Since childhood, Jack McConnell has been on a mission: to bring hearing to people of the world.
Written By: Rin-rin Yu
Jack McConnell describes the kid-version of himself as “a basic, bland kid who liked his comic books,” but he is anything but basic or bland. At age 11, he started his own nonprofit called 20/20 Hearing, directed at funding audiology equipment and services for people who needed them. He’s traveled the world (Ghana, Zambia, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, Malawi, Mexico, Nicaragua, and Peru) and has spoken at numerous events, including at the Georgia Capitol and at the United Nations. In 2017, his home state of Georgia passed the Hearing Aid Coverage for Children Act, also known as “Jack’s Law,” to mandate insurance coverage for children’s hearing aids. Now a college freshman at Georgia Tech studying business and entrepreneurship, Jack is looking into even bigger ways to make a difference.
Q. How did you get the idea of launching a nonprofit?
Jack McConnell (JM): I remember becoming self-aware in fifth grade. I was looking around and wondering why I had hearing loss and none of my friends had it. I thought, I’m not as good as these people. They are better than me. I’ll never have a meaningful place in the world. I just remember feeling heartbroken, lacking self-confidence and going through a rut.
At the same time, I needed new hearing aids. The audiologist told me to check out Starkey Hearing technology. So I did. And while it had some really cool hearing aids, what I stumbled upon was a hearing aid foundation. Because I was ashamed to wear hearing aids, [the website] didn’t make sense to me because I couldn’t make the words “good” and “hearing loss” go together. But what I saw were hundreds of videos and stories of kids and adults all around the world being fitted with hearing aids. People just like me, receiving the gift of hearing for the first time. I was glued to the computer screen for hours. In my head, hearing loss was bad, but on this computer screen was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen.
Long story short, I wrote to [founder] Bill Austin. A month later, he called me and said, “Do you want to come to India with me?” and I was like, “I don’t even have my passport, but sure!” That was my first mission trip. I was blown away—the impact Starkey had around the world. My perspective was flipped and I was suddenly insanely proud to call myself hearing impaired. It made me rethink who I was. I came home and said, I really want to do something. I want to dedicate my life to this. So, I started 20/20 Hearing.
Q: Why the name 20/20 Hearing?
JM: If 20/20 vision is perfect vision, then I want everyone on this earth to have 20/20 hearing. The official mission of 20/20 is to give the gift of hearing.
Q: What does 20/20 Hearing do?
JM: We help hundreds of people in the US in any shape or form, making sure they have the correct hearing care. In addition to this, I’ve been on 15 missions in 10 countries. I’m glad that was my first look at the world outside [my home in] John’s Creek, Georgia. I woke hard when I saw these kids would give anything for the same opportunities, which really motivated me.
It’s a wonderful opportunity to give the gift of hearing to thousands of men, women and children around the world. Each time, it’s better and better. It’s a big ball of emotion, changing that person’s life forever. Knowing they can go to a speaking school, get a job and have a life ahead of them.
Q: What’s one of the highlights of your work with 20/20 Hearing?
JM: We are able to partner with Let Georgia Hear and get legislature passed mandating insurance for hearing care. That was a year of fighting and the biggest payoff, knowing kids in private insurance will have hearing.
Q: What do you hope to get out of college?
JM: In addition to founding 20/20, I also started a company called Round Town [a home services company]. I found such a calling for entrepreneurship. I just want to do some crazy stuff, like be an Elon Musk 2.0. I’m hungry to learn. I love, love, love learning everything on how the world works.
Q: Now that you’re in college, what’s happening with 20/20 Hearing?
JM: 20/20 gave me a purpose and passion and answered a lot of my questions about what life was about as I was growing up, and it’s about helping people. I’m going to continue it until I can’t.
In the meantime, I want to keep building and growing companies that do some crazy stuff through the world of technology and artificial intelligence. All these crazy new emerging markets. I want to use those to drive 20/20 Hearing.