Community

About the 10 CEO’s

Historians may conclude that the most important thing going on in the world in the early 21st century was a stunning decline in human suffering.

As world leaders gather for the United Nations General Assembly this week, all the evidence suggests that we are at an inflection point for the ages. The number of people living in extreme poverty tumbled by half in two decades, and the number of small children dying has dropped by a similar proportion — that’s six million lives a year saved.

— Nicholas Kristof, New York Times, September 22, 2016

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Karim Ajania, Director of the Pencils for Africa program

This is a very exciting time to nurture and to cultivate young 21st century social entrepreneurs.

As an educator, and as the director of the Pencils for Africa (PFA) program, it has been a privilege and a joy for me to see the 10 CEO’s featured on this website blossom into their full potential as aspiring social entrepreneurs. While young people have frequently held the ideal, throughout the ages, of wishing to make a difference in the world, there is no time like the present in our history, whereby young people can be given the tools of technology and the access to global networks, to actually realize their ideals for a better world by being empowered to make a real difference.

The fact that the 7 of the 10 CEO’s featured here are all based in the San Francisco Bay Area, a worldwide hub for progressive social entrepreneurship, means that their aspirations for a better world are being cultivated within an extensive social enterprise culture and support structure.

This includes a growing culture of Corporate Social Responsibility and prospective support of forward-thinking San Francisco Bay Area technology companies and foundations which enable educational and humanitarian progress in the developing countries on the African continent.

The fact that 3 of the 10 CEO’s featured here are based in Africa, means that they bring a ‘reality check’ as to issues on the ground in African countries, where the majority of the populations live on less than one dollar a day. Daily realities are elemental for most of these people. Needs are usually confined to non-technologies, such as a need for books, pencils and clean drinking water.

These 10 CEO’s, all of whom are middle to high school students between the ages 13 and 17, hold a hope and a beacon for their generation, as our future leaders and global policy makers.

— Karim Ajania, Director of the Pencils for Africa program

Let’s pause to acknowledge the greatest gains in human well-being in the history of our species — not to inspire complacency, but to spur our efforts to accelerate what may be the most important trend in the world today.

— Nicholas Kristof, New York Times, September 22, 2016

(To read the full article by Nicholas Kristof, “The Best News You Don’t Know”, click here).

CEO Parents

Denise Sutherland

As students in the Pencils for Africa program, thanks to the support of Chyah Weitzman and Karim Ajania, and the many board members and consultants for Pencils for Africa, our middle school age students have started learning not only about Africa, but also about the complexities of education and its ability to improve the lives of individuals, families and entire communities.

Education is not a right, a requirement, or even a possibility in most African countries.

Ours kids are learning and understanding that it is often only those that boldly challenge social norms, sacrifice their safety and diligently pursue their education, despite poverty, that have the opportunity to go to school.

As CEO parents, we feel blessed that our kids are proactively using the knowledge they have gained to creatively engage in the global community and share what they have learned in the Pencils for Africa program. The CEO’s have all identified challenges facing access to education.

Through their respective Pencils for Africa entities, they are educating others about Africa and the educational hurdles of millions of kids around the world, developing intelligent ways to help facilitate more opportunities for kids to go to school and reaching out to corporations and NGO’s to encourage their support for education for less privileged people worldwide.

Although the mostly high school aged CEOs are full-time students, have several hours of homework each night, are engaged in sports/music/theater/language studies and volunteer locally to support their communities, they enthusiastically and unselfishly pursue their roles as CEO’s to provide educational opportunities for others. They may or may not be able to appreciate that their efforts will make a positive impact on others lives, perhaps for generations to come.

As parents, we are proud.

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Denise Sutherland

Joyce Meringolo
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PFA students in Tiburon, California

Education and gender equality are universal themes.

What we have in common far exceeds our differences. 

We’ll be discussing this at our kitchen table over dinner!

 — Joyce Meringolo, CEO Parent

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Akili Dada students in Nairobi, Kenya

Peter Meringolo

Empathy is a lifelong journey. We often take shortcuts. Sometimes, we do not even feel like getting on the path. Some people, perhaps even some people here in Marin County, do not even know that there is a path or where it starts. This is precisely the gift that PFA gives to our children.

PFA teaches our children empathy. PFA exposes our children, at a deep level, to the culture, environment, and other relevant issues of our neighbors in Africa. PFA teaches our children the process of discerning our neighbors, in this era of globalization. Our children will be able to take the skills, the tools, and the experiences of PFA and apply them to all neighbors.

— Peter Meringolo, Chairman of the PFA Executive Board

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Peter Meringolo

Leslie Kennedy

I still remember the day when I received an email from Karim stating that my then sixth grade daughter and eighth grade son were about to become CEO’s of two PFA organizations.

“How can two middle school students, especially my middle school students, take on this type of leadership role?” I thought. As we talked at home about the qualities of an effective leader, we immediately realized that we were describing Karim. He embodies all of the key characteristics of a strong leader and more importantly, leads by example every day.

