Kiwis improve personal development with chalkleº, Silvia Zuur

Like him or hate him, Donald Trump is one of the more well-known entrepreneurs of this day and age. It is true that a lot of his success, in his early days at least, can be attributed to the fact that he had his father’s money as capital, but nonetheless he has turned over more profit than any of us probably ever will.

“To be successful, you have to change from the inside out. Spend a portion of every day working on your personal development. It’s just as important as the time you spend working on your business.”

The quote above originated from Donald Trump, and the truth behind it is undeniable. Chalkleº is a social enterprise with a goal to help you improve yourself.

“We connect people in the community who have things to teach, with people who want to learn,” said Chalkleº co-founder Silvia Zuur. “We do that connecting online, but all of our classes happen face to face all around the community.”

Chalkleº’s mission is not to replace the education system. There are standards set in place that cannot, and should not, be removed. Instead, they are offering alternatives and variety. As Silvia puts it, they are setting the learning table with a buffet of choices.

“Many of our chalklers aren’t attending classes purely for a qualification. There’s a couple of different reasons why people might join. Some people are attending to meet new people. It’s a really awesome new form of social networking. Some of them are attending just to have a taster and try something new. Like last night we had “How to Write a Novel in a Month,” and a beginners’ programming class. And some people attend as a form of professional development.”

“I think formal qualifications is a very interesting question,” said Silvia about the tertiary endorsements she had before going into chalkleº. “My on-the-paper qualifications are a Bachelor of Science in Environmental Studies and Psychology – but I don’t know if any of those things actually qualified me to start chalkleº. It was more a combination of all the other experiences that I’ve picked up over the last few years in event and project management, facilitation, having an innate curiosity to try new things, even having cups of coffee with amazing people and following unique learning opportunities. That, to me, is more the qualification [I needed] to start a startup and one in turn that focuses on lifelong learning and education!

Silvia and fellow co-founder Linc Gasking had the great idea, but monetising the concept required a lot of hard work. “Chalkleº’s story has not been one of a huge business plan and huge scheming before we launched. We’ve just been running along and making it up as we go. So much of this is figuring out where the needs are, where the real value is, and where people are willing to pay. I think often you think you’re going to get money in this direction, but actually it comes in from that way.”

“In Wellington, we add a commission on top of all the classes. Right now we’re reviewing that as we’re off to look at expanding across the country. A lot of people who get the value [of chalkleº] aren’t the people who can actually pay for it. So we’re trying to be as creative as we can, because fundamentally, as a social enterprise, we are more interested in the social impact, than in any form of private profit. But we obviously want to make this financially sustainable.”

Future students can expect to pay between $10-$20 per class, although some are free and welcome a koha. “The programming class was koha, and the novel-writing class was $12. Some of them are free.”

Chalkleº will not be offering online classes because as part of their mission to provide a self-improvement platform, they connect people on a personal level. “We’ve spent the last ten years getting online. Now let’s spend the next ten years getting offline, while not losing what we’ve gained over the last ten years of technology and research. Let’s take all of those skills – use the software, use the technology – to connect everyone face-to-face. That’s what chalkleº does. All the connections, all the RSVP management, and the payments – they all happen online, as a service to our teachers and channel organisations.”

If this sounds like something you may be interested in, you could help bring it to your town in New Zealand. Although chalkleº has launched in Wellington and Horowhenua, they are now working to expand across New Zealand. “We are currently talking with three or four other communities around the country. One of the reasons I came up to Auckland [this interview was conducted while she was at the airport] was to have a couple of meetings to see about expanding up here. Really we are looking for organisations that are already running classes, who are interested in working with chalkleº, and using our software as a platform to connect with more people. At the same time, we are interested in working with councils and libraries and communities who may not be running classes but are interested in expanding in that direction.”

Do you think 2013 is a good year to be an entrepreneur in New Zealand?

think any year is a good year if you take the opportunities that are given to you. I think what’s very interesting in our time now is that many of the old forms are crumbling and dying. If we look at the sector that I’m in, community education, two years ago there were major budget cuts so many of the old systems and services that didn’t keep up with that have crumbled away. Like any sort of phoenix story, out of the ashes comes the phoenix, so you can try and figure out what the new form is that wants to come in to replace old. For me it’s not always about replacing the old, but it’s definitely about learning from the old, and figuring out what the new wants. And 2013 has definitely been a year of deep-rooted systemic crumbling away, and [in turn] new emergence. There’s so many different startups that are really addressing core social issues, but in really fundamental new ways. That’s what excites me at the moment.

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