Leslie Engle Young
Leslie Engle Young, Pencils of Promise
CATEGORY: humanitarian organizations
TITLE: Chief impact officer, pencils of promise
Pencils of Promise, an organization started in 2008 by social entrepreneur and philanthropist Adam Braun, has made it its mission to provide a quality education to children who otherwise may not have access to one. They specifically work in Ghana, Guatemala, and Laos working alongside and with each community in order to ensure the best education possible. We talked with their Chief Impact Officer, Leslie Engle Young, about the work that PoP does as well as the role she plays in their impact operations.
LESLIE, FIRSTLY, CAN YOU TELL US ABOUT THE ISSUE THAT PENCILS OF PROMISE IS TACKLING? WHY IS THIS SUCH A WIDESPREAD ISSUE?
At Pencils of Promise we want to ensure that students, no matter where they are born or where they live, are given access to a quality education. Rural education systems around the world are underserved and under-resourced. A large part of that problem is the lack of qualified teachers—and really the lack of quality training for teachers. We partner with government schools and districts to support the ongoing training of teachers serving some of the highest need kids.
TELL US ABOUT YOUR ROLE AT PoP. WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR KEY DUTIES AS CHIEF IMPACT OFFICER?
As the Chief Impact Officer, I get to oversee the work that happens in Ghana, Guatemala and Laos. What that really means is that I have the best colleagues and team a person could ask for. Along with our team in NYC, I work directly with the Country Directors in each of our locations, partnering with them to ensure we’re delivering our programs and serving our students as best as possible. I also partner with our CEO and Board to chart the path forward for our programs and really plan for the kind of impact we want to have in years to come.
HOW DID YOU PERSONALLY BECOME PASSIONATE ABOUT THIS ISSUE?
Growing up, both of my parents were educators working in very rural schools in Oregon. While it took me some time to get to this point, I knew I wanted to work in education in some capacity. Once I lived in Laos, I became forever connected to the power that education holds. Access to a quality education is completely transformative.
WHAT COUNTRIES DOES PoP WORK IN?
PoP works in Ghana, Guatemala and Laos. We started our work in Laos in 2009 after our founder had traveled to the area. I personally then ended up living in Laos and growing our local operations there. As a young organization with a desire to have a global footprint, we then expanded to Central America in Guatemala. And by 2012, we were ready again to try our work in a new area and expanded into Ghana. We work in areas that have high need, are conflict-free and where public schools have support of the government.
WHAT DOES A SCHOOL LOOK LIKE IN THE AREAS YOU ARE WORKING IN? I.E. WHAT CLASSES ARE TAUGHT, WHO ARE THE TEACHERS, HOW MANY KIDS, ETC.
Our schools are in rural areas that serve high-need populations. They are all public schools, meaning they are operated and sustained by the ministries of education. They follow the public school curriculum teaching basic classes like language, math and science. Our role as an organization is to support the teacher with enhanced resources and training so they can better execute on that curriculum. The average size of our schools is around 200 students, from kindergarten through 5th or 6th grade.
“We believe in forming true partnerships with communities and teachers in which a school is fully supported by the community. We are proud to say that 100% of the schools we have built are open and operational to date.”
“At Pencils of Promise we want to ensure that students, no matter where they are born or where they live, are given access to a quality education.”
YOUR APPROACH TO PROVIDING EDUCATION IN THESE COMMUNITIES IS VERY COLLABORATIVE, WORKING WITH AND ALONGSIDE THE COMMUNITY. CAN YOU EXPLAIN MORE ABOUT THIS MODEL AND WHY IT’S SO IMPORTANT TO THE SUSTAINABILITY OF YOUR PROGRAMS?
We believe that this approach is truly the only way to do the work that we are doing. We believe In forming true partnerships with communities and teachers in which a school is fully supported by the community. We are proud to say that 100% of the schools we have built are open and operational to date.
CAN YOU TELL US A STORY OF A COMMUNITY WHO YOU HAVE PROVIDED EDUCATION FOR?
The first community that we ever worked in is called Pha Theung. Located in the northern part of Laos, it is stunningly beautiful. And for me personally, it holds a special place in my heart. In the first years of PoP, the team consisted of myself and my Lao colleague, Lanoy, now Co-Country Director there. We were both volunteers and we were learning by doing—we spent countless days in Pha Theung talking to teachers, observing classes and getting to know community members. Through those conversations, I began to understand the realities of education there. And while those learnings don’t directly transfer to other communities or countries, that commitment to having a deep understanding of the places that we work became part of our ethos.
ON A MORE PERSONAL NOTE, WHAT IS YOUR ‘WHY’ BEHIND WHAT YOU DO AT POP? WHAT HAS BEEN THE MOST FULFILLING PART OF YOUR JOB?
The best part of my job is the people that I get to work with. Our teams in-country are made of up passionate, smart, hard-working individuals who believe in investing in the children in their country. Those of us that sit in the NYC office get to have the honor of working for our colleagues abroad, helping make sure they have the resources to truly enact change.
WHAT ARE SOME WAYS THAT PEOPLE CAN GET INVOLVED AND TAKE ACTION ON THIS ISSUE?
Give now. Join us in providing quality education to students around the world. Just $75 provides a child with PoP programming for a full year.
Start a campaign. Create a personal fundraising campaign and fundraise to provide more kids around the world with access to quality education.
Donate your voice. Use social media to raise awareness for the 250 million kids around the world who cannot read or write.
All Images courtesy of Pencils of Promise