On this very special 250th episode of The Preschool Podcast we chat with the host of The Preschool Podcast and HiMama’s CEO, Ron Spreeuwenberg! Ron dives into the history of HiMama, a social enterprise company and the trends and key takeaways from 249 episodes as The Preschool Podcast host!
The Importance of Being a Social Enterprise Company
HiMama’s specialty is to provide early childhood professionals with technology tools and products that make their day-to-day work easier. Thousands of child care centers across the globe are currently using HiMama to help them manage their operations including recent COVID-19 support such as temperature checks, health screening, and contactless drop off for example. HiMama also focuses on keeping open lines of communication between families and educators to foster ongoing relationships and also improving children’s learning through learning and development observations lesson planning tools.
What Makes HiMama Unique?
So, as a team of over 100 employees based out of Toronto, what makes HiMama unique as a company? Ron explains that he found serious flaws in business models of the traditional corporation whose only objective is a fiduciary duty to shareholders, but also, with the business model of a non-profit organization that’s reliant on funding sources and in lots of cases are unable to scale their impact effectively. Ron continues that he wanted to combine the power of having control of your financial destiny as well as be able to be passionate about making a positive social impact.
As part of HiMama’s journey, HiMama became a Certified Benefit Corporation (B-Corp) which provides third-party validation of our social mission and our actions as a company. Ron explains that being able to have a positive impact on as many educators and children as possible is the main driving force behind being a social enterprise company.
Key Takeaways from 249 Episodes
Ron has had the pleasure of interviewing hundreds of thought leaders, educators, directors, parents, and advocates in the early childhood education space. Ron discusses some of his favorite guests during his 249 episodes of The Preschool Podcast.
Nery Payne, HiMama’s ECE of the Year 2019– Nery’s story was one of the most moving stories in our 2019 ECE of the Year nominations. After she and her son survived being kidnapped in their home country, they moved to Canada to create a better life for themselves. After all of the wonderful support her son received, Nery wanted to give back to the families and children in her community by becoming an early childhood educator.
Listen to the full story in our interview with Nery from the Preschool Podcast.
Jane Ann Benson, HiMama’s ECE of the Year 2020– Our winner of the 2020 ECE of the Year Award, Jane Ann Benson is an amazing advocate for everything early childhood related. Her website and social media provides educators with a multitude of ways they can contribute to their profession through advocacy by fighting for better pay, recognition and equality within the early childhood sector.
Ron’s Insights as the Host of The Preschool Podcast:
- The passion of our guests for the subject matter- It’s so rare to see the passion that comes through on in the interviews with The Preschool Podcast guests in any other field.
- The power of applying science and research in practice. When it comes to advocacy and the professionalism in this field, it’s important that we take science and research and apply it in the classroom.
- Take care of ourselves (early childhood educators)– Mindfulness and playfulness are big themes in The Preschool Podcast that educators can take for themselves and for the children they work with.
- Child care and early childhood education is the ultimate form of social enterprise- There are so many passionate early childhood educators and entrepetnurs who have such a passion and drive for affecting the outcomes of our most vulnerable population. A lot of our guests understand that child care can be a business while providing high-quality care.
- How much early childhood education has evolved- Ron attributes the evolvement of early childhood education to his own learnings from the past five years but also to the guests from our podcast.
Ron shares with us his insight into how he believes the child care sector will change in 2021 and beyond. He mentions that funding has and will play a huge role in our sector. “We’re seeing very hot-off-the-press news that child care is finally getting more attention. Whether this is driven by the economic side of the equation by getting families back in the workforce or the more fundamental point of focusing on our youngest children’s development. It doesn’t really matter at this point, both of those are great reasons and if one of them gets the government to put child care funding front and center, we should be supportive of that and advocate that.”
One silver lining from COVID-19 for early childhood educators is that it’s forced folks to take notice of how important how early childhood education isRon Spreeuwenberg CEO, HiMama and host of The Preschool Podcast
Ron states that “innovation has been accelerated with COVID-19, those child care and early learning programs that have been able to adapt and have been innovative have been the ones that have been most resilient during the global pandemic.” Ron believes this innovativeness will not disappear anytime soon and child care providers will continue to adapt and change whatever their circumstances.
More holistic learning is another theme that Ron believes has played a huge role in the themes of 2021 and beyond. Mindfulness, social emotional learning, cultural diversity and inclusion to name a few, have been important subjects that have played a large impact on how educators teach and reflect and how children develop.
Looking into 2021 and Beyond
Learn- Keep learning and deepen and diversify your knowledge base. This can be done through reading books, keeping up with current events, watching videos, listening to podcasts etc. Apply your learnings.
