Find out why with a behind the scenes look at South Africa’s first ever employer-sponsored educare provider.
Over the coming months, we will be featuring interviews with some of our investees, giving you an inside look into the how and why behind their initiatives as well as sharing their hard-earned learnings and experiences for those of you looking to start something of your own.
This week we have investee Megan Blair sharing her journey behind South Africa’s first high-quality, socially inclusive, employer-sponsored educare provider Earlybird Educare@Work.
1.) Tell us a bit about yourself and your journey to get to this point?
I started my career as a research assistant to various development economists and made the move from collecting data in schools to becoming a teacher in a no-fee primary school in an attempt to gain a deeper understanding of the challenges in basic education in South Africa. I saw firsthand the significant advantage children who arrived in Grade-R having been to preschool had over those who had not had the opportunity.
2.) What is Earlybird Educare@Work and how does it work?
Earlybird is a social enterprise which aims to provide high-quality early childhood education at scale. We have drawn on international evidence and three years of local testing and iteration to develop our preschool model and are working to open a network of preschools across South Africa.
3.) Why did you feel the need to start Earlybird Educare@Work?
Early childhood education is a crucially important phase in the human capital accumulation cycle. Provision of educare services in South Africa is left to the private market, and this creates a hugely unequal distribution in the provision of high-quality preschools.
Earlybird was started to as an innovative model for sustainably providing high-quality early education at scale to children across the socioeconomic spectrum in South Africa.
4.) What excites you about workplace-based educare facilities and the impact they can have for both the business and employees?
Employer-sponsored educare is a win-win-win: companies are better able to attract and retain top talent, parent-employees (particularly working moms) face a less severe career-family tradeoff and children benefit from stronger attachment relationships with their working parent(s) and a world-class early childhood education experience.
“Companies are better able to attract and retain top talent.”
5.) What challenges do you anticipate facing when scaling your business?
We will harness economies of scale (declining marginal costs for centralized management services such as HR, legal, and accounting, and education services such as teacher training, and curricular support) by growing a network of high-quality preschools working with corporate partners, property developers (both commercial and social), and community-based franchisees.
Revenue from the commercial preschools cross-subsidizes equally high-quality service provision in our community sites.
6.) What advice would you give to business leaders considering setting up workplace educare facilities for staff?
Businesses worldwide are realising the recruitment, retention, diversity, and productivity gains employer-sponsored educare provides. Earlybird Educare@Work is here to help South Africa’s employers unlock these benefits!
7.) Describe the process from taking your initial idea from concept phase right through to running a startup? What’s surprised you about the journey?
The initial idea came when I was working as a primary school teacher, and grew with visits to successful private school networks in South Africa and Kenya and the US. We had a longer up-front R&D phase than I expected, it drew on work I did as part of my Masters and involved lots of testing and iteration working with existing preschools before we opened our own, and we have now entered the ‘growth’ phase of our business life cycle, working intensively to open doors on corporate and community sites.
8.) What advice would you give to someone looking to make their inventive ideas a reality?
The road will inevitably contain more obstacles and be longer than you expect but if you chip away every day, break complex tasks down, solve problems piece-by-piece, collaborate effectively, and learn continuously… you’ll get there!
9.) What is your hope for the future of Earlybird Educare@Work?
I hope that Earlybird grows into a large network of high-quality preschools accessible to children from families across the socioeconomic spectrum in South Africa, and I hope that the children who attend our preschools are better off throughout the rest of their lives because of the foundation we helped lay for them.
10.) How can people find out more?