What I Learned From Ghana: Why Social Missions Matter

Dancing with Pencils of Promise students and CommonBond borrowers in Agorhome, Ghana

Earlier this month, I went to Ghana with three of our borrowers and two of our employees. The purpose was to see our “Social Promise” in action. And that we did!

For those of you who may not know, our “Social Promise” is simple: For every degree fully funded on the CommonBond platform, we fund the education of a student in need for a full year. To deliver on that, we’ve partnered with Pencils of Promise, which builds schools, empowers teachers and promotes literacy in Ghana, Guatemala, Laos and Nicaragua.

Our Social Promise is core to who we are, and why we do what we do.

The Ghana trip was an opportunity for us to connect with our social mission in a away we never had before. And it was particularly special for me.

Even before I knew what kind of company I would one day start, one thing was certain: it would have a strong social mission. Having been inspired by the “1-for-1” models of TOMS and Warby Parker, I knew whatever company I’d start would have one too. The mutually reinforcing power of the “1-for-1” model held tremendous power and possibility: the more profit you make, the more social good you deliver.

When we started CommonBond, I wanted to create a different kind of finance company. I wanted our products to add value to people’s lives. I wanted our borrowers to mean more than just loans. And I wanted to bring a human approach to finance, making social impact a core part of who we are.

It all comes from a deeply held belief that business can and should be a positive force for change.

During our trip to Ghana, I felt the very real effect we are having on people’s lives.

I saw it in the eyes of the children excited about the new school opening in Abutia Adegbleve, a village that only received electricity last year.

I saw it in the dedication of a 20-year-old 7th grader I met who wanted us to hear him read because of how proud he was of his education.

And I saw it in how volunteers from the village of Aflao sacrificed on Sunday, their day of rest, to construct a new school for their community.

Each moment demonstrated the importance of what we do and why we do it.

It also had me coming back to a singular theme: sacrifice.

The sacrifices that a 20-year-old Ghanaian man made to get to school every day as a 7th grader, in the face of social and familial pressures to take him away from school.

The sacrifices that an entire community made on their days of rest to build a school so that their children could have a safe place to learn.

The sacrifices that Pencils of Promise Founder, Adam Braun’s adopted African brothers made to come to the U.S. in search of a better life.

It even got me thinking about the recent refugee crisis and the flood of people leaving war-torn homelands like Syria to find a better lot.

CommonBond Goes to Ghana
CommonBond borrowers Kate Agnew, Jason Bailey and Eryn Schultz and Pencils of Promise’s Natalie Ebel wrote about their favorite moments of the trip.
Read a full recap of the trip here.
See photos from the trip here.

And it ultimately got me thinking about my grandpa, a penniless immigrant to the U.S. after surviving events in WWII Europe, who sacrificed a lot to build the life and family he ultimately did. He was a man who inspired me from the day I was born. He lost his family in Europe, so he focused on building one in America. He saved every penny he earned as a shoe salesman and worked his way up to one day opening his own shoe store. And then opened several more. He built his own version of the American Dream, through grit, hustle, persistence, savvy and grounded optimism. And he had a profound influence on my life.

Each example of sacrifice that I saw, and that I was reminded of, was different, but the common thread the same: sacrifice for something better, something greater.

My time in Ghana was more than just a memorable experience. It was meaningful. On levels both personal and professional. I come away from the experience encouraged by our work, endeared by our borrowers, and emboldened by our social mission.

I can confidently report that our Social Promise is working. And much of it is due to our incredible partner on the ground — Pencils of Promise. They do incredible work with a strong focus on sustainability.

By the end of 2015, we expect to have donated $200,000 towards our Social Promise, affecting thousands of lives, each I’m sure with their own story of sacrifice.

To this day, people will ask me why CommonBond has a social mission. If you had come on this trip with me, I think you’d understand. So, you can expect to hear more from me on our Social Promise and the impact it’s having. The more that people understand the impact of a strong social mission, the more social missions I believe we’ll see. So that when people continue to ask me why we have a social mission, I get to start asking them why they don’t.

David Klein is CEO and Co-Founder of CommonBond, a values-driven fintech company that is reimagining the student loan experience. The company refinances and consolidates student loans to provide a better experience through lower interest rates, personal customer service, a simple application process and a strong commitment to social good. CommonBond borrowers save over $14,000, on average, over the life of the loan by refinancing.

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Check out #PoPFieldTrip on Instagram to follow our adventures in Guatemala, Ghana and Laos.

To learn more about PoP’s work, visit pencilsofpromise.org