Stand up for yourself- “You deserve more recognition for what is the most important and most difficult roles in our society. You have a lot of people rooting for you, and thinking about you and the amazing work you do”.
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Episode #250- Transcripts
If we want to change society’s perspective from “Childcare is babysitting,” to “Childcare is a profession,” I think it’s really important that we take science and research and apply that in the classroom.
Hey, everyone, it’s Kiah from HiMama here, our social media and community specialist. Welcome to our 250th episode of the Preschool Podcast. HiMama CEO Ron Spreeuwenberg has had the pleasure of interviewing hundreds of thought leaders, experts and educators in the early-childhood sector over the last five years.
On today’s episode, I’m going to be interviewing Ron to learn about him and his company, HiMama, and diving into its key learnings from his time as the host on the Preschool Podcast. Ron, welcome to your show. We’re so excited to chat with you today!
Yeah, thanks for hosting me on my podcast. Great to be here as a guest.
Of course. So, Ron, let’s jump into it: Can you tell us maybe for some of our listeners who don’t know anything about you, a little bit about yourself?
Yeah, I think a lot of our listeners who’ve been listening for a while will probably know that I have two boys. So, I’m currently living in Toronto with my wife, Sarah, and my two boys: Weston is three [years old] and Reed is one. And I’d be remiss to leave out our Sheltie dog, Harley, who of course you know well from our office. And I actually grew up in a small agricultural community in southwestern Ontario, in Canada. So, I spent a lot of my youth working on farms, hoeing and picking fields of peppers, harvesting tomatoes and tobacco, detasseling corn and even growing mushrooms with my dad, as that was his job. So, that was a lot of my upbringing.
And in school, I was interested in science but I also liked building things. So, and it’s funny, because my school’s guidance counselor told me my grades weren’t high enough to study engineering and be an engineer. So, I made it my goal to prove them wrong. And I went on to get a chemical engineering degree.
And after working in a few different chemical engineering jobs where I did everything from making toilet paper to jet engine lubricants, I saw a lot of issues in the companies I worked at and wanted to understand why certain business decisions were being made.
So, I became increasingly interested in business management and business administration. So, I went on to work in business consulting for a number of years, helping companies make strategic and operational decisions and implement new technologies.
I also went on to get an MBA from Harvard. I learned a lot but one thing that was really nagging at me working in consulting was that I was helping clients with their business challenges, but I wasn’t creating anything enduring, myself. So, that’s when I did what I don’t recommend to anyone and I just left my work to go and figure out what I wanted to do next. And that’s where HiMama comes in.
Wow, so you’ve really kind of been all over the map geographically and in terms of work here. So, Ron, tell us about HiMama, then. What got you into it? How did you start that journey?
Yeah, so for the listeners that don’t know much about HiMama, because we try to really focus on early-childhood education on the podcast: we are a social enterprise, much like many childcare programs, in fact. We’re a private, for-profit business but making a positive social impact in the world is at the very heart of what we do in our mission as a company.
Our expertize is in technology and providing early-childhood professionals with technology tools and products that make their day-to-day work easier. Thousands of childcare and early learning programs are using HiMama across the globe to help manage their center operations, including recent COVID-19 support like temperature checks, health screens and contactless drop-off, for example, to keep open lines of communication with families and keep those relationships really strong, which our listeners know is so important, and to improve children’s learning by things like recording developmental observations and providing educators with the information they need to prepare their lessons specific to children’s individual needs. And we’re currently a team of about 100 people based out of Toronto in Canada.
Amazing. And you were mentioning the term “social enterprise”. Let’s dove into maybe that topic a little bit more. And that’s a whole, what makes HiMama unique as a childcare app company, and as a company?
Yeah, one of my big “A-ha!” moment takeaways from doing a master’s in business administration was that. There were serious flaws in the business model of the traditional corporation whose only objective is a fiduciary duty to shareholders, but also with the business model of a nonprofit organization that’s reliant on funding sources and in lots of cases are unable to scale their impact effectively.
I wanted to be able to combine the power of having control of your financial destiny, as well as be able to be passionate about making a positive social impact. And so it’s almost trying to take the best of both of those models and put them together. So, I became passionate about this concept of a social enterprise modeled after some of the traits of companies in places like Germany, where decisions in the for-profit company were made with other stakeholders in mind, other than shareholders such as employees, customers and the community in which they operated.
