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Every year, Fast Company hand-selects organizations around the world and recognizes them for cultivating big ideas and encouraging innovation. VIPKid was included in this year’s list as a 2020 Best Workplace for Innovators. VIPKid’s U.S. HR Director, Erika Louie shares her thoughts below on what this recognition means for the company.
Since its inception, VIPKid has preserved its mission to inspire and empower every child for the future. As U.S. HR director, I’ve had the opportunity to see how this mission-driven work is brought to fruition by the special people that work on our team. Being recognized on Fast Company’s list as the 53rd out of 100 Best Workplaces for Innovators in 2020 is an honor, and speaks to VIPKid’s dynamic, innovative cross-border education technology.
We’ve always encouraged and promoted innovative projects internally—from establishing a seamless teaching platform to developing adaptive learning curriculums that fit diverse learning styles for all students —which has enabled VIPKid to grow its global classroom.
Over the last year, we have made significant progress in reducing learning barriers to prepare more children in becoming global citizens. This work is all thanks to our community of passionate teachers who build global connections through their daily cross-cultural exchanges with students – approximately 20,000 classes are taking place on VIPKid’s platform every day.
Innovating in times of need
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought unprecedented challenges to our global community but has also brought about the fast-acting, ideas-driven spirit of our employees. In late January 2020, when the coronavirus first broke out across China, VIPKid sprang into action to deliver free online learning courses to students..
As a direct response to the school closures in China, VIPKid donated 1.5 million online math and English classes for children aged four to 12, prioritizing students in the city of Wuhan, Hubei Province. To support uninterrupted learning, as schools in China remained temporarily closed, VIPKid shared its education technology platform with schools and teachers to ensure that students could continue learning while outside of their traditional school setting. VIPKid also provided free live-stream and recorded classes on eight major streaming platforms in China.
I like to think that these examples of VIPKid’s innovative and entrepreneurial support throughout 2020 speak to the ethos that concern all areas of our organization.
Infectious entrepreneurial spirit
In 2019, VIPKid launched the company-wide, Qilin (“Unicorn”) Innovation Challenge which encouraged teams from across the company to push the boundaries of how we could better serve our user base while ensuring that key criteria of growth, efficiency, cost, and quality were carefully considered.
Submissions ranged from improving VIPKid’s current operations and products to initiating new products and offering services in new markets.
Winners of the Innovation Challenge built upon the company’s existing assets and strengths. One of the winning ideas, the Mini Mighty Book Club (MMBC), came from Maggie Yang, a member of the Global Business Development team in San Francisco. She says reading helped change her life and gave her the drive and determination to succeed after immigrating to the U.S. as a young child.
“When I first immigrated, I couldn’t speak English and didn’t have many friends but books gave me the opportunity to understand different perspectives and explore the world with interesting and unexpected characters,” she says. “Reading changed my life, so I wanted to share the power and joy of reading with even more kids through MMBC.”
Together, Maggie and her teammates crafted a business strategy and pitched the idea to senior leaders. The reaction to MMBC was overwhelmingly positive and the team scored VIPKid’s support and the necessary budget to run a pilot program.
“The culture at VIPKid naturally fosters entrepreneurship and we couldn’t have had this opportunity without the support we received from both visionary leadership and our remarkable colleagues,” Maggies explains. “When we started building our MMBC pilot, so many folks from other teams believed in what we were doing and helped us with everything from developing the logo to initiating the student recruitment process.”
Creative community building
VIPKid’s online teacher community is composed of around 100,000 individuals across the U.S. and Canada, and the company’s passionate Teacher Community team ensures that teacher success is a top priority. To bring more perks to the platform’s online educators, the Teacher Community Team established the Six Apple program, which gives VIPKid teachers exclusive access to deals and discounts on products and services they love.
Hunter Kubryk, a program manager on the Community team, was a key innovator in bringing this program to fruition.
“Many of us at VIPKid are former brick and mortar teachers and we remember loving the ability to use our teacher ID cards to get discounts at local retailers, so we wanted to bring this same sort of perk to VIPKid,” Hunter explains. “Since some areas didn’t allow teacher discounts, though, we began working with brands that offered online discounts on products and services.”
While the teacher community was at the core of this project, it is a great example of cross-functional innovation among our internal teams. Six different teams worked on the Six Apple program. And despite the teams working together across U.S. and Beijing offices, with differing workstyles and a 15 hour time difference, they were still able to successfully initiate the program and deliver huge value to VIPKid’s teachers.
Innovating for impact
Recognizing the incredible potential of technology and amazing educators to increase access to quality education, VIPKid seed-funded the U.S. nonprofit organization VIPTeach in 2019. VIPTeach aims to give educators the support and opportunities they need to promote educational equity through unique programs that build technological, pedagogical, and cross-cultural skills. VIPTeach recