Turk Pipkin and his education and action nonprofit organization, The Nobelity Project, tackles pressing global issues such as hunger, climate change, and war and peace through powerful documentary films. One issue close to his heart is the education of children in Africa, and recently Pipkin was instrumental in building a computer lab for students in Kenya ("Bringing Education to the World, One Country at a Time"). While in awe of his activism, we were also mesmerized by Pipkin’s multifaceted Do spirit. Pipkin is a respected author of 10 books, a TV writer, and a former stand-up comedian and entertainer (“The Sopranos” fans may recognize Pipkin as Aaron Arkaway, the narcoleptic boyfriend of Tony Soprano’s sister, Janice). Pipkin reveals how his past and present has connected to provide technology, inspiration and hope to children.
How did the Nobelity Project collaboration with AMD and Lenovo form?
The collaboration came from some great people at AMD, specifically the efforts of Bart Arnold, and Cory Grenier at Lenovo. One of our favorite new computer labs is at Kabiruini Girls Secondary School. The 200-plus students have new Lenovo ThinkCentres and Thinkpads with AMD technology. These are some happy and creative students, and their grades have gone up dramatically in the last year.
What did you learn from your TV/film career that serves you with running Nobelity?
What I learned as a writer is that I was only going to be happy if I had control of the final product. I was already working with big corporations to generate funds and tell the stories of great non-profits that I believed in, but I still had to sandwich the stories that mattered between cheap jokes. It’s easy to make meaningless stories fun but it’s a lot more interesting to make powerful stories entertaining.
What is the current state of education in Kenya? How will providing children in Kenya access to technology change their lives?
Kenya has the highest literacy rate and is the shining light of East Africa. Beginning in 2003, free primary education was instituted across Kenya, an important step but one that the government has struggled to keep up with. School infrastructure has been deteriorating for decades with most rural students studying in slat wall classrooms with dirt floors and no electricity or clean water.
There is also a technological gap. In order to attend college or to get a job, the 25 percent of all students who are lucky enough to graduate high school need computer skills. Basic knowledge of spread sheets, word processing, design and media put these students at a great advantage, and will make them the next-generation pioneers of a great East African tech infrastructure. Africa is the world’s greatest potential computer market and economy. Access to technology will help these kids play on the highest level.
What is your favorite quote and why?
“Love is what I live on. Love is what keeps me going. So all I can say to you is what I’ve said to myself a thousand times. Open your heart, Willie, and give love a try. You’ll be amazed at what happens” (Willie Neslon, from “The Tao of Willie”). His words remind me that even a guy as wise as Willie has to remind himself to live the life he believes in.
Follow Turk Pipkin’s journey on Twitter: @turkpipkin.