INSPIRED IMPACT™ features purpose-driven leaders and social entrepreneurs who are making a meaningful impact in their communities, industries, and around the world.
TELL US, WHO ARE YOU AND WHAT DO YOU DO?
I am an entrepreneur, a mom of two young girls – a three-year-old, a two-year-old, and I have one on the way – and the co-founder and CEO of MyVillage. MyVillage makes it easy to start and successfully run a home-based childcare business and we make it really fun and rewarding for families to find and engage with those programs. In essence, we’re trying to tackle the childcare crisis by creating more quality, affordable, available childcare options.
HOW DID YOU GET HERE?
I am an entrepreneur through and through and have taken a very windy road to get here. I spent 12 years in East Africa before landing back in the States to start this business. Prior to MyVillage, I founded a company in the clean energy access space in Africa. It works like a prepaid solar city for low-income African households, and it was a pretty amazing entrepreneurial learning journey where I was motivated by the fact that some of the poorest people were paying the most for the dirtiest energy options. So I built a company with some partners that now installs in about 10,000 houses a month across five countries. I raised more than $250 million to scale that business and built out a 1,000+ person organization to deliver on that mission. We manufactured in Asia, had strategic partners in Europe, and investors in the United States.
When I landed in Africa with my six-week-old, who is now almost four, it was an amazing, eye-opening opportunity for me to really experience life in all these capital cities in East and West Africa. I was meeting with people and trying to figure out what quality care was available and how I was going to find peace of mind to actually go back to work. That was my entry point into starting to pull apart the pain points for families. I had hundreds of conversations with peers and people across all different backgrounds and geographies and I tried to really understand what was so challenging for families – namely affordability, availability, and quality. Unless you got on a waitlist before you even started thinking about conceiving, you had to compromise. If your resources as a family were restricted, then the compromises in many cases were heartbreaking, which for me was the thing that I couldn’t unlearn.
Up to that point, I hadn’t been a parent so people hadn’t talked to me about their challenges as a parent and finding childcare and being a working family. Ultimately what I came to understand was the system doesn’t work for working families here in the United States. That was the seed that made me really feel like if I didn’t take action now, I wouldn’t be able to use my experience, my talent, and my own unique perspective to build out technology-enabled, very operational businesses to try to solve this challenge – and I wouldn’t be able to do it soon enough so that my kids could benefit from the results. So I moved back to the States to start this business, because of the huge, really acute crisis that I was experiencing. And as I started to dig, it just felt like this can’t go on.
WHAT DO YOU STAND FOR? WHY IS THIS WORK IMPORTANT TO YOU?
Ultimately, working families deserve a working childcare system. Families deserve to be able to start a family and have careers that they can commit themselves to. If you can’t do both, and there’s a constant trade-off and piecemeal from your experience, then you feel like you’re failing before you even have a chance to get started as a parent, which is completely unfair. So that, for me, was my initial rally cry.
But then as I started to learn more about the system, it was clear that there was pain on the parents’ side and the family side, which I was going through myself, but the fundamental breakdowns of the system meant that there are no winners. It’s not just that the parents aren’t winning. The educators and the providers on the other side of the marketplace aren’t winning either. I talked to people who are so passionate and want to be in this career and want to make huge contributions in children’s lives, but they can’t make it work for a variety of reasons. So I stepped back and really tried to take a systematic view and as I applied my unique background of experience to this challenge, and I knew the time was now to do something.
WHAT IMPACT ARE YOU MAKING?
We are trying to make it easy to start and successfully run a home-based early education business. We are working to address the fact there is not enough quality supply in the market. When you look at the U.S. market, there are 15 million kids in paid care and families are paying almost $50 billion. And this is the formal market – there’s a whole informal shadow market that’s going on outside of that, which is probably four times as big, where there’s so much money changing hands. However, the majority of parents are likely not happy with the quality of their current childcare situation. Less than 10% of the spots available are in proven high-quality environments with high-quality programming.
Our impact is in making it attractive for the people who want a career in early childhood education to jump in by reducing barriers and making it easy for them to become an entrepreneur at the same time. The challenge for early childhood businesses is that not only do you have to be a phenomenal early educator, but you also have to run a small business, and those are two tall orders. We’re really trying to make it as easy as possible to become a successful business owner. People often think of the financial constraints for early educators, which are certainly there and are certainly real, but ultimately a lot of people leave the field because they feel isolated. They feel like the four walls are closing in on them, that they’re not getting professional recognition from the families they’re working with, or that they have a peer group to support them. Every day is different and riddled with new things to learn and challenges to overcome, and if you don’t have a support system that’s able to get you through that, you feel very alone. So ultimately the impact that we’re trying to drive is to reduce all these barriers and make it really easy for the right people to get into this industry and run successful businesses, which ultimately solves the problem of availability and affordability for families with the increased capacity of high-quality home programs.
