Sarah Kerr got involved in the grassroots charity SchoolBOX at the young age of 19, when she helped to raise funds to build the organization’s very first classroom in Nicaragua. She was humbled by the extreme poverty she witnessed there, and propelled by a strong desire to change the world by giving children access to a basic education. At the age of 25 she became SchoolBOX’s Executive Director, leading a team of 15 local Nicaraguan employees and 3 Canadian employees to fulfill its mission of ‘making education possible’ for all girls and boys. Now a working mother, reporting to a Board of Directors comprised of 85% women, Sarah firmly believes in championing women and girls to reach their full potential, starting with a basic education.
My first job ever was… Was working at an independent bookshop and café. My boss was an incredible model for community building and generosity. I can thank her for introducing me to SchoolBOX, my addiction to books, and snobbery for fair trade coffee to this day.
I decided to pursue this passion because… As the daughter of an amazing teacher, I always thought I would pursue the same path. When I started raising money for school supplies and literacy for schools in South America as a teenager, I realized I could impact kids by empowering their teachers.
My proudest accomplishment is… Championing women like Jazmin Lopez who broke the cycle of extreme poverty in one generation through education, was a founding member of SchoolBOX, has a decade of entrepreneurial experience in Nicaragua and a degree in international relations. Today she empowers 18,000+ kids in her country!
My boldest move to date was… I took a year off of university to work multiple jobs and raise funds for the first SchoolBOX library & school. I learned Spanish in Costa Rica and lived with local teachers in Nicaragua. Little did I know I would find a lifelong mission, my Christian faith, and meet my husband in the process.
I surprise people when I tell them… That I can do a pretty good front flip…off of cliffs, bridges, or accidentally on snowboard jumps!
My best advice to people starting out in the non-profit world is… This world needs your passion and energy! Focus your mindset on the mission, not trying to ‘get a job’. I would also suggest trying to learn as much about business as possible because non-profit work is ultimately running a lean and agile organization with high impact.
My best advice from a mentor was… Don’t be a perfectionist. Be brave.
“This world needs your passion and energy! Focus your mindset on the mission, not trying to ‘get a job’”
My biggest setback was… Postpartum anxiety. Having birth trauma, and later a miscarriage were some serious personal challenges as a working mom.
I overcame it by… Having great mentors. My executive coaches, who are amazing women filled with wisdom and encouragement, have been a lifesaver for me. Also having a support system to lean on including my family and friends, church community, neighbours, my naturopath and family doctor have been key.
Work/life balance is… Elusive! My work involves a lot of travel, which is very challenging with a small child with asthma, who got pneumonia twice this winter. Still working on this one.
If you googled me, you still wouldn’t know… I love to travel and have explored cultures on five continents through food, dance, language and adventure. There are so many amazing places and people on this planet, it could take many lifetimes to experience all the diversity and beauty.
I stay inspired by… Visiting teachers in Nicaragua who are ‘making education possible’ for kids in unimaginable conditions. Last month, I met Gema Picado who just graduated from teachers college, built a dirt floor rancho in her home community that had no school, and is now giving classes to 54 kids each day. Her determination is inspiring!
The future excites me because… Kids are so open to using their imaginations to make our world better. Seeing young Nicaraguans leading SchoolBOX and the impact that Indigenous youth volunteers are now making in their communities in Canada, after helping to build schools in Nicaragua, is pretty incredible.
My next step is… Piloting our SchoolBOX model here at home to empower Indigenous youth to ‘make education possible’ for children in their home communities.