By Jamie Lee
I didn’t get to where I am today through schoolwork or classes. The most important things I learnt came from my mum and my godmother. My parents got divorced when I was 12 years old. My mum was heartbroken, depressed and devastated, yet she was fearless in raising two children in a foreign country on her own. She soldiered on with such dignity that no matter how tough things got, she still managed to forgive and rise above the mess with a smile. She has never stopped inspiring me with her positive view towards life and her compassion for those who have less than we do. From her, I learnt to look at what I could do to raise others up, rather than at what was lacking in my life.
My godmother is the CEO of a well-known international company. She brought me to meetings, seminars and corporate functions after I’ve shared my dream with her. My godmother often says very little. Instead, she’d allow me to learn by watching others and working out the answers myself. From her, I learnt the underestimated value of listening to others; paying attention to what others say; and being respectful of controversial ideas.
Regardless of their differences, both mums have taught me the importance of giving. They said: “to give and to share is a blessing in itself. The most effective ways of giving is to share your innate talents and pursue your passions – because when you are good at something, you inspire others by your excellence.”
My dream, Kids at SWiTCH, came to me while completing my Education Degree at Macquarie University. Before my eyes, I saw proof of an old maxim: success breeds success, and the rich get richer. Mediocrity, I realised, didn’t just stem from a lack of support and motivation, but also a lack of financial knowledge. My mission was (and is) to not only foster financial literacy in each of my “kids”, but do so in a way which translates their instinctual passion and sense of play into a sense of unshakeable purpose.
When I found my mission, I became the little girl with a big dream again. While juggling assignments and two part-time jobs, I pushed myself further by completing a Certificate in Financial Accounting Principal at Harvard’s Extension School and worked alongside my godmother to gain additional managerial experience. At night I worked from my bedroom, sketching away concepts, stories, ideas and inspirations into my notebook. I’d get so involved with learning that I would look up at the clock thinking it was 7 or 8 in the evening and quickly realised that it was actually 1 or 2 in the morning. Everyday, I set my alarm at 6 a.m. – and no later than 7 a.m. Often I’d be out of my house to work before any of my family members were awake.
At 23, straight after I graduated from university I took a steep learning curve and got straight into the unknown. The first information day for Kids at SWiTCH wasn’t quite working. Whilst, the room was packed with supportive friends and family, none of the potential clients actually attended. Everything that could possibly go wrong went wrong. The weather was terrible, the location was inappropriate and my speech was too long. But with every mistake and failure came an opportunity for me to learn. My mentor comforted me with this quote, she said “you’re going to fall down, but the world doesn’t care how many times you fall down, as long as it’s one fewer than the number of times you get back up.” And through this experience, I recognised the importance of being able to drill down to identify issues and problems, and solve them before anyone knew of their existence.
My first two clients were from referrals. These two mums wanted me to personally teach their children – not because I had the most experience as a teacher, but because they knew I would do whatever it took to defend their unbounded imagination, curiosity and creativity.
I had eight students in our first term and I loved every minute of it. As time went on my customer base grew, and I started to receive positive responses from diverse audiences alongside subsequent franchising requests from all corners of the world. But for me, the most rewarding experience is not the success or acclaim – it’s becoming friends with the parents as well as the kids. I was asked to host a birthday party; I had kids inviting me to attend their church; I had a boy emailing me to ask for an addition lesson; and often I’d go out with the kids and their mums for lunch after ”class”. Kids at SWiTCH has become a place which kids don’t think of it as a school; it’s now a place of innovation, creation and contribution, one which they yearn to visit every day.
The concept of Kids at SWiTCH was inspired by several highly innovative thinkers including Robert Kiyosaki, Warren Buffett and Sir Ken Robinson, as well as Finland’s education system. Within a whimsical mini-economy, the children apply for jobs according to their interests and passion. When these kids are enjoying their jobs, work becomes a learning experience rather than just a means of making money.
The kids set financial goals for themselves and are empowered to choose whether they want to spend their money at the shops or save it at the bank. Every week, the kids are charged with rental fees for things such as chairs, as part of their daily expenses. Through tangible and vivid experiences, they quickly learn that buying assets such as chairs, beanbags and shops can help them generate a second source of income. My goal is to give these kids the skills and self-belief to stay focused, learn and prosper in any situation.
I constantly see that kids are inspired by the idea of becoming young entrepreneurs. It means that things that were unthinkable to them become thinkable, achievable and – eventually – entirely normal. They become audacious in trying new things and determined in pursuing their passion.
Patrick (9) and Divyesh (8) are intensely passionate about folding origami. When they first started with Kids at SWiTCH, they applied for the Origami Trainer and Inventor “jobs”. Their shared financial goal was to buy the largest classroom shop, with the hope of leveraging it to generate another source of income. After some negotiations and collaborations, Patrick , Divyesh and Michael (8) have decided to become business partners. They have each saved up $19 in order to purchase the classroom business store, under the name of Origami Fortress. They boys are now juggling ideas with each other to find ways to create products that can turn their passion into a profitable business.
One of my “kids” always says: “If your mind thinks you can, then you can. But if your mind thinks you can’t, then you can’t.” I constantly see that when kids are given the opportunities to discover their passion, they move, learn and live with a stronger purpose.
I’ve learnt so much since I started Kids at SWiTCH. I’ve realised that success is not about what you gain in life or accomplish for yourself: it’s about what you can do for others. I laugh every time the kids refer me as a “superhero”. And I tell them, “You are all superheroes. My job is to help you to discover your unique talents and gifts. Never think that you’re just a kid and that you can’t make things happen.” Seeing the transformations in their eyes – their desire to learn and move forward – is such a joy.
My hope is that they always remember that I, Jamie Lee, will always be there for them.
Jamie Lee is the Founder of Kids at Switch. In 2012-13, she was nominated as one of Australia’s most exceptional early childhood educators. Jamie is also the co-author of a picture book called Little by Little.
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