As parents of the next generation of leaders, we are so fortunate that our children have been given such a rare opportunity to spread their wings in a supported environment. The lessons they will learn about continued confidence and commitment, even when faced with the inevitable setbacks, will be invaluable to all of them as they move into adulthood.

Thank you Karim for this precious gift.

— Leslie Kennedy, PFA Executive Board Member

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Leslie visiting an art project at an orphanage she supports in Cambodia

Elizabeth Hachman

Sometimes I don’t recognize the words I hear coming from my eighth grade daughter’s mouth.

Charlotte recently spoke at an Admissions evening hosted by Saint Hilary School for prospective Kindergarten parents. Charlotte stood confidently with Ms. Weitzman, wrapped in one of their beautiful, handmade quilts, for the Grandmother’s Project. Charlotte spoke eloquently and easily about her work with PFA and Ms. Weitzman. I believe her words came easily to her because she believes in the work she is doing and the lessons she is learning.

Charlotte has had the opportunity to truly study the challenges, needs, culture and problems faced by African people. She has found a safe, nurturing environment to find her voice and speak her opinions. She has also found mentors and friends in Mr. Ajania and Ms. Weitzman. As a parent, I am very proud of Charlotte and so grateful for this opportunity at Saint Hilary School.

— Elizabeth Hachman, PFA Executive Board Member

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Elizabeth, PFA Executive Board, Parent of CEO Charlotte

PFA Community

Jackson Kaguri
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CNN Hero Jackson Kaguri, PFA Executive Board, with CEO Nicolas

I travel and speak to so many groups and so many schools around the world.

I always ask students to repeat a phrase “Africa is not a country.”

This is true and many people don’t know the difference. But PFA does not need to learn that:

They already know, they are aware and they are involved.

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They know children are the same and have human rights to basic human needs (education, health, shelter, food, and employment) regardless of where they are born.

They recognize they are privileged to be born and living in this great country of the USA.

They are giving back and happily learning and sharing their time, resources, and talents that adults struggle to give. PFA does it so well we can all learn from them.

I am honored to be associated with PFA. PFA inspires me everyday.

The best is yet to come!

— Jackson Kaguri, PFA Executive Board

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Carsten Henningsen

Carsten Henningsen

Note from Karim:

I have known my dear friend Carsten for 35 years, ever since we were students on a junior year abroad program at the Nyenrode School of Business in The Netherlands. Our business school was situated within a medieval castle. I would say that was fitting since Carsten, today, has certainly become a beacon and a ‘knight’ for the world of progressive and socially responsible investing. 

Nyenrode Business School where Carsten and Karim were classmates

I first heard about PFA four years ago in 2012, when Karim and Chyah presented their aspirations to me of this global outreach program.

I have had the joy of watching the PFA program unfold and grow over the past four years.

The beauty of PFA is the simple elegance of the narrative, the narrative is the teacher. Everything is a narrative. Everything is a metaphor.

PFA is storytelling and who better to be the storytellers than the younger generation?

PFA is a story of loving kindness and compassion for others. Inspiring and mentoring young people toward volunteerism is teaching compassion in action. Once young people experience the act of compassion, of helping another person, they are forever changed and begin the journey of understanding who they really are and why they are here.

This is the path to knowing our true self. We can’t get there alone, we need each other. It does take a village, and PFA is a global village of the youngest light shining toward a bright future.

Painting of Castle Nyenrode on the Vecht Breukelen circa 1660

— Carsten Henningsen, PFA Corporate Social Responsibility Supporter

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Chyah Weitzman
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Chyah Weitzman, PFA Teacher, with the Samburu tribe in Kenya

In the past four years we have seen an increase in interest with both the staff at St. Hilary School as well as the administration, in Pencils for Africa (PFA).

I am inspired to write on some of roots that stabilizes PFA.

Along with global history, arts and culture and public speaking is the underlying teaching of empathy, altruism and compassion which are essential for teaching the well rounded and whole student. We started four years ago with six students and are now up to 40 students on a regular basis that come, eat together at the art studio tables, and listen to new information on Africa and the world.  They leave feeling more empathtic towards not only each other, but the world.

I feel our interest is to awaken the students to Africa and to the world.

PFA is a solution based as well as an action based education. The cumulative effect of an exposure to the world coupled with encouragement to engage in efforts to make a difference will have an impact on the PFA student’s thinking and behavior as they mature into adulthood.

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With increasing interest and enthusiasm in education is a set of personal qualities—often referred to as noncognitive skills, or character strengths—that include resilience, conscientiousness, optimism, empathy and compassion. These capacities generally aren’t captured by our ubiquitous standardized tests, but they make a big difference in the academic success of children.

Karim and I, as the fellow PFA teachers and mentors, are very fond of the book by David Brooks, “The Road to Character,” which emphasizes the importance of the character of a person.

