Hi friends, it’s Spiffy, back again on Planet Earth with an eye on entrepreneurs making an impact on UN SDG 4: Quality Educaiton! I have one more interview for you this week. Today I’m excited to cruise around with Chris Bennett, the co-founder and CEO of Wonderschool. Chris is driven to make sure every child has access to high-quality early childhood care and education. Let’s see how he’s doing it!
Spiffy: Welcome Chris, I’m excited to learn about Wonderschool! Can you tell me what challenges are you addressing through your startup?
Chris: I’m excited to tell you, Spiffy! Research shows that children who have access to high-quality early childhood care and education find greater social and academic success than their peers who do not have such services. They achieve more in school, are healthier, earn more money in their careers, and are less likely to go to jail. It’s for these reasons I’ve made it my personal and professional mission to ensure every child, birth through age 11, has access to high-quality early childhood education in their communities.
Spiffy: And that brings me to my next question: what motivated you to focus in on early childhood?
Chris: Growing up, I attended in-home child care. Yoli, the woman who ran that in-home program, eventually moved her work into a bustling commercial space. She impacted many local families, including my own. The quality of early childhood education I received ultimately enabled me to be the first member of my family to go to college. I’ve made it my personal and professional mission to ensure every child, birth through age 11, has access to high-quality early childhood education in their communities.
Spiffy: How is Wonderschool working to create a more equitable world?
Chris: Wonderschool is working toward a more equitable world by ensuring every child has access to affordable, high-quality early childhood care and education. By doing so, our company is reducing educational and social inequalities among our most disadvantaged children and their peers. We are positioning care providers, many of whom are women of color, for decent work and economic mobility. And we are ensuring the existence of sustainable cities and communities. Wonderschool is more than an online platform—it’s a tool for social good.
Spiffy: Have you started any initiatives that you’re particularly excited about? What kind of impact do you anticipate it will have?
Chris: In response to the humanitarian crisis caused by the displacement of Afghan refugees, Wonderschool is committed to providing essential services to create jobs and ensure long-term stability. It is our responsibility to support resettled families as they rebuild their lives and communities. Wonderschool recently announced it would provide its platform free of charge to all Afghan refugees and offer end-to-end onboarding in multiple languages.
Spiffy: I’m curious if you’ve ever faced failure, Chris? What did you learn from it?
Chris: Before Wonderschool even began to code its platform, we helped child care providers get licensed, helped recruit and enroll students, and generally supported the small business launch. One of the programs we started did very well. The provider decided to close her Wonderschool and take all of the students off platform. We did all of the hard work, and it was not enough to meet her needs. But we kept going. We listened. We changed our business model so we could better support providers for the life of their programs.
Spiffy: Have you learned anything unexpected lately that you’d like to tell us about?
Chris: I learned about the power of doing good and being public about it. Wonderschool is all about doing good, but a colleague of mine, Cailin Sandvig, led an initiative to support Afghan refugees in starting programs on the Wonderschool platform for free. This is something we would have done and kept to ourselves prior to working with Cailin, but because of her efforts, we created a public relations campaign around it. It’s led to a good amount of inbound interest from organizations looking to partner, and it has energized our team and amplified our impact.
Spiffy: Before we sign off, is there anything else you would love to tell our audience?
Chris: Yes, Spiffy, providing the right care during early childhood has a profound impact on not just education—but on life outcomes. And yet, early child care remains an unsolved problem. Before the pandemic, 51% of Americans lived in child care deserts, meaning more than half of Americans do not have sufficient child care access. Already in a financially precarious industry and exacerbated by the COVID pandemic, 60 percent of child care centers may not fully recover. We are now in a full-blown child care crisis, and we need new solutions fast. A system of affordable, accessible, quality home-based child care is a valuable one.
Spiffy: I know a few people who would second that! I hope you can get more people on board—this is a train that needs to travel around the world! Thanks for speaking with me today, Chris, it’s been an honor.
Wonderschool CEO and co-founder Chris Bennett’s appreciation for education goes back to his parents, Honduran immigrants who did whatever they could to ensure that he had access to an excellent education—from sending him to a quality preschool to supporting him through his graduation from the University of Pennsylvania. He was committed to making sure other children had the same opportunities to reach their full potential. (Nominated by Pathway Ventures. First published on the Ladderworks website on October 8, 2021.)
© 2021 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Jill Landis Jha. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. Follow Spiffy’s interviews of founders building a more equitable world here.