The journey of an early learning innovator
All images used with permission.
As a working parent of three young daughters, Andrea Christie-David knows all about life’s ultimate juggling act.
“I remember the days of running around, doing the daycare drop-off and pick-up, getting home, running the bath, doing the bedtime routine… it’s just exhausting for everyone and really challenging,” she says.
At the time Andrea, then a human rights lawyer and chief operating officer for Salvos Legal, had a trio of kids under the age of three. She and her husband, an IT professional, struggled to find a childcare option that suited their needs.
“We were just ‘go, go, go’,” she adds. “It’s a major juggle and you end up calling on any resources you have.”
Having run the full gamut of childcare options — from grandparents to daycare centres, nannies and family daycare — Andrea saw there was a need for an alternative.
It was in searching for a way to spend more time with her children that she stumbled upon a novel business idea: a childcare option that could provide an excellent early learning experience in the comfort of the family home.
Her goal was to combine the intimacy and connection provided by a family daycare with the high quality educational elements of a preschool.
“I wanted to bring those two concepts together, and also to give parents the convenience of walking out the door and knowing they have a skilled educator they can trust at home with their children, engaging them in learning in their own environment,” she says.
After many months of research, Andrea embarked on her first entrepreneurial venture in the childcare space with Leor In Home Early Learning.
The business places experienced educators into family homes to deliver tailored learning programs to young children, whilst also meeting their care needs. It has helped not only her clients, but also her own family, to better manage the juggling act.
“Parenting is a major challenge and the thing we’ve witnessed with a lot of the parents that use us, and also ourselves, is that we want the time we spend with our children to be quality time,” she says.
“When the kids are at home with an educator, they’re being looked after and nurtured in a calm environment, and it means that by the time you do sit down with your children, it’s a much calmer experience.”
Learning in the home
Since Andrea launched Leor in July 2018, the business has literally gone from zero to 100 in less than 18 months.
“At the moment we’ve got around 100 families, and they’re very diverse in their circumstances,” she says, adding that Leor operates everywhere except South Australia and Tasmania, with plans to expand into those states.
Much of her journey in setting up and running the business has been spent at Collaborate Plus, ACU’s innovation incubator that engages with individuals, industry and not-for-profit organisations to facilitate future-focused start-ups. The Collaborate Plus initiative was initiated in 2017 with the support of the NSW Government under the Boosting Business Innovation Program.
“Having this supportive space where you can work and meet others with start-ups, finding out what they’re doing, networking and seeing if you can collaborate in any way… that’s been an amazing help,” she says.
Andrea is currently halfway through her Master of Teaching (Early Childhood and Primary), which she’s put on hold so she can focus on the business. She was recently named as a finalist in the Emerging Entrepreneur of the Year category of the Women’s Agenda Leadership Awards, which noted that Leor goes out of its way to reward educators with pay rates well above the standard.
Andrea with her daughters Alessandra, Marielle and Anneke.
A number of the business’s 60 educators are current ACU Bachelor of Education students, and Andrea says her clients have been “impressed by their passion and commitment to meeting children’s needs”.
“We have found that ACU students are conscientious, keen to apply what they learn to enhance children’s outcomes, and are committed employees,” she says.
A focus on giving back
Like many young parents, Andrea and her husband were disheartened by the lack of quality, affordable childcare options for their children.
“It’s not only the cost that’s the issue, it’s the lack of flexibility, and that’s a problem almost everywhere — not just in the capital cities,” says Andrea, who at one point faced a $450 daily childcare bill.
It was around the time that the Federal Government announced its childcare reforms that Andrea decided to take matters into her own hands. Since starting the business, she’s found that many families are falling through the cracks.
“Our clients span the broad spectrum of society, and as a result of working with them, we’ve realised that a lot of people sitting on the periphery are not having their needs met,” she says.
“We have families on remote cattle stations, people in regional areas where there’s no childcare centres, parents working rotating rosters, and families with complex needs, like parents or children going through chemotherapy.”
Andrea’s journey from lawyer to childcare innovator has been marked by a desire to give back to the community.
After getting her start in corporate law in her 20s, her career took a major U-turn when she became a human rights lawyer and company director in the not-for-profit sector, where she has spent years assisting some of society’s most vulnerable.
“I just knew the corporate line of work wasn’t for me,” she remarks. “I didn't see it as something that was feeding my soul.”
Her favourite days of the week were spent volunteering at Redfern Legal Centre, a community service dedicated to improving legal access and upholding human rights.
“That's where my passion led me, so I kept my foot in that area, whether it was through volunteering or sitting on a management committee, or any other way I could stay involved.”
After an internship at the United Nations in New York and stints in various teaching roles at Australian universities, Andrea got her lucky break as the principal solicitor of a community legal centre, before going on to secure a job as a partner at Salvos Legal.
Finally, she was able to pursue her passion for social justice on a full-time basis.
“When you realise you’ve been fortunate to have the educational opportunities that others may not have had, it feels natural to channel your intellectual energy towards people who might not have had those opportunities,” she says.
“It’s just something that fits within my values, to advocate for people who might not be able to advocate for themselves, and whether that means sitting on a board of a not-for-profit, or being in court, or lobbying to government, I feel compelled to articulate the issues and challenges vulnerable people face when they can’t do so themselves.”
Andrea has taken those values and applied them to her business, donating a portion of Leor’s profits to charities that benefit vulnerable and disadvantaged children. She also gives all Leor educators the opportunity to take a paid day of work to volunteer for a range of community organisations.
“It’s all about Leor meeting its social responsibilities by contributing to community projects that benefit children facing difficult circumstances,” says Andrea, who is also a director for a large charity.
She says the highlight of her journey with Leor has been using her business and legal skills in a way that can benefit others.
“If we can continue to make life a bit easier for those who are struggling, on top of our main goal of delivering high quality early childhood education to more families across Australia, then I think we’ll go a long way.”
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