CEO OF PENCILS OF PROMISE
Michael has 25+ years of experience in the education space, including stints at Bain & Co. and in Washington DC helping states keep pace with international best practices of student achievement. Working in developing nations with PoP, he sees even greater impact for students and higher ROI for supporters. Michael has degrees from Colgate and Stanford, is an ultra marathoner, Springsteen fanatic & adventure motorcyclist.
I spent 30 years of my career in the for-profit education sector, helping teachers succeed and students learn to read and write. A few years back, however, I had a realization that the days of my career were numbered. It caused me to reflect on the lasting impact I was making in the world. That’s why when my wife Cindy and I decided to have a joint mid-life crisis, which we’re calling our “crisis for good.” Instead of buying a fancy car or taking extra vacations, we decided to dedicate the final decades of our careers towards bringing education to those who need it most. It’s a decision that we get to share daily; every morning Cindy wakes up and heads to the South Bronx to teach middle school English, and I make my way down to the PoP office to scale innovative literacy programs in the developing world.
At PoP we’re driven by the fundamental belief that where you start in life shouldn’t dictate where you finish. It’s a sentiment on display in our office and drives the work that we do everyday. There are 250 million children around the world who can’t read and write. That number is huge! But we have the tools to fix this problem, and our teams in NYC and in Ghana, Guatemala and Laos are working every day to do so. My vision for the future of education aligns with PoP’s mission: that all children, no matter where they are born or what resources they have, receive access to a quality education. We do have a long way to go, but education is one of the most important investments a country can make in it’s people. If all students in the developing world left school with basic reading skills, 171 million people could be lifted out of poverty. It truly takes a collaborative effort from a lot of people and organizations working on the shared goals of education for all in order to achieve this vision.
Storytelling and creativity are integral to our marketing strategy. Since the early days, something that has set us apart is that this team understands that in order to build a movement around our cause, our brand needs to be at our core. We have a stellar marketing team. I think of them as our internal creative agency – scrappy and audacious. We approach marketing as if we’re a Fortune 100 brand; we don’t see why it would be any different. We’re able to execute big ideas because of authentic relationships that have been built with people who are equally as passionate about our mission. A successful corporate social good partnership should be mutually beneficial – we want the partnership to be long term versus transactional. We look for partners who see themselves both growing with PoP and who are interested in creating an ongoing narrative of sustainable impact. A strong signal that the partnership could be beneficial to both brands is an awareness of all that PoP can offer from a marketing standpoint. Forbes named us one of the best nonprofits to reach Millennials, which is largely because we have over 1 million followers on our social media channels who make up an engaged and active audience — one that truly cares about our work. When we ask our followers to come together for a PoP activation, they do. My greatest success is PoP’s sustaining success: opening up a future of possibility to every child in our communities. There is nothing better than the moment when a new school is inaugurated and the children rush in, laughing, giggling and playing…surely with the thought in their heads “Is this really ours?”. That never gets old.
One key challenge I face every day is communication. We’re building a school a week, training and supporting teachers daily, somewhere around the globe in three countries with vast cultural differences. We have to communicate exceptionally well across teams to pull our work off efficiently and effectively.Be fearless, act boldly and remain passionate and true to your goal. Since joining PoP almost a year ago I’ve come to see that we’ve had such positive outcomes and success because our staff is tenacious, bold and tirelessly committed to bringing our mission to life.
Change the world for children with literacy in 10 years. There’s an urgency to our work. Every year, another 18 million kids give up learning to read and write and will soon “become” illiterate. By utilizing best-in-class tech, dedicated monitoring and evaluation and radical transparency to work in harmony with our donors, we’re working to stop that cycle.
Beer – no really, beer. When I was at Bain & Co in the early 1990s, the idea of having a beer at the office to chill out while working late hours was not an option. Today, it’s a staple of fun, high-engagement office cultures. It took me a while to understand that, but recently I bought a beer fridge, stocked it with craft brews and opened PoP Cafe! And, the staff is pretty much in charge of the Sonos music system; recently I learned about “Fetty Wap Fridays.”
Be fearless, act boldly and remain passionate and true to your goal. Since joining PoP almost a year ago I’ve come to see that we’ve had such positive outcomes and success because our staff is tenacious, bold and tirelessly committed to bringing our mission to life.
Life Motto: My high school senior English teacher, Arthur Naething, ended every single class with the words: “Go Forth and Spread Beauty and Light”. I’ve tried to do so ever since.