Working on a strong empathetic character, is one of our central goals in PFA.

PFA strengthens the community at St. Hilary’s School by creating a circle of concern, globally and locally. We want to culture curiosity about the world and to challenge the prejudices and to find commonality, as in the Akili Dada writing project with Kenya, where the students have written and learned about each other through their commonalities and the surprise interest in their differences.

Many teachers sense that students are more emotionally vulnerable today.

Social policy has to find a hundred ways to nurture loving relationships. Today, we have to fortify the heart and the character of the student if we are going to educate the mind.

The deep roots of the PFA program are empathy, understanding and character building.

— Chyah Weitzman, PFA Teacher and Mentor

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Molly Burke, Executive Director, Bicycles Against Poverty, Uganda

Molly Burke

Challenging underlying assumptions, stereotypes and narratives about Africa is at the core of what the Pencils for Africa (PFA) community does. The PFA network is continuously learning more about communities in Africa and understanding the complexities of life on the African continent.

These PFA student questions and actions demonstrate the group is challenging assumptions:

PFA students themselves candidly point out that this is part of their personal growth, which has improved since their time with PFA. What’s more is that the PFA community strives to jump past a one-way engagement with their network and rather ensure that peer organizations are able to connect and communicate between themselves. This creates a thriving Ubuntu community.

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What they’ve done is to create a bridge within an industry where too often streams push through new boundaries, but connections across them never get built. We build nonprofits, but not the right mechanisms for them to interact with each other efficiently. The PFA community strives to ensure that organizations in similar regions are able to connect, network, and learn from one another.

To say I’ve been impressed with the PFA student CEO’s I’ve interacted with is an understatement.

Blown away. Baffled.

I might say ’embarrassed’ – their writing is stronger than mine throughout my first year of college!

Their analysis is deep, style professional, and their tone always resonates with dignity for others.

I am grateful to be a part of this giving community; grateful that I can be inspired by passionate students; grateful I have the opportunity to engage with others with the same passion filled space.

— Molly Burke, PFA Advisory Board Member

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Fiona Britten, PFA Executive Board Member

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I believe asking tough questions opens dialogue for change. The PFA meetings I have attended have always impressed me because the children are provided with a completely safe place to ask the tough questions about African Development where there is neither judgment nor ridicule.

Their minds are allowed to expand without fear of recrimination. How wonderful that these children are going out into the world confident of their own intelligence and knowledge? I am confident they will have the skills to not only fight for their own truths and rights but those of others.

PFA should be a blueprint for all our children if we want a more peaceful and empathetic world.

There is an Ethiopian proverb – “he who learns, teaches”.

Karim and Chyah are continually learning and passing on their unique knowledge and personal insight on to our children, who will hopefully do the same. As Peter Mernigolo says (kindly see the “CEO Parents” section on this website), “empathy is a lifelong journey”. But it is a worthwhile one.

These 10 CEO’s featured on this website, and everyone associated with the PFA community are on that journey and are already making their world and their neighbors’ a better place to live in.

— Fiona Britten, PFA Executive Board

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Colin, CEO of Unscramble for Africa

Colin Yoon

Although my sister joined Pencils for Africa well before I did, PFA has been a huge part of my life.

When we all met in the art room on Thursdays, I allowed myself to stop thinking about the school day or whatever work had to be done and solely focus on helping others.

Guest speakers and lessons from Ms. Weitzman and Mr. Ajania helped to broaden my perspective of the world and allowed me to develop empathy for people that I otherwise would never have known existed. After seeing all the new programs, I was struck by how much PFA has grown from just raising money to buy pencils. Through trials and error, we (mostly Mr. Ajania and Ms. Weitzman) were able to craft a working program that exists both for the benefit of the students involved and others around the globe.

We have met with The Google Foundation, held a film festival, and worked with organizations based in African nations, and I believe we will go much farther. There is so much work that needs to be done in the world and so few people that are willing to do it.

On a more sober note, there is still work that needs to be done with the relationship between Africa and Europe. The colonization and exploitation of African land left deep scars with many people and very little has been done to grow a healthy bond. Hopefully, the solution for global peace comes from the next generation. Unscramble for Africa will work to create a deep connection between schoolchildren in European countries and the countries they colonized.

These connections can come in the form of economic help, but more importantly we hope to create programs, which go past a simple handout and foster empathy within the students involved.

— Colin Yoon, CEO of the Unscramble for Africa program

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Paola (middle), Shannon (left) CEO, Girl Smart Africa, Purity (right) Director, Akili Dada

Paola Gianturco

From the start, Pencils for Africa has been full of creativity, compassion—and passion.

It is a pleasure to participate in this community that now reaches around the world.

For Pencils for Africa’s participants, collaboration and learning are inseparable.

I am honored to learn with and from them as they do world-changing work together.

— Paola Gianturco, PFA Executive Board Member

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