WHAT (OR WHO) INSPIRES YOU TO DO THIS WORK?
This is a pretty easy answer on my side. I am my own customer. My two daughters are in our first lab school, and I get to be both a customer in our system and a recipient of everything that we’re building. I will actually be the first MyVillage customer to have three kids in one program when my new daughter is born. I want not only them to have a phenomenal experience, but I want them to see the really inspiring new entrepreneurs and educators who are so committed to making a better future for our youngest learners. I want them to watch people who are driven to educate young kids become successful business owners, even when it’s scary and they don’t necessarily have the confidence upfront. This is what inspires me and I want to make sure that I’m role modeling that for my children.
WHAT’S YOUR VISION, YOUR BIG DREAM FOR THE IMPACT YOU WANT TO MAKE?
Ultimately we want every young family to be able to move into a neighborhood or realize that they’re having their first child and look down the street and sigh with relief because there’s a MyVillage that’s available to support them so that they can go back to work with peace of mind.
WHAT CHALLENGES ARE YOU FACING?
There have been lots of interesting challenges that we would have never guessed on day one. Fundamentally one of the interesting components about being a naturally gifted educator is that you’re sometimes more risk-averse than a naturally gifted entrepreneur. So we’ve had to really find that balance of supporting educators where they’re at and helping them become excited and embrace being a business owner along the way. I think we’re managing that conflict really well, but it is a natural tension in the business.
We also are facing some challenges with licensing because these are home-based businesses. We have been getting phenomenal educators into our supply pipeline but then realize they don’t have licensable housing. As we’re getting deeper into this, we’re realizing it’s really a three-sided marketplace with educators, families and kids in care, and also housing. There are certain challenges around landlords not wanting to rent to people who are running programs because they don’t know what high quality could potentially mean or HOAs trying to block high-quality programs. So we’ve dedicated a lot more time to working through some of the policy blocks when it comes to housing, as well. For example, we just passed, almost unanimously, a bill in the Colorado Senate which is moving on to the House, that makes it illegal for HOAs to block a licensed home-based childcare business. We’re definitely moving, but I would say this component of housing is really interesting. Because the cost of rent or a mortgage is already a set cost, it makes home-based care so much more affordable to families. Plus, it has a really intimate continuity of care from age zero to five with small group sizes which are all the quality pieces families want. But, because it’s home-based, it’s a more complex situation than just renting a space for a center.
WHAT’S ONE THING YOU WANT PEOPLE TO KNOW ABOUT THE WORK YOU’RE DOING?
That what we stand for and the work we’re doing is really oriented around the sentiment that it’s our responsibility to raise each other. Our mission is to harness the power of community to create exceptional care. It’s about making sure that every single touchpoint, whether you’re an educator, a parent, or a child in our system, that you’re better off because of that touchpoint. We’re constantly coming together as a community to harness our strengths and help support each other – it’s the way humans have been raising their youngest community members forever and something that’s been lost as communities and individuals get more isolated. If there’s one thing that I want people to know about what we stand for, it would be that we want to inspire them to reflect in themselves what they can do to support their neighbors.
DO YOU HAVE A FAVORITE QUOTE OR WORDS OF INSPIRATION TO SHARE?
What comes to mind is the sense of entrepreneurial drive and heart and the sentiment of hard things. Some things are just challenging as people are building businesses and taking risks. So the quote I keep close is: “Everything is difficult before it gets easy.”
HOW CAN OTHERS SUPPORT YOU OR YOUR CAUSE?
Spreading the word, coming and checking out what we’re doing at our local events in Colorado or Montana, and connecting with us online. But stepping back even more, people can support us by really embracing the power of high-quality home-based care within their community. Whether that means talking to their HOA, or for landlords to consider renting to somebody who wants to open a program in their area. You don’t have to necessarily raise your hand and start a program yourself, but you can be a supportive community member and help create the opportunities in your immediate area. So if you’re a landlord, or you’re on your HOA board, or if you have an idea of somebody who would be a phenomenal educator and want to recommend them, we would love to talk with them about the opportunity to start their own business and really support their immediate neighborhood and its needs.
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