And I think that’s powerful because first of all, not only does it feel like the right thing to do in your heart and in the world – and we’ve seen the impact of companies on the environment and in the world if they’re not making the right decisions – but also because I actually think it ends up in making the right decisions for the company and for the business, as well.
And so as part of HiMama journey, we became a certified benefit or “B” corporation, which provides third-party validation of our social mission and our actions as a company. And really what I aim to do with everybody at HiMama who’s also very passionate about social enterprise is having a positive impact at scale.
And that’s really at the heart of social enterprise to me, is being able to have a positive impact and also to be able to do that and have a positive impact, for example, on as many educators and as many children as we can.
Yeah, that is super-powerful, knowing that HiMama is not only doing good for the world but also doing good for the early-childhood community that we’ve seen is so often neglected. So, it’s great to be part of that, for sure.
Shifting gears into the ECE [early-childhood education] sector a little bit here: So, the Podcast has been around as almost as long as HiMama has, has really been a fountain of resources for educators, directories, even parents. So, let’s talk about some of the highlights then. Ron, who have been some of your favorite guests and topics over the last 249 episodes that you’ve done?
Well, one of the things I love about the Podcast is that every guest brings a unique perspective and point of view on every subject. So, I end up learning something new every time, which is one of the reasons I love doing it. If I had to pick a few memorable conversations – I’ll do my best – I would be remiss not to start with Episode One, actually, and for a few reasons.
The first is I interviewed Debbi Sluys from Blenheim, Ontario – which is my hometown – because when I first started HiMama, I had met her pretty early on and was amazed by her passion for early-childhood education. And also combined with that, her passion for being a leader of the educators in her teams and creating an amazing culture.
And that, for me, was one a big impetus for creating the Preschool Podcast, was that I felt really strongly that if we can improve leadership capabilities and talk more about culture and leadership in early-childhood education, then that could help make a really big difference in the experience of early-childhood educators and developmental outcomes for children. Because we all know that the educators and how they’re feeling and how they’re performing has a very direct impact on the experience and outcomes of children.
So, that was the very first episode, five years ago. And to this day I still remain very, very passionate about culture and leadership in childcare and early-childhood education programs. It’s so, so, so important. So, that’s the first one that comes to mind.
A couple other ones that are more recent are actually Early-Childhood Educators-of-the-Year. And these are easy ones for me to pick because it’s sort of more like the people’s choice versus my choice. And the reason why they stand out to me for the last couple of years…
So, I’ll start with 2019: Nery Payne, who’s in Canada, actually, she runs a childcare program in Alberta. It’s a small, home family care program. And what stood out to me about her was her personal story. So, she actually came to Canada from Colombia. And in Colombia, her young son was kidnapped, which was a really tragic story. However, it turned out positive in that they were able to find him and get him home.
But that was only the start of the positive story because he still struggled a lot emotionally with that experience to the point where he really had trouble sleeping at night. And he just didn’t feel safe. And they decided that they would leave Colombia and Canada opened their doors to her and her son to come to our country.
And that’s why her work as an early-childhood educator is so amazing because she feels like she has to give back to Canada and our community and our families and our children for opening their doors to her and her son, who almost overnight felt safe again. And it completely changed his behavior for the better.
And it just really hit home to me that no-one would even probably know about Nery and her home childcare program other than her families that love her and are amazed by the work she does. And yet her story is so powerful and so amazing that we can share it with tens of thousands of people through the Preschool Podcast, which was kind of part of the idea behind the Podcast, as well.
And even more so, “Early-Childhood Educator of the Year” was to recognize and share with the world all of the amazing work and people that are in early-childhood education. So, that one really stood out to me.
And then the other one that I will share is an even more recent one, which is the 2020 Early-Childhood Educator of the Year, Jane Ann Benson. And the reason that one stood out to me was because Jane Ann, like me, had done an MBA, a Master of Business Administration. And I felt like that really impacted her perspective on things and for the positive.
And it’s something that I think about quite a bit, which is the benefits of the early-childhood education community, learning about other topics and sectors and being able to take those diverse perspectives and apply them to early-childhood education, like culture and leadership, for example, from that first episode.
And just as an example: We were having an interesting conversation about advocacy in early-childhood education. And it was funny because I think she was saying they had an event or something to that effect and it was about advocacy. But it’s such a funny word that you don’t really think, “What does it mean? What do I do? Like, what is advocating for early-childhood education?”
So, they ended up changing it to something else, much more easy to understand in terms of like a get-together. And sort of the response was overwhelming. And I think it was just a good example of how you can apply something from business, which is almost like your marketing or branding of an event to get a really positive response and really positive outcomes and help to move things forward in a positive way for childcare and early-childhood education.
