


March 30, 2018

Today, we celebrate the object that started it all



Here at PoP, we get really excited when we hear about people who never let go of their biggest, boldest dreams, follow them fearlessly and live them out each day—particularly when those dreams involve pencils.

So, that’s why when I heard about Caroline Weaver—a lifelong pencil lover and collector turned pencil shop owner—I knew I needed to meet her.

We met on a chilly March morning at her picture-perfect specialty pencil shop, CW Pencil Enterprise, on the Lower East Side of Manhattan in New York City. Caroline’s shop opened three years ago, but she’s been a pencil lover much longer than that.

Caroline grew up in a creative family, and she began collecting pencils as a young kid. As the story goes, it all started when her mother gave her a set of Caran d’Ache (a Swiss brand) colored pencils when she was six years old. “For years that was my most important object,” she says.

Caran D'Ache

And though she cherishes her pencils, Caroline is quick to let me know that she’s never been a fan of collecting for the sake of collection.

“It really makes me sad to think that some people buy these and just put them in a drawer. The whole purpose of a pencil is that it’s supposed to be used. If you’re buying the same pencil that was used by John Steinbeck” she says, “don’t you want to know what it feels like?”

And she’s never been afraid to use even her most valued pencils, because it’s in the use of the pencil that the magic happens.


“In college,” she shares, “every week I would start with a brand new pencil. I would sharpen it on Monday, and on Sunday I would retire it. I’d put it in a small plastic bag, label the date, and pin it to my studio wall.” That way, each pencil would forever be remembered by the time it lived and the things it did. Now, she says, “I try to commit to one, use the whole thing up, and then move onto another.”

At this point in our conversation, I begin to realize that Caroline sees pencils in a way that most don’t. To her, a pencil is a living object, each with its own unique quality, feel and ideas it’s meant to express during its lifetime. Just as you can guess someone’s age by their appearance, Caroline notes that you can see how much a pencil has written, and therefore how much it has lived, by its size.

It wasn’t long after college that Caroline opened CW Pencil Enterprise. The more she learned about pencils, the more she grew to love with their individual histories, and she dreamt of “having a place where all the pencils could live together and I could just share those stories.”

And now, three years later, she’s sharing those stories each day at CW Pencil Enterprise. The shop has become a place where pencil aficionados (which yes, there are quite a few) can find the specific pencil they need, and first-timers can sit down at the shop’s test station to test as many pencils as is necessary to find the one that feels just right.

“It’s really exciting when you do find that one that’s perfect.” Caroline says, which inevitably reminds me of how “the wand chooses the wizard” in Harry Potter.

CW Enterprise

“Something as simple as having the right pencil can truly make a difference for a lot of people.” Caroline knows this might sound a little crazy to some, but in her experience, it couldn’t be more true.

“We get a lot of customers who come in looking for something very, very specific,” she tells me, like a great pencil to sign their artwork with, to take the Bar exam with or to fill out the New York Times crossword with. She even tells me a story of a woman who used the same pencil for every important written thing in her life—exams, her marriage certificate and all important documents (yes, she signs things in pencil).

As for Caroline’s instrument of choice, she says, “I like them to be a little softer and a little darker, but I think it’s important that they still have that pencil sound.” The sensory experience of using a pencil—that scratching sound, the smell of cedar, the feeling in the hand—is what gives each pencil its identity, and is what Caroline loves about them most.

CW Enterprise

At PoP, we often use a pencil to symbolize education—and to symbolize the endless possibilities that education can bring. And after speaking with Caroline, I’m more of a believer than ever that such a simple, often overlooked object, has much more inside of it than we realize.

“A pencil can really be a gateway to so many things,” she says. It allows us to not only let our ideas loose into the world, but to do so fearlessly, since, anything written in pencil can always be erased.

