Our Blog

June 1, 2015

A platform that’s changing the world

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


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 monitoring and evaluation; we have a Monitoring & Evaluation (M&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.


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

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.


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.”


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.


“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.”


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.”


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.”


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.


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.



Olivia Wittels

Marketing Coordinator
April 27, 2015

PoP welcomes new CEO Michael Dougherty


Just over a year ago we began an international search process for a seasoned leader to guide Pencils of Promise as CEO into our next stage of growth. Although more than 700 candidates applied for the role, the moment we met Michael Dougherty we knew that we had found the exact person we'd been seeking. I'm excited to announce that Michael has accepted the role of Chief Executive Officer and will officially join us starting June 1, 2015!

Many people have asked me over the past year why it felt like the right time for us to find a new CEO. As was detailed in a profile about our search in the Nonprofit Times last year, PoP is in an extraordinary place given our tremendous growth over the past 6+ years.

We all collectively recognized that if we wanted to truly have the greatest impact on the children we serve, it would be best for me to focus on the advocacy and external partnerships where I operate best as Founder while enabling another individual as CEO to lead the staff and organizational vision towards our ambitious goals ahead. Michael brings 25 years of experience in building world-class organizations, and his depth of knowledge in elevating student outcomes will be instrumental in PoP's identity evolving beyond being a school-building organization and towards a innovative learning organization.

Michael and I are extremely excited about the partnership ahead, and I couldn't be more honored to have him on board to work with our Board of Directors, Advisory Board, staff and supporters to create transformative outcomes for the students we serve. Many thanks to those of you that have been helpful in our search process, we're all extremely grateful for your support.


Adam Braun

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.


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

Marketing Coordinator
March 8, 2015

Celebrate International Women’s Day with PoP!

Meet Anita. She’s one of our PoP students from La Primavera, Guatemala. Anita is 11-years-old and has lived in La Primavera her entire life with her mom, dad and eight brothers and sisters.
One day, Anita wants to go to college. She loves learning and really enjoys math – so much, that she says she “could do math for the rest of my life.” Anita knows that going to college will give her the opportunity to become an accountant, and maybe even work at a bank.

Today we celebrate Anita & girls like her across the world. We celebrate their ambition, hope, dedication and hard work. And we celebrate their infinite potential.

At Pencils of Promise, we recognize that receiving an education is a critical a part of unlocking the promise inherent in every woman. In fact, our Guatemala team just launched "Lideresas de Promesa," a women's leadership organization that acknowledges the importance empowering female leaders. Today is a special day as we celebrate all the wonderful women in our lives!

Olivia Wittels

Marketing Coordinator