Dayton social entrepreneur duo named to Forbes “30 Under 30”

November 27, 2018

A Dayton area duo that has distributed more than 30,000 books throughout the Miami Valley in roughly three years have been named to Forbes’ 2019 “30 under 30” list for their work on childhood literacy.

Social entrepreneurs Karlos Marshall & Moses Mbeseha founded The Conscious Connect with the goal of ending book deserts — areas without access to high-quality and affordable books — in Ohio by 2020. The organization currently boasts more than 100 community partners including barbershops, beauty salons, libraries, community centers, daycare centers, churches and schools that serve as book distribution points throughout the Miami Valley. Recently, they also launched a partnership with Cincinnati Public Schools.

But eliminating book deserts is only the first step of the organization’s wider mission, Karlos said.

“We’re looking to spark a cultural renaissance at the intersection of urban education, neighborhood revitalization and community redevelopment,” he said.

They started with books because that’s what the community said it needed, Moses said.

“It was a lot of face-to-face conversations,” he said. “We actually went to the barbershops first. We spent countless hours talking to community stakeholders. They told us books.”

More than two dozen of those 100 book distribution points feature a physical “house of knowledge,” more commonly known as “little free libraries,” where individuals are welcome to take or swap books for free. These houses of knowledge are located in urban, low- to moderate-income neighborhoods.

Early childhood education, and literacy in particular, is critical to quality of life, Karlos said. It’s important to have access to books — and it’s important the stories in those books reflect the experiences of the communities reading them.

“We look at literacy as a vehicle to create windows, doors, mirrors for the children, youth and families that we serve,” he said. “Providing high-quality, culturally relevant, affordable books within walking access is how we provide those windows and doors for our community.”

The Conscious Connect is also slowly moving into a more traditional redevelopment space, working with city and county governments to acquire vacant lots and properties to pursue placemaking initiatives such as pocket and reading parks.

“We want to focus on all the structures hindering early-childhood success,” Moses said. “All the blight, abandoned properties, all these things that are catalysts for student failure — we want to revitalize and redevelop on a large scale to allow all our children spaces to succeed.”

Currently, The Conscious Connect is a side gig for both social entrepreneurs, who met while attending Wittenberg University in Springfield.

Moses is working a 9-5 while pursuing a master’s degree in business at University of Dayton with an eye on law school. Growing up in Cameroon, then Texas, then Pennsylvania, he always believed he had the potential to make a great impact in the world.

“I always thought, if someone gave me $1 billion, I could probably do a lot of good with it,” he said.

Karlos, who also works a 9-5, was born and raised in Springfield, and launched The Conscious Connect while attending grad school at the University of Dayton. During grad school, as he reviewed his areas of interest — urban education, higher education, social justice — he realized there wasn’t going to be a single job that reached the community in all the ways he wanted.

“I realized I’d have to create my own outlet,” he said. “I put my passions and vocational purpose into The Conscious Connect.”

Forbes recognizes 30 individuals in 20 categories each year — about 4 percent of the roughly 15,000 people who apply worldwide. Making the Forbes “30 Under 30” list in the education category is a credit to the whole community, Karlos and Moses agree.

“It’s an honor and a privilege, and it’s exciting for the community we’ve been able to work with the last few years,” Moses said. “There’s a lot more work to be done, the needs are palpable, but do not be discouraged. If we work together, we can accomplish a lot more, so just keep working.”

Moses and Karlos are traveling to California this week to pitch at Early Futures, a first-of-its-kind gathering of investors, funders, industry experts and entrepreneurs who are pursuing innovative efforts to impact early childhood education.

For more information on The Conscious Connect, or to get involved, visit