Adam Sharpe, Engagement Specialist, Consultant at UNESCO Bangkok

Adam Sharpe

 

Benedict Joson is launching a hugely ambitious education nonprofit called 260by26. His goal? To get the 260 million children out of school around the world into the education system. I wanted to understand the challenges he faces as a young social entrepreneur, and why education is THE issue for him and his friends.

Ben contacted me on Facebook completely out of the blue in 2017 asking for advice on how to scale his organization. “Can you help?” Three words too rarely uttered.

Adam: Your message to me on Facebook is one of only a handful of times that a young person has asked me for help, outside of asking for a job or for money.

Ben: Well sure, why not? I have a friend called Elizabeth Yeampierre who is Executive Director of Uprose Brooklyn, they co-organized the climate march in New York and Washington DC. She once said that for us to tackle injustice, we need to have an inter-generational movement that encourages young people to seize leadership roles while at the same time seeking the wisdom of the elders. And vice versa, where the elders are not clinging onto power but share it and use their experience to empower. That’s partly the inspiration for me reaching out, and partly because you’re excellent.

Flattery will get you everywhere with me Ben. What a minute, did you just call me an elder?!

For us to tackle injustice, we need to have an inter-generational movement that encourages young people to seize leadership roles while at the same time seeking the wisdom of the elders.

Adam: Why is education so important to you?

Ben: We are facing a global learning crisis. 260 million kids are not in school, and this greatly impedes the achievement of ALL the sustainable development goals. More importantly, it’s simply not right. There is a global movement right now at the highest levels of the UN and the education sector to mobilize BILLIONS of dollars that will fill a multi-billion dollar investment gap in education around the world.

Adam: So what’s the problem?

Ben: The danger is that this money fails to filter down to the communities where it is most needed. At the grassroots level, there are plenty of advocacy projects around access to education and related issues like water, health, gender equality etc, but there is very little action when it comes to financing.

Photo by Hope Reichbach Fund

Ben is as passionate as he is articulate. He speaks calmly, as though he’s been tackling these issues for decades, as though he belongs.

Adam: How do you guys plan to tackle this?

Ben: 260by26 works to create a network impact approach to social change, bringing together different stakeholders to collaborate, share resources and knowledge. 260by26 also took on a recommendation from the Education Commission to create an Education Giving Pledge which means anyone can give funds to support organizations working on children’s education. And as a means of sustaining ourselves, we are launching crowdfunding campaigns to support these organizations, while simultaneously securing funding for our own future.

Sustainability is a perpetual challenge for young people looking to smash the stereotypes and launch their own organizations. There are the obvious challenges anyone can face trying to start something good, but being young doesn’t make it any easier, whether it be due to a lack of access to finance, balancing work with study, or simply not being taken seriously.

Adam: What do you think are the biggest challenges for young people launching their own organizations?

Ben: There are so many. Firstly, it’s about capital. Financial capital. Human capital. There are youth leaders who are very talented but don’t have access to the same kind of resources as I do. Also, it’s about having a support system. For me, I thrive in a community that supports me and vice versa.

Starting a company brings out the “feels”. I’m working with friends, colleagues, and organizations toward a mission that we’re passionate about—all children learning and reaching their potential. For me, light bulbs spark up and adrenaline rushes in random moments of the day. Other times, I’m in doubt, drawing blanks, or drained because of the uncertainty, ambiguity, and challenge of it all. 

Photo by Kenneth Ruan

I really want to hire this guy. Ben continues…

I’ve got to think through so many things: What’s our unique value add? How should I engage the volunteer founding team? When should I contact that potential partner? What’s our timelines? How are we going to raise funding and sustain ourselves? What about legal, human resources, culture? Are we going to be successful? What if we fail?

But, what if we succeed? What if 260by26 and the global education movement we are part of and working to support succeeds? That’s what keeps me going and pushing through no matter what professional and personal hurdles come my way.

Inspiring stuff. Let’s switch it up.

Adam: Time for a quick-fire round. Ready?

Ben: Ready!

Adam: Compared to your parents lives, do you think your future will be a) generally better or b) generally worse?

Ben: There are moments I fear it will be worse, BUT I am taking as much control of my life as I can and I know it will be better!

Such a hopeless optimist.

Adam: What was school like for you?

Ben: My education is the inspiration for what I’m doing. The motto of my school here in New York Hunter College is “The care of the future is mine”. I took it to heart I guess.

Adam: Do you agree that previous generations are to blame for the problems you face today?

Ben: There are many problems that occurred because of previous generations that we have to grapple with. But I don’t want to put the blame on them because we are creating our own problems today.

Adam: Do you agree or disagree that everyone has their chance in the current education system?

Ben: I disagree. Today, where you are born and who you are can determine your educational opportunity. We have to change that. We have to ensure that young people no matter who or where they are have access to inclusive quality education.

Adam: Are you Facebook friends with your parents?

Ben: My parents are not on Facebook. But I am friends with my aunts and uncles. If my parents decided to, good for them! I would definitely post family photos. I love my family.

Adam: My mum cannot stop commenting on everything. Ok next. Do you feel more a part of your city, the country you were born in, the country you live in, or the world.

Ben: All of the above. I am a resident of Queens, I am a New Yorker, I am an American, I am a Filipino, I am a Global Citizen.

Adam: For you a successful life depends more on a) Family b) Job c) Money d) Being happy?

Ben: Tough one. My mind is going towards family and being happy.

Adam: Do you feel the education system prepared you well for the job market?

Ben: It could have prepared me better. Why is personal finance not part of all our educational upbringing? All the practical things in life must be learnt outside of school, and that’s wrong.

Adam: If there was a war, would you be willing to fight for your country?

Ben: My inclination is to say no because I am against war. Period. I am more inclined to fight against the war itself.

Adam: Do you trust politics?

Ben: Um…. I think you can tell from my hesitation! Not quite…

Adam: How do you treat people you disagree with?

Ben: I listen to them, try to put myself in their shoes, I try to engage and share my perspective.

Adam: Your halo is shining very brightly right now Ben! Where is the line that no-one can cross?

Ben: If they don’t like the boy band BTS. Only joking. There have been instances when people have gotten on my nerves. If they’re inconsiderate, not treating others with respect, being completely ignorant, then I get irritated. But I still maintain empathy. You’ve gotta listen.

Adam: Well done Ben, I thought you did a fantastic job of not jeopardizing your career during that interview even though I tried so hard to lure you into that trap.

Ben: When do I get to interview you?!?!

Adam: Never!

If you are passionate about education like Ben is, visit 260by26.org and get involved, visit theirworld.org to learn about the education learning crisis, and visit globalcitizen.org which engages world leaders in SDG4 and all the global goals.

Quick-fire questions come courtesy of the Generation What campaign, the world’s first global transmedia campaign providing platforms for young voices to be heard. Learn more at https://bit.ly/2MEzs40

To connect with Benedict Joson, go to https://www.linkedin.com/in/benedictjoson/ or Google him for the rest.

Read about the Millennial CEO declaring war on work: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/millenial-ceo-declaring-war-work-adam-sharpe/

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