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By Laura Gossman
Author’s Note: Below is an interview with Justin Zoradi, founder of These Numbers Have Faces, an international education nonprofit investing in African young people to lead and empower their countries.
These. Numbers. Have. Faces. Four words based on a big idea:
“Everyday we hear terrible statistics of how awful things are out there. We chart war, calculate disease, analyze famine, and graph slavery. While figures and data are important tools to measure complex social issues, we believe there are people behind the statistics. A number is difficult to connect with, but when we see those numbers as real people, we find purpose that compels us to action.”—www.thesenumbers.org
LG: What was your initial dream in starting this enterprise?
JZ: In 2006, I led a group of college students on a summer missions trip to South Africa. It was during that summer that the hope and opportunity of Africa blew me away.
We were building houses with Habitat for Humanity in the townships outside of Cape Town and I kept meeting all these amazing high-school students who expressed significant fear for their future. They were talented students graduating near the top of their high-school class, who desperately wanted to make something of themselves by attending a local University. But because of poverty, the legacy of apartheid, and the lack of resources, these talented students would instead be sitting at home, working at a gas station, fruit stand, joining a gang or having unwanted pregnancies.
I laid awake in South Africa dreaming what it would be like to do something for these students once I’d returned home. One day, sitting on a bench back home in Portland, Oregon, I sensed God really challenging me, and I asked myself an important question: “Will I deny for others what I demand for myself?” I knew at that moment I had to jump in 100%. I immediately bought the book, “How to Start and Build a Nonprofit Organization.”
The initial dream was to just help one of my friends from South Africa attend a local University. I built a rudimentary website and began asking friends and family for donations. It was pure DIY magic at this time based solely on the relationships I had built in South Africa, the advice of other entrepreneurs, and leveraging new technology, and international texting apps to get the project off the ground.
After the first year of floundering a bit, the real vision became glaringly apparent. There were few organizations working in Africa that were exclusively committed to University education for students. We began to wonder if we could invest in the next generation of entrepreneurs, lawyers, doctors, and scientists, and also provide top-notch leadership, discipleship, and personal development training to lay the foundation for generations to come. Could we build such a world-class program that all our students will be motivated to re-invest their own money for new students coming up behind them? I get goose bumps thinking about educated leaders empowered to give back and become change makers in their own communities.
LG: What were some of the obstacles you’ve encountered thus far?
JZ: As a young social entrepreneur, everything was an obstacle. In those early years, I was running These Numbers Have Faces part-time from the couch of my apartment and later in a makeshift attic office. We had little to no funding, were sparse on development experience, run by volunteers, and I was a fledgling leader learning day by day through online tutorials and books from the library. Those years were hard but I look back on them very fondly now.
The next obstacle came when we started to succeed. We marketed our idea quite well and suddenly had all these monthly donors. Then we got out first big grant–it was for $25,000 and suddenly we had a responsibility to do right by it and by all these people who were supporting us. It was at that time when we realized that it was time to grow up, hire great staff, turn pro, and have real measurable impact. It’s been a lot of fun since then.
LG: Where did you find help along the way?
JZ: I worked hard and networked well, but the Praxis Accelerator Program was the true game changer. I can’t even tell you how thankful I am for the experience. Praxis was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done in my whole life because you take your organization, your baby, put it out to all these experts, and just allow them to tear through it right in front of you. It takes a lot of courage and it broke me a number of times.
Praxis challenged our methods, our model, our measurable outcomes, but more than anything, it challenged me as a leader. Praxis forced us into the big leagues and for that I’m forever grateful. Even more so, they do it with love and compassion, instilling the values of Christ and redemption through the process.
Our dream has been revised significantly since then. Praxis helped us scale and we’re now working in South Africa, Rwanda, and Uganda and soon in Zimbabwe. Our work will impact nearly 200 students this year. Praxis helped us rethink our financial re-investment model and we’ve since changed the word ‘Scholarship’ into what we call “Leadership Loans.” Our scholars know from day one that their gift to attend University has rules attached to it. They’ll pass all their classes, but they’ll also do community service, attend leadership and entrepreneurship training, and commit a portion of their tuition back into the program for a new student behind them.
For the first time in a long time, I’m having a lot of fun doing These Numbers Have Faces. The rainy weather in Portland doesn’t faze us; we skip through the puddles, get in the office and change the world.
To find out how you can advocate the work of These Numbers Have Faces by promoting, praying and participating, check out their advocacy page here.
Laura Gossman lives in Pasadena, California. She is the Director of Operations at the Max De Pree Center for Leadership and the mother of newborn Benjamin.
Fieldnotes Magazine is a publication of the Max De Pree Center for Leadership at Fuller Theological Seminary. We would love to hear from you about people, businesses, or other organizations we can interview or feature. Please email the editor at Fieldnotes Magazine.
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