Do we see them? Do we see the hunger and thirst of the children before us? If so, what are we doing about it? Josh Pavano has chosen to open up his eyes and open up his heart to the children in Uganda. He is the CEO & Founder of Jonas Umbrellas – where every limited edition umbrella you buy funds a clean-water well at various schools in Sub-Saharan Africa. His journey is inspiring! I encourage you to read through his story as he reveals his perspectives, purpose and future plans. Our lives are meant to be compelled – compelled with compassion for the nations. Seek out ways that you too can be an instrument of hope.
What is your deepest gladness – what compels you to love the country of Uganda?
Uganda has a special place in my heart because it really was the first developing nation I spent time in. It is where I found compassion and a sense of calmness. I saw people who had only essential elements of life (and sometimes not even that) and they were so happy and helpful. I found myself in Uganda, it gave me a passion for giving back – so I owe them my life really.
Where did the name, “Jonas” come from? Is there significance?
Yeah there is, I was searching for a name and I really didn’t want to use my own name I felt that was really tacky and conceited. I came across a guy named Jonas Hanway who was an inventive type who was supposedly the first guy to carry an umbrella in London (folklore). All the stage coaches would throw rocks at him because they thought he was going to ruin business for them. He was also a philanthropist who helped start a maritime hospital. So it seemed fitting to name the company after someone willing to go against the norm of his time AND someone who gave back.
Why start an organization that reaches families overseas? Did you always feel like your calling was international?
This is a really tough question, honestly I feel like in the give back community this is a huge “grass is always greener” conversation. Everyone who starts giving back internationally always feels like they need to do more in their local community and everyone who gives back locally feels like their impact isn’t wide enough and that international aid seems so much more fun. For me it just kind of happened naturally, I love to travel so international aid has always been my main focus, but more so over the last year I have made an effort to do more micro projects in my local community. I would love to do more speaking engagements to youth here in the US – that would be so fun.
Your website states, “90% of the 30,000 deaths that occur every week from unsafe water and unhygienic living conditions are in children under five years old. You have the power to stop these deaths.” Do you feel like we have a responsibly to impact others and change statistics?
No, statistics are just a way for people to gain perspective. There are plenty of ways to gain perspective. You can experience something, hear a story, read a statistic, there are numerous ways to gain perspective, but the bottom line is everyone has the responsibility to do what they feel is right. I would never pressure anyone to give back or save the environment, I feel like everyone’s journey is their own and you have to respect their journey. There are consequences to all of our actions and they will work themselves out over time. My life isn’t here to change statistics, all I have ever wanted is to change one life. Click To Tweet Changing a life is like casting a stone into a still pond, there are so many ripple effects! If you change just one person that person could change 5 and those 5 could change 10.
Why do you think millennials, in particular, step out and impact this world in such BIG and amazing ways?
I think society has pushed us to fight the norm and made it okay to do so. It is trendy to think outside the box so it becomes more accepted. We have access to cheap travel like no other generation and information is instantaneous so we gain a global perspective super-fast and at a young age. We have the luxury of seeing how the generation before us lived life and I think many of us don’t want that. I talked about consequences earlier, this generation is a consequence of corporate greed and environmental ignorance. We are here to change the world before there is nothing left to change!
Do you feel like the church has made the effort to be consumed with the needs of others and be an influence for social justice? Why? Why not?
This is a tough question for me, I have never been a big fan of the structure of religion. I think that a lot of times religion can be used to alter people’s views and intentions for the wrong reasons. I feel that everyone’s spiritual journey is their own and their belief should be one that they are comfortable with. So, do I feel the church makes an effort to meet the needs of others or social justice, no not really – not unless it is benefiting their church whether it is financially or in terms of publicity. That is probably not a popular response, I just have seen too many organizations go to a place and say “here is clean water, an element you need to live your life, Jesus/Mohammed/Ala, gave this to you” of course those people will start to believe in your religion that is basically blackmail.
I love how you talk about water supply affecting gender equality and explain how water enables women to have educational opportunities! Have you seen this personally in your visit to Uganda?
This was a part of my journey I never expected. I had no idea the impact on gender equality that clean water has. It has been my favorite part of starting this company. In our first school that we brought water to, over 200 new kids enrolled in the school when we put the well in and they doubled in the number of children who were living at the school. The majority of those were girls. That is a miracle, in a society where women aren’t provided as many opportunities and families have more children on average than we are used to here in the states the opportunity to go to school and have a safe environment where food and water and shelter are provided is amazing!
