Meet David Byun, the founder of the nonprofit Pen in a Box. His heart for philanthropy, sharing resources, and empowering the world through education is palpable in all he does.
Tell us about Pen in a Box.
Five years ago, when I first came to the United States, I was surprised by the unbelievable waste of school supplies in schools. Walking around hallways, it was easy to spot pens and pencils lying around left and right. During locker clean-outs, people threw away so many blank notebooks and loose-leaf papers. There was so much waste of school supplies in one part of the world, while on the other there were so many students who could not afford the most basic school supplies to study with. So I asked: if we have so many, and they have so little, why not give?
What at first started as a student organization at a school in Massachusetts now functions as a global organization branched out to more than twenty-five schools and universities around the world. Each branch collects school supplies through frequent drives throughout the school year and sends them to schools and villages in need around the world.
However, the most unique part about our organization is that we require zero capital to function.
We need no capital for international shipping, human labor, expansion, or maintenance. We cover the cost of delivering school supplies by actively partnering with nonprofit organizations, volunteer trips, and individuals going to places in need by piggybacking our school supplies on their trips. And as each branch functions as a club or a student organization at its school, our human labor requires zero capital, which leads to limitless scalability and easy maintenance which comes with no cost.
We are aware that the lack of school supplies is not the sole problem in the global education crisis. There are so many other factors such as the lack of trained teachers, proper menstrual products, facilities, textbooks, and so many more problems which make up the education crisis. In order to truly fight against this global epidemic, we will grow as an organization while constantly innovating new methods and ideas to help students around the world.
How do you feel that everyone can make an impact in the way that you have? What is your best advice for someone who wants to start a nonprofit or give back to their communities?
One belief that I hold about Pen in a Box is that it makes a powerful statement that changing the world is not always rocket science. We can make a change, as long as we find the right missing links. Often times, these connections are painfully obvious, but not many people find them and take action to make an impact. When I talk about how so many students waste school supplies, everybody nods their heads in agreement. And when I tell them that there are countless students across the world who are not receiving proper education due to the lack of school supplies, they agree with that fact as well. If so, why hasn’t anybody connected these two ideas and taken action earlier? If everybody agrees with these two concepts, surely, the connection between them and a sense of direction to change these situations should be obvious! But the reality is not so. We can see such connections only when we observe the world with a purpose to find these missing links and create a change in our world. You don’t have to be a genius, but you have to have a sense of purpose and passion to make a difference. I encourage people to actively search for these missing links around them. And yes, at first the directions that you derive from the connection that you find might seem unrealistic. How do you collect school supplies? How do you send them overseas? How would you know the addresses you would send the school supplies to? You’ll be showered with questions in the beginning, but your passion has to be stronger than your doubts. Doubts are strong, but they can never take down your idea if you genuinely believe in your passion to help those in need.
What has been the greatest lesson you’ve learned in your entrepreneurial ventures?
People often tell us to “believe in ourselves.” Certainly, it is important to believe in our abilities and drive if we want to succeed, but I learned that doing so takes us only so far. As humans, we are imperfect. We break, we hurt, we doubt, and we often lose focus. Running Pen in a Box, I oftentimes found myself drowning in a swamp of disappointments at myself and resulting self-loathe. I was imperfect. And stubbornly believing in myself made admitting my brokenness hard. Naturally, I had days when I lost focus and doubted the purpose of Pen in a Box. I often felt simply lost. But as time went by, I realized that what I had to believe in was not myself, but the mission and purpose that I had. I had to believe in all the people who were working hard along with me under the same mission which was educating the world. When I realized that things were not about me but about something greater, I found true focus.