2008 Forward under 40 Award Honoree
UW Major: History
Age: 37 | Los Angeles, California
Writer and Philanthropist
After arriving on the UW campus in 1989 with shorts, T-shirts and one pair of pants, Josh Bycel quickly learned that his California wardrobe was no match for a Wisconsin winter.
And in 2005, after several years as a successful television writer and producer in Hollywood, Bycel knew that he just wasn't quite satisfied with the work he was doing. Having volunteered his time with several nonprofit organizations, Bycel only knew that he wanted to do something big.
In March 2005, he accepted an offer from his uncle to accompany him to visit the refugee camps in Darfur, Sudan, on a humanitarian trip. But realizing that the Sudanese government seized almost anything brought into the country, Bycel instead had the idea to bring tools soccer balls, pens, paper to educate and entertain those he encountered. The impact on the people in the camps was profound, and it was on the plane ride home that Bycel decided to start OneKid OneWorld.
An education- and sports-based grassroots organization, OneKid OneWorld is a nonprofit aimed at bolstering education facilities and programs in Sudan and Kenya. Having raised nearly $200,000 since its creation, OneKid has been able to build the first classroom and lab for Kenyas Nyamasare Girls School and orphanage, buy bunk beds and mosquito nets for the dorm, start the schools first athletic program and pay tuition for more than 150 girls.
Recently, Bycel and his group of volunteers were back in Kenya overseeing OneKids solar power project, which has now given the school electricity to light the rooms, pump in fresh water and provide Internet access.
Bycel notes that it was adapting to new people, places and weather, and learning to thrive in an environment that constantly challenges you during his Wisconsin experience that helped provide the skills to accomplish what he has today. Bycel continues to balance his career in Hollywood, which he notes pays the bills, with his dedication to advancing the mission of OneKid OneWorld, and he couldn't be more enthusiastic about the future.
In his own words
When I started at the University of Wisconsin in the fall of 1989, I had never seen snowfall.
I brought shorts, t-shirts, one pair of pants and that's pretty much it. See, growing up in California, it rained twice in my four years of high school. I wore shorts every day. I'm not kidding. Every day. So, obviously, the first gigantic impact the Wisconsin experience had was on my closet.
But simply buying a jacket from the North Face was really just the beginning. Choosing to leave California, choosing to go to Wisconsin, was the first time I had ever left my childhood comfort zone. The impact this simple decision had is truly immeasurable and still resonates today. Adapting to new people, new places, new weather patterns and learning to thrive in a constantly challenging environment, these were the life skills that spending four years at Wisconsin taught me.
Its amazing how things have truly come full circle in my work today.
Ill be honest, I didn't know what the Wisconsin Idea was during my time in Madison.
I didn't know what it was when I took soccer balls, textbooks and school supplies to the refugee camps in Darfur, Sudan.
I didn't even really know what it was when I started OneKid OneWorlda non-profit organization, created three years ago with the mission to partner schools in the United States with rural schools and orphanages in Africa.
But now, after being nominated for this award and learning more about Charles Van Hise's hundred-year-old revelation, I realize that the genesis of OneKid OneWorld which I thought was just my gut reaction to wanting to cut through the red tape and get money directly to schools and orphanages was actually an extension of what I learned at Wisconsin.
This year, OneKid OneWorlds project is the Nyamasare Girls Orphanage in an area of Kenya that has one of the highest HIV/AIDS infection rate in all of Africa. We have already built their first real classroom, bought textbooks for the entire school (which allowed the students to take national exams for the first time), created an athletic program and paid tuition for over a hundred of the students. We are in the process of bringing solar power and fresh, clean water to the orphanage and the primary school (which has three hundred students) next door.
You have made our school shine. You have made our girls smile. You have given us hope. This was what an old woman whispered to me, as she hugged me goodbye, on the last day of my time volunteering at the Nyamasare School.
In my mind, not only is that the Wisconsin Idea in its truest form but its also the biggest impact the University of Wisconsin experience has had on my life.
Although, I do still own that North Face jacket.