Why Africa? Had you been there before?
No, I had never been. I guess I have never thought why, I had the opportunity to go to 4 other places and I chose there. I guess it was meant to be.
Did you always want to start an organization that provided practical needs for others?
No, I always did things to give back in my community in high school but in undergrad and post undergrad I wanted to fade into the background. I was a big brother in boys and girls club, but that is as far as I was willing to extend myself. I wanted to work in corporate America, have a nice house and nice things. And then I was introduced to Uganda and it changed my world. I saw happiness I had never seen before and felt happiness I had never felt and I wanted to chase that instead of everything else.
Would you consider yourself a Christian? If so, how would you define what a Christian is to look like?
I grew up Christian and I still consider myself a Christian. My relationship with God has been a rocky one to say the least, but in 2015 I worked on it more. I reopened my conversations with him. I read a lot of books on Buddhism and became interested in finding a balance of Buddhist lifestyle and Christian faith, so that is my spiritual journey at the moment. I think a spiritual journey is personal, honestly, and it is something I do not usually speak openly about.
Many times, the church is characterized by what they’re against, but not what they’re for. Do you believe that the church has become apathetic to the needs of others? How do we incorporate social justice as an act of spiritual worship?
I think individuals should include compassion and love in everything they do. That will lead them down their path, the path they were meant to be on. That will surround them with the people who will support them and it will give them peace within themselves. The church no matter what church you are in always tells you to be an example. That is what being an example means to me, lead with love and everything will work itself out.
What is your greatest hope for Jonas Umbrellas in the next 5 years? Do you want to expand within Africa? Do you want to provide water and other necessities to Uganda?
I just think about taking the next step forward, building the next well, selling the next umbrella. I make a list every day or every week and just cross things off, just baby steps towards our company mission. I really don’t know where we will be in 5 years. I have learned a lot in 2 years doing this company and the big thing is you never know what tomorrow brings so planning for 5 years down the road only leads to a lot of stress. So I just go with the flow! 🙂
What advice would you give someone trying to start their own business/nonprofit? What is the most difficult part of running your own company?
I would say get a team of people around you. Running your own company is hard and it is long and it is trying. You need people around you to help. Your team is everything and if you don’t have a good team you can easily get burnt out.
Who has been the most influential person in your life?
My parents – both for different reasons. My Dad has taught me hard work, business, how to talk to people, and risk taking. My mom has taught me devotion, unwavering love, compassion, and how to make dreams reality. They have always believed in me and for that I am truly blessed.
What is your greatest prayer/hope for our generation?
I just want our generation to love one another. There is far too much fighting and squabbling over things that in the end aren’t going to matter. Black, White, Asian, Hispanic, Christian, Muslim, we are all people just trying to be happy. So we should all be in this together. Power and greed has torn us apart, but love and compassion can bring us together. Click To Tweet
How do you want to be remembered?
Wow this question is intense. I have never really thought about this. I guess I just want to be remembered by the people who I inspire…. I want to be remembered as someone who people were happy when they came around. You know? That person who comes into the room and you are just pumped up they are there, because you know everything is better when they are there?… I want to be remembered as a loyal friend. I want to be remembered as someone who cared about others.
If you were given 10 seconds to tell the world one thing, what would you say? Why?
I would tell them I appreciate them. I appreciate their differences and similarities and that I respect them for who they are.
What is your favorite memory about traveling to Uganda? What moment would you want to relive?
I will never forget this little girl Fay that I met. She will forever be in my heart. She was the youngest girl at a school and she was instantly attached to me. I wish sometimes I could go back and hold her and tell her I’ve never forgotten her and that everything is going to be ok, that she can be whatever she wants to be…. I have this dream that one day I’ll go back a few years down the road and she’ll be older and in school and she will remember me because although we may have grown older and our faces have changed but our eyes will remember our souls and our souls will know what that short time we had together meant.
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Connect with Josh Pavano:
Instagram for Jonas Umbrellas: https://www.instagram.com/jonasumbrellas/
Instagram for Josh Pavano: https://www.instagram.com/joshpavano/
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