Janis has over 40 years of experience in the education sector and has been an entrepreneurial business leader, educator and has considerable experience of business start-up and growth, as well as developing new concepts and product market penetration and sales techniques. Janis then blended her knowledge of Education, Finance and IT to form software company Pebble in 1992. She has been a teacher in the UK, Africa, Canada and the Middle East and still has huge passion and insight for education in marginalised communities. People leadership, development and coaching is also a skill and passion of hers, and this is what we are talking about here.
Q1- Why did you say yes to mentoring Chris and getting involved with his idea?
Oh, you’ve got it all wrong, it was Chris who decided if we were going to continue to meet. You are right though in that I was asked to meet Chris by the Entrepreneurs Forum for a potential mentor relationship. The first meeting was to enable Chris to explain his idea to me and me to assess if I thought I could support him. I knew straight away that in Chris there was an idea, a passion and a belief in his ability to make a significant impact on a global scale. He thought my experience and skills in Education, IT and Africa would be useful, so that was the start really.
Working with Chris while he moved his idea from a design project at university to what is now a mission to teach one million marginalised students using a bespoke web app, uniquely designed solar-powered projector and a team of committed, highly skilled volunteers to assist, has been the most exciting mentoring experience.
As a former pupil in rural Ghana and Tanzania, a teacher in Zambia and an entrepreneur with experience in Education and IT, the ideas that Chris proposed were aligned with those areas in which I have significant experience, but more importantly for me it means I am able to support those students in whom I have committed to making a difference. I’ve always wanted to go back to Africa and improve the facilities for students and teachers alike when I do so, Global Teacher is committed to that.
Q2- Your involvement with Global Teacher is one of Director as well as mentor, can you tell why you got more involved?
I have to balance the role of Director and Mentor. However, the focus of both roles is to support Chris to deliver his vision. As a Director of the CIC, I have a responsibility to support our community purpose; I will definitely be undertaking future trips to Africa.
I returned to Africa briefly in 1992 and visited a school in Mombasa where I left a number of textbooks for the pupils. I am looking forward to my next visit with Global Teacher and leaving much more than a few books. With the development of Pod – the solar powered projector, designed by Chris now in production, we will be able to deliver educational material donated digitally. Teachers and students will gain access to a wealth of topics, subjects and texts appropriate to their requirements.
As a mentor supporting the growth and development of Chris such that he is now able to communicate his mission and encourage others to join him has been a rewarding experience. As for myself, being a part of a global movement is a challenge and opportunity that I am relishing.
I enjoy the mentoring journey; I have mentored a number of aspiring entrepreneurs specifically those wanting to work/set up a business in IT and often related to education in its broadest form. I currently support a number of initiatives via other mentoring relationships.
Q3- You seem to have a unique insight and fond love with Africa and education in marginalised communities, can you elaborate please?
Yes, you could say that. My experience and knowledge of Africa began in 1958! My father was seconded to the Ghanaian government so my mother, sister and I were relocated to the Northern Territories of Ghana. I was 5 and my mother had to start a school to ensure I received an education. I spent the next 23 years ‘living’ in various countries in Africa and attending local schools until I was 11. I have been a pupil in schools in Ghana, Tanzania and Kenya. My fellow students were both local indigenous and international expatriates. Physically schools ranged from open sided roofed spaces to white walled basic rooms, where the facilities were always minimal. However, the commitment of the teachers and enthusiasm of the students are fond memories.
Following my qualification as a teacher in 1975 I returned to Africa to teach in schools in Zambia. I think of Africa as my ‘home’, I spent most of my formative years there and even when back in UK for my own education, I spent every holiday with my parents in whatever part of Africa they were in. Hopefully you can now see why the initial ideas from Chris found an immediate empathy with me. He wasn’t focused on Africa initially, but the idea of bringing education and opportunity to any marginalised community was aligned with my wish to support the same. I am very pleased to be able to contribute my experience as both a pupil and a teacher in schools from East to West Africa over four decades.
Q4- Sounds like you have been involved relatively since the start, what’s your impressions of the journey so far?
The journey began with lots of enthusiasm from both Chris and I for his idea. Once we had the mentoring arrangement agreed it was then a case of sharing knowledge and experience. I was as keen to learn from Chris as he was to take the next steps in his personal and professional development. There have been successes, roadblocks and a number of challenges to overcome, however Chris has maintained his focus and enthusiasm. He is quick to learn and responds well to encouragement to move beyond his comfort zone. Chris’ altruism is an outstanding characteristic and while it has left some of the commercial aspects of the venture still to be resolved, I am fortunate and privileged to be a part of supporting the ‘global movement of giving education and opportunity to those in need’. This journey is only just beginning but it is going to be life changing for many of us.