So, that was another one that that stood out to me as interesting. And I think it’s because it sort of aligned with some of the things that I’m passionate about with early-childhood education in the Podcast.
Yeah, for sure, Nery has a really, really great story. We’re going to be sure to link it for our listeners. It’s really impactful. And Jane Ann, she’s so amazing to chat, too, on social media and hear how, even though she’s not currently active in the field as early-childhood educator, she’s still fighting that good fight for ECE’s and getting them the resources on how to advocate in this sector for sure. So two really great guests, too.
Ron, let’s talk about some of the key takeaways from the Podcast. We’ve talked about your favorite guests and some of the favorite topics. What have been some of your learnings from the Podcast overall in the last the last few years?
Yeah, this is a tough question because I myself have learned so much and developed and grown so much in terms of my understanding of early-childhood education over the last five years, and lots of it coming from learning from our guests, which I mentioned before. That’s one of the things I love most about doing this, is all of our listeners can learn and I can learn, too.
Some of the things that stand out to me: One is the passion of our guests for the subject matter. I mean, the people that we get to talk to are so passionate about what they do. It’s so rare to see that in other sectors or industries.
And it’s funny because sometimes some of the most passionate conversations actually happen off-air because we kind of finish up the interview and then we go off-air and then I’m kind of intrigued. So, I end up asking some follow-up questions. And then we kind of get into sort of some great conversations where I’m thinking, “We should have done that in the interview.”
But I think it just sort of speaks to the passion that folks have, that we’re having these really engaging conversations. And I’ve had some really big insights coming out of some of these things that have gotten me really excited, coming off of those Podcast episodes.
One of the things that seems to be a consistent theme that’s really positive and resonates with me – kind of going back to my history of being really interested in science and putting things in practice – is the power of applying science and research in practice in early-childhood education. I think, especially when we talk about advocacy and the professionalism of early-childhood education, this is really important.
So, if we want to change society’s perspective from “Childcare is babysitting,” to “Childcare is a profession,” I think it’s really important that we take science and research and apply that in the classroom. So, there’s been so many great guests who have been able to help further that conversation, which I think is one we should continue to further.
A third one is, the Podcast is about early-childhood education. And what educators are most passionate [about], of course, is furthering the development of the children they work with. But I think it’s easy for us to forget that we should be… a lot of the things we’re trying to apply for our children, we need to apply to ourselves as early-childhood educators. So, that ends up coming up quite a bit in the Podcast is, as adults, we also need to practice things like mindfulness.
Playfulness is another one, where especially nowadays people are so stressed; burnout is high. We have to be playful and use things like mindfulness to bring our own stress levels down. And so I think taking care of ourselves – and I say “ourselves” as in early-childhood educators, which is a lot of our listeners – is an important theme that I find, as well.
A fourth one that resonates with me, kind of going back to HiMama being a social enterprise, is that childcare and early-childhood education is almost like the ultimate form of social enterprise. There’s so many really passionate entrepreneurs out there that are starting childcare programs, that are really passionate about having a positive impact on children’s development and advocating for early-childhood education.
So, I think that’s another really exciting theme for me, is this tie between “Childcare can be a business,” and “[Childcare] can provide really high quality care and education.” And I think that’s another great theme for us to continue the dialog on.
And then fifth, and not least, is how much early-childhood education has evolved since we started the Podcast five years ago. It’s hard for me to figure out how much of it is my own development and knowledge of early-childhood education, versus the early-childhood education field at large. But my sense is things have really evolved in a really meaningful way since 2016 and for the positive.
And so that’s really exciting because lots of our guests, when asked about the future of childcare, have been very cautiously optimistic to say, “We feel like things are improving. But we’ve been hoping for things to change for decades. So, we’re not sure if it’s actually going to happen.” The sense I get, the feeling I get from talking to people and what I’m seeing, is that things are changing. And that’s really exciting.
Yeah, for sure. And going back to advocating there, Ron, we’re really lucky in a sense, with being able to pivot right now with new technology, with social media. And even the pandemic, forcing us to kind of take that time to reflect and prioritize, to even pivot how educators are advocating, how they’re reflecting and teaching, how they’re teaching in the classroom, whether it’s in person or virtual. And seeing how educators are being prioritized within their communities and their government, wherever they are in the world, for sure.
We actually… it’s funny you mention Jane, and she definitely has tons of knowledge there, too, with regards to advocating. She’s always active in the sector. She actually had a question for us that she wanted to ask you: “Looking forward into 2021 and beyond, Ron, how do you think the childcare sector is going to change?”
