Creating Social Value Blog / Social Innovation

Notes from the Case Files: What Happened Next

By Jesseca P. Timmons, a case writer in Entrepreneurial Studies and Social Entrepreneurship for the Lewis Institute at Babson College.

The end of a teaching case is never really the end. Part of what makes the case method fascinating is finding out what an entrepreneur did next—or where they are today.

When Mary Gale and I finished our 2012 case on Adam Braun and Pencils of Promise (PoP), PoP was building schools and creating community support programs in four countries: Laos, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and Ghana. Adam and his Director of International Programs, Emily Gore, were particularly excited about the recent launch in Ghana, where PoP had partnered with a local nonprofit to facilitate the first five builds.

When Mary and I checked in with Adam nine moths later, in fall 2013, we were happy to hear that he had gone on a six-month sabbatical from PoP, gotten married, and written a book, The Promise of a Pencilwhich debuted at number two on the New York Times bestseller list.   We were not at all surprised to hear that the first school in Ghana had been completed and that several other new schools were in the works.

What did surprise us was that since we had last spoken with Adam, PoP had made the decision stop expansion Nicaragua. The potential for rapid growth in Ghana made a sharp contrast to the situation in Nicaragua, where, as Emily described, the cultural and political situation significantly slowed the process of building schools:

In Latin America, there have been recent civil wars that have really impacted the level of community cohesion. It just requires a lot more effort from us all around….making sure everyone is one the same page. In particular, the labor piece is harder. It is harder to get a community to donate 2 people per day for 4 months to work on the project.

Adam explained the decision to stop developing new sites in Nicaragua:

We have done a bunch of analysis on this, and Nicaragua, because of its low population density—we’re not able to deploy dollars in a way that touched as many lives. We looked at cost of school and student ratios, and a lot of the restrictions we have seen there–we were just not as effective in Nicaragua because of low population density; we just can’t reach as many lives as in the other three countries.

Pulling back in Nicaragua was typical of Adam’s ability to make tough, unsentimental decisions in single-minded pursuit of the mission—spending money inefficiently there would drain resources from countries which were a better fit, like Ghana.

Adam also told us that PoP is now focusing on the two interventions creating the “most major impact”: high-quality teacher training and student scholarships to support children through secondary school. Finally, Adam listed PoP’s goals for the next few years: “Build 500 schools, train a thousand teachers, and put 10,000 kids in our scholarship program.” As I write this post, PoP has already built over 200 schools—well on their way to their goal of 500 schools—and Adam continues to generate international acclaim, having recently been named, among other accolades, “One of the 50 People Who are Changing the World” by Wired Magazine. Mary and I plan to stay in touch with Adam—and someday get another hour or two of his time for “PoP, Part 2.”