Dec. 6 2017
Leslie Engle Young is the Chief Impact Officer at Pencils of Promise, a for-purpose organization that helps build schools, train teachers, and fund scholarships in developing countries. As part of her senior role, Leslie travels the world to do regular site checks to ensure quality of programming, manages a staff of nearly 100 people, and oversees the global monitoring and evaluation strategy to promote complete transparency and integrity both internally and externally. Recently model Gigi Hadid and designer Stuart Weitzman partnered with Pencils of Promise, donating over $100,000 to build three schools in Ghana, Guatemala, and Laos in honor of their EyeLove collection. Completely mesmerized by Leslie yet? We are, so we asked her to share what it takes to lead an organization that’s trying to educate the world.
What is your role as Chief Impact Officer at Pencils of Promise?
In my role, I get to work directly with our in-country teams on our programmatic strategy. There are five of us in the NY office that work on all different aspects of our impact, from program design to delivery to evaluation and learning. In partnership with the leadership team and Board of Directors, I get to help guide the direction of our future impact, asking questions like ‘what is most needed?’ ‘what is proven to work?’ ‘what is something new that we can test and iterate on?’
How is working at a non-profit different than your experiences at for-profit companies?
I actually started my career in non-profit, from teaching to working at Pencils of Promise. So, my standpoint is certainly biased. But from where I see it, there is something incredibly special about working at a purpose-driven organization. There is a unity in purpose that carries you through tough conversations and tough days—in the end, we’re all here for the same reason, because we believe in the massive impact that a quality education can have on a child’s life.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
The most rewarding part of my job is, by far, my colleagues. I get to work with people from all sorts of different backgrounds and places in life. Each one of them bring something unique to this organization and being united in our mission makes working together incredibly special.
What is the definition of a girl boss in your opinion?
I’ve had the pleasure of working for and with many different kinds of leaders. I’ve seen a Lao woman grow from working in a guesthouse to running government meetings and managing a staff of 30. I’ve worked for an American man who, prior to Pencils of Promise, had no real calling to education in the developing world; I got to watch as he became the most trusted friend, advisor and confidant to our in-country teams who he had seemingly nothing in common with. I work alongside two amazing women who bring intensity and passion to the workplace everyday—and the three of us couldn’t be more different. So, to me, a ‘girl boss’, or a good boss of any gender, background, etc., is a leader. It is someone who cares for the people around them and leads with integrity and love at the forefront.
Can you tell us a little about your journey to this position?
What jobs did you have leading up to this one and how did you work your way up to this role? My path to Pencils of Promise was not a straight one. I went from studying creative writing to teaching preschool to buying a one-way ticket to live in Laos. Fate or chance or something stepped in and along the way to Laos, I met the founder of Pencils of Promise. I then spent four years living there, working with my Lao peers to grow a team, office and operation. In many ways, the organization and I grew up professionally together and are both very different than we were 8 years ago.
What is one piece of advice you would give anyone interested in entering the non-profit field?
Find what you care about! When hiring people, it is incredibly easy to see who authentically cares about the cause. Find what you care about and what will make you excited to go to work every day.