I think there’s three things that kind of stand out to me. One is funding. We’re seeing very hot-off-the-press news that childcare is finally getting more attention. So, in the US, Biden’s COVID Relief Package has substantial – upwards of 40 billion dollars and 24 billion directly to childcare providers – as part of the COVID Relief Package to support childcare and early-childhood education.
And whether that’s driven by the economic side of the equation in helping support getting families back in the workforce or the more fundamental point of focusing on our youngest children’s development, it doesn’t really matter at this point. Both of those are great reasons. And if one of them gets the government to put childcare funding front-and-center, we should be supportive of that and advocate that.
And more close to home here in Canada, the federal budget just recently announced by the government, childcare is the marquee item of the budget, to provide affordable and accessible childcare across the country.
So, these are really historic moments. If you go back and you look at funding over the years, this is very different than what we’ve seen in the past. These dollars and these commitments are very substantial.
And that’s another theme that’s kind of come out of a lot of Podcast conversations is, what’s one positive sort of silver lining of COVID-19 for early-childhood education, is that it’s forced folks to take notice of how important early-childhood education is. So, that’s one biggie.
The second thing, which probably shouldn’t come as a surprise to anybody but is still somewhat behind in early-childhood education, relative to a lot of other sectors, is innovation. And it’s another one that has been sort of accelerated, let’s say, with COVID-19. It’s been a topic of conversation in some of our Podcast episodes.
And certainly in talking to people, those childcare and early learning programs that have been able to adapt and be innovative have been the ones that have been most resilient through the global pandemic. And I don’t think that’s going to go away. There will always be change and we have to be ready to adapt. And whether that’s with technology…
And we’ve seen huge disruptions in even the most traditional industries, like taxis with Uber and Lyft, or also business models. The future of work is changing. And it will almost certainly change going forward. A lot less folks will be going into the office five days a week. So, what does that mean for childcare? It means we might need more flexible care options, different pricing packages. And we have to be able to adapt our operations to the realities of the world. I think that’s the second one.
And the third one that I’m hearing a lot is a theme on the Podcast that I think will be increasingly applied going forward, which is also exciting, is more holistic learning, let’s call it. So, social-emotional learning; mindfulness has been a really big subject for the Podcast in the last couple of years; cultural diversity and inclusion.
All of these really important subjects that are really important for a more holistic learning and development experience for children, other than the really taboo subject of kindergarten readiness, which all educators will know that academic-only focus is not the holistic learning that we seek in early-childhood education.
Yeah, for sure. So, it seems like we’re on the up-and-up with this. And yes, lots of changes are happening now; they’re coming soon. And with regard to the childcare sector, we may be taking these small steps forwards. It’s great that we’re taking a steps forward in any direction, especially in such a vital sector for children’s development, the future of our economy, the future of our communities, our children, something we really should be valuing very highly, for sure.
Ron, to wrap it up here, any words of wisdom or advice for our listeners and all of the amazing educators out there?
I’d say two things: One is, learn. Keep learning; deepen and diversify your knowledge base; get out there; read books; watch videos; whatever works best for you. Maybe they’re about early-childhood education; maybe they’re about other topics, in terms of growth and development.
See what you can learn and apply. If you’re listening to this podcast, that’s already a great start. It means you have the right mindset about learning. And in fact, Kiah, why don’t we make a commitment that, going forward, we’ll introduce on the Preschool Podcast recommendations from our guests for great content for the early-childhood education community out there? Because I think that’s just so important, is learning from each other what’s out there and what we can learn.
The second thing is, stand up for yourself and speak up for yourself. You deserve more recognition for what is one of the most difficult and important roles in our society. Don’t ever forget that. You have a lot of people rooting for you and thinking about you and the amazing work you do.
Amazing, amazing advice. “Always be learning” – we have that growth mindset here at HiMama. “Apply, retry, stand up for yourself and for your field, for the sector.” Definitely some great advice there. Ron, if folks want to find out maybe more about HiMama or some of the resources that we provide, where can they head to?
Yeah, www.HiMama.com. Our team spends a lot of time on thought leadership and great resources, a lot of them free webinars; obviously the podcast; lots of great reports and books. So, definitely that is one spot where you can get some great content.
Awesome. Thank you so much, Ron. This was really insightful and it was really great switching roles here and hearing your story and more information about HiMama and the great things that we’re doing here at this company. Ron, thank you so much for letting me interview you. This was definitely a lot of fun!
Yeah, it was fun to be on the other side of the Podcast. Thanks, Kiah!