Dana Delaski

Digital Content Intern
February 5, 2018

Education Advocate and Nonprofit Leader Tanya Ramos Appointed CEO of Pencils of Promise

New York, NY, February 5, 2018:  Pencils of Promise (PoP) announced today the appointment of non-profit leader and education advocate Tanya Ramos as Chief Executive Officer, effective February 12, 2018.  Building on PoP’s most successful year of growth to date, Tanya will lead PoP into its next season of achieving its mission to bring quality education to every child.

Over the past two decades, Tanya has devoted her career to improving educational opportunities and life outcomes for young people in the most low-resourced communities. With a track record of growing organizations in key leadership roles at Education Pioneers and The Children’s Aid Society, she has served as a tireless advocate for educational equity.

“I’m honored to be appointed CEO of Pencils of Promise and continue their life-changing work for children globally,” said Ramos. “Working together with our dedicated global team, board and donors, I know we can uphold the promise of quality education for every child.”

"PoP was looking for a powerful leader with the experience to build on our record of digital education innovation, deepen programmatic impact and expand our powerful work reaching over 75,000 children globally," said Meighan Stone, Executive Chairwoman of PoP. "We know in Tanya, we have found the right leader to take our mission forward."

Founded in 2008, PoP is for-purpose organization dedicated to increasing access to quality education for children in the developing world. PoP works with communities Laos, Nicaragua, Guatemala and Ghana to build schools, train teachers and create digital learning programs.

Prior to joining Pencils of Promise, Tanya was the Chief Regional Officer at Education Pioneers, an organization devoted to increasing the talent supply of top leaders in education.  She previously served as Executive Director of Literacy Inc. and as Senior Manager of Strategic Corporate Partnerships at The Taproot Foundation, in addition to key leadership roles at ASPIRA and the Children’s Aid Society.  Tanya has been honored with the Annie E. Casey Foundation Award for exemplary work in underserved communities and received her Master of Science in Urban Policy and Management from New School University.

“This milestone year is an exciting point in PoP’s journey as we approach our 10th Anniversary,” said Adam Braun, PoP founder and emeritus member of PoP’s Board of Directors. “Tanya is an exceptional leader with incredible experience growing teams and scaling impact.  As we look to break ground on our 500th school and reach close to 100,000 students next year, we know Tanya’s vision will help PoP realize the potential of even more children globally.”

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Media Inquiries:

Natalie Ebel | nebel@pencilsofpromise.org | 212.777-3170

Pencils of Promise

June 1, 2015

A platform that’s changing the world

How using Salesforce has led to unprecedented growth in international education.

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Pencils of Promise is a data-driven organization. Of course, with meticulous data collection comes great analysis — since PoP works in three continents, technology has become an integral part in allowing us to collect and utilize the knowledge we’ve gained from our data into creating tangible results for students in the classroom.

PoP uses numerous technological innovations; from e-readers, to tablets, to WiFi sticks, technology has had an unparalleled significance on the effectiveness of our work. It’s difficult to choose just one piece of technology that’s created the most impact for our organization, but arguably Salesforce, a platform that allows everyone on our team real-time access to the same data, is the piece of technology most central to PoP in terms of scaling our work and growing as an organization.

Specifically, within Salesforce we’ve created an Impact app that allows us to see information from our schools in real time, straight from the ground.

We can intervene as soon as we see that a student’s attendance is dropping or if a school build is on hold — this technology allows us to assess and prepare for anything that comes up in the field.

Everyone on our team has access to that information, thus we’re able to communicate what’s going on — at all times — across four different countries within one shared platform. We’re much more connected to each other and to the work that we do, and we can grow exponentially because of the lack of delay in communication. Further, Salesforce provides our entire team with the capability to visualize what’s happening with all of the data that we collect; we can create graphs, reports and other dynamic content to share and analyze our impact.

2014 Pencils of Promise Ghana 200th


As we know too well, it’s not just the physical structure of a new school that indicates success or sustainability. Along with school builds, we provide teacher support for our schools, which includes training, materials, lesson plans and teaching methodologies. To ensure our teachers are achieving positive results in the classroom and that students are actually learning and progressing, we measure the success of these schools through extensive learning and evaluation; we have a Learning & Evaluation (L&E) team on the ground in each country to test and track the progress of our students.

Undoubtedly, technology like Salesforce plays an enormous part in the effectiveness of our M&E teams. For example, we’re currently using a test collection software called Tangerine. The software allows PoP technicians to take tablets into the field to administer literacy and numeracy tests to students, return to the office and sync that information straight to Salesforce — here in New York, we receive the information that day. We can then analyze it immediately, as well as share it on our website to demonstrate our impact and remain transparent to our donors.

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Ultimately, technology allows us to automate a lot of our processes so that across countries, everyone can stay up-to-date with what needs to happen and when it needs to happen. This allows us to spend less time on the day-to-day menial tasks and focus more on our impact and effectiveness.

PoP collects an incredible amount of data across geographies, and we’ve used technology to centralize our work and better reinforce an education system for the children we impact.

Right now, we’re not just interested in creating infrastructure but additionally in changing what a learning experience can be for a child anywhere in the world. For students, introducing technology into the classroom will allow them to have access to more educational materials, which ultimately has an immeasurable impact on their learning process. In the communities that we work in, most classrooms contain few, if any, engaging books — without books, students don’t read. One e-reader provides a student with 100 books in both English and the local language. Bringing technology into our schools allows us to level the playing field by providing students with the most basic classroom needs.

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Using tools like Salesforce, we can then constantly evaluate the outcomes and ROI of our programs, which includes the innovations and technology we bring into the classroom, like e-readers. In turn, we’re consciously investing in what’s going to have the greatest impact on education outcomes, allowing us to become a leader amongst the innovative global nonprofits working toward sustainable social change.

Olivia Wittels

Senior Marketing Coordinator
April 27, 2015

Mom’s the word


To celebrate Mother’s Day, we spoke with some inspirational PoP moms who shared what an education means to them & their families.

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The first PoP school was built in honor of Adam’s grandmother, Eva. She’s a Holocaust survivor and her experience was a crucial part of his upbringing; after she survived such a harrowing ordeal, Adam wanted to do the most meaningful thing he could to ensure that his grandmother’s legacy would last and that her survival would make the lives of others better. Upon building the first PoP school, Adam saw how meaningful it was to dedicate a good deed to someone else — we can bring happiness to our own lives by honoring the people we love most.

At PoP, we’re passionate about the unparalleled positive effects that stem from an education. Yet sometimes we’re so focused on our own efforts to help students receive a quality education that we forget to honor the other people who play an integral role in helping instill in our students a passion and desire to learn: their parents.

Recently, we were fortunate to have a chance to speak with some mothers of PoP students in Chicocab, Guatemala, a small agricultural community located over an hour from our southern regional office in Boca Costa. It’s one thing to hear a student discuss the impact that receiving an education has on his or her life, but talking with these women provides another perspective on how synonymous education has become with opportunity.

Just a short walk from the school, through the main part of the village, we sat down with Manuela. She greeted us warmly when we arrived at her home, offering us sodas in a bright yellow shirt that perfectly matched her sunny personality.

“When you have so little, like we do, it is so important to have an education,” said Manuela. Referring to her daughter, Manuela (the two are tocayas, meaning they share the same namesake, a fact that Manuela told our team with pride), she added, “It can’t be taken away from her. It is something that she will always have for herself, even if there is nothing else.”

Manuela’s two older sons were unable to continue with their education due to the family’s lack of financial resources. With five of her seven children gathered around her, she told our team that even though Manuela hasn’t completed secondary school yet, she’s already “seeing the changes reflected in our family. If Pencils of Promise hadn’t helped us, she would not be in school right now, but now she will be able to help our family in the future.”

While speaking with Manuela, it was apparent that discussing her dreams for her family was difficult — understandably, as it’s challenging to be forward-thinking while consumed by daily worries like maintaining a household or putting food on the table.

Yet when the subject came up, she didn’t hesitate to share her aspirations for her children: to study.

“Manuela is the first of my children who has been able to continue studying and given the opportunity to attend secondary school … I hope that she continues studying until graduating from whichever degree she chooses.”

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We met Catarina, a single mother also from Chicocab, setting up chairs in a shaded spot outside her modest, one-room home constructed of wooden planks and cement block, woven textiles drying on a clothesline nearby.

Since her husband passed away some years ago, Catarina has been the sole provider for her family; her eldest son, Pascual, attends secondary school with the help of a PoP scholarship.

“As his parents, we were never given the opportunity to be able to receive an education — and now that Pascual has this opportunity, he must take advantage of it,” Catarina said. “I always remind my son how important it is to complete his schoolwork and to try his best to learn more and more every day. I see the quality of education that he is receiving and I am so thankful.”

Like Manuela, it was initially difficult for Catarina to open up about her dreams for her children. But when the subject was mentioned, she looked at Pascual — quietly standing beside her — and smiled brightly. She began to answer, hesitatingly at first, but beaming at her son the whole time.

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“What I wish for most is that my son will be able to complete his studies. I hope that I will have the joy and happiness of knowing that he is able to finish his education, because I can see how willing and excited he is to keep learning.”

It was clear that she wasn’t used to saying these thoughts out loud, but Catarina’s confidence only grew as she continued to speak.

“Together, we do have many dreams for the future. Pascual wants to continue with his education, but I don’t know how we will be able to continue helping him. For now, we know that he will complete secondary school with the help of Pencils of Promise.”

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In Pasac Palacal, a community about an hour away from PoP’s Boca Costa office, our team sat down with Isabela, whose son, Manuel, is also a PoP scholarship student. In their home, a small wooden structure about 20 minutes walking distance from the school, she told us that their family “used to worry about our lack of resources, but … now, we can pay their school fees and for their school materials … Now, I don’t worry so much anymore because I’m just happy to see them studying.”

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Like Catarina, Isabela was initially hesitant to share her aspirations for her sons, as she mentioned being “conscious of the fact that beyond 3rd Básico [the equivalent of 9th grade] it will be impossible for them to continue studying.”

“Yes, there are dreams,” Isabela said. “But for the moment, I only allow myself to dream about them completing their education. It’s difficult to think farther beyond that right now.”

Yet even while appearing quite grounded (this was the only moment in our conversation that her voice seemed to falter), Isabela’s optimism couldn’t help but shine through.

“In our family, we have a goal — our goal is that my two sons that are studying now are able to complete school and are able to find good jobs. Then, we hope that they are able to help the children that are now in primary school, so that they too are able to study and that all are able to complete their education. This is our plan that we hope to accomplish, so that every one of my children will be educated … As a family, we will collaborate and work together so that all will make it through secondary school.”

Isabela was also adamant in sharing her appreciation for everyone who has played a role in sending her sons to school.

“We don’t have the resources or know how to pay back all the people who have helped us, both in my family and in Pasac Palacal. Without even knowing us or meeting us, they have given us confidence to keep moving forward and are helping so many people in our community.”

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This Mother’s Day, we want to take a moment to celebrate all the PoP mothers who have dedicated and sacrificed so much to help their children attend school. On a day where we’re honoring our own supermoms in the U.S., we’re also thinking about these incredible women, who — despite having so little — instill confidence in their children to pursue their potential and promise, no matter the obstacles.

We’re relentlessly working to provide all children with access to quality education. These PoP moms are (just three of many) working tirelessly to remind their children that an education is the key to a better future. They send their sons and daughters to school every day because they believe in the power and opportunity inherent in learning, inspiring their children — and all of us — to believe that with an education, anything is possible.

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Honor your mother by empowering another. Our friends at 1–800-FLOWERS.COM are offering 15% off an exclusive collection of flowers, plants and gifts, along with a $10 donation to PoP for each Mother’s Day purchase.

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Olivia Wittels

Senior Marketing Coordinator
March 26, 2015

The Big 3-0-0!


When reflecting upon the number 300, we can’t help but think about the movie with that same name. The film 300 came out in 2006, the same year our Founder, Adam Braun, graduated college. But what does a movie glorifying the Spartan empire of ancient Greece have to do with Pencils of Promise? Well, we at PoP like to think that we have a few traits in common with the bold, brave and ambitious Spartans.

Let us explain. At this moment, PoP has officially broken ground on its 300th school. To date, we’ve built 300 schools across 3 continents in 4 different countries. Each and every one of our schools in Ghana, Guatemala, Nicaragua and Laos is fully operational and educates students daily. 300 schools is a huge milestone for PoP, and one that we couldn’t have reached without the desire, passion and remarkably hard work from everyone involved with this organization. Sounds a bit Spartan-like, if you ask us.

What does 300 mean to PoP? It means results for our students.

It means that in Guatemala, 40% more PoP 2nd graders are literate than their peers and 98% of teachers reported that their students are more focused in class because of a new PoP school.

It means that in Ghana, teachers and students both report that students with e-readers are now reading 2-times as much as before.

It means that in Laos, PoP 3rd graders score 3-times higher on literacy tests than their peers.

2014 Pencils of Promise Ghana 200th


Needless to say, our PoP family might not be battling in ancient Greece. But we undoubtedly have a Spartan-like mentality in our focus and dedication toward making access to an education a reality for every child, everywhere. PoP invests in education. And the investment is paying off. As Alice, a 3rd grade student attending Okajakrom Basic School in Ghana put it:

“The best part of going to school is that we’re taught to become great people in the future.”

Think that’s ambitious? We don’t. Because that’s the power of an education – to inspire children, communities and even nations to believe in themselves and their own promise. A physical structure is just the first step; what’s happening inside the classroom is just as important as ensuring that students have a place to learn.

So, what’s next for PoP? We break ground on a new school every 100 hours. But now we’re not just creating infrastructure – 300 schools later, we’re genuinely changing what a learning experience can be for a child anywhere in the world.

We’re supporting teachers through training, lesson plans, private coaching and new literacy and numeracy methodologies. We’re awarding secondary school scholarships to students so that they can continue to receive an education. We’re providing water and hygiene lessons to teach students clean habits to keep them healthy and in school.

We’re also bringing innovations into our schools, including e-readers and tablets. We’re giving students access to books and materials, pencils and paper, notebooks and projectors; all basic classroom items that were rarely – if ever – found in their classrooms before. And we’re partnering with leading experts in the field of education, like TED Prize Winner Sugata Mitra and Microsoft, to launch a pilot around self-organized learning environments.

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We know that it’s not just the physical structure of a new school that indicates success or sustainability. For that reason, we have Monitoring & Evaluation teams on the ground in each country to extensively, and continuously, test and track the progress of our students. We consistently evaluate our methodologies to ensure students achieve the best possible results and make changes to our programming if we don’t see progress. We rely on measurable data to qualify our success and remain willing to change our goals or in-classroom methods to establish the long-term effectiveness of our schools. And we’re seeing results – our programs, without question, have lead to increased student achievement.

Since 2008, Pencils of Promise has been a driving force in the fight for educational equality. As PoP reached an incredible milestone this week, it was quite apparent that our organization remains just as committed to providing children in developing countries with access to a quality education as we were six years ago.

We couldn’t have done it without you. To quote from 300 (we really like the movie!): “In the end, a Spartan's true strength is the warrior next to him.”

The same can be truly said for Pencils of Promise. Without your support, dedication and endless effort, we couldn’t have reached this remarkable milestone. Without the commitment from our communities, teachers, PoP teams on the ground and in NYC, we wouldn’t have been able to turn one school in rural Laos into 300. Most importantly, without our students – who serve as our inspiration each and every day – we wouldn’t have a purpose, the unrelenting belief that everyone, no matter where you are born, has promise.

Here’s to the next 300.

Pencils of Promise Guatemala May 2011

Olivia Wittels

Senior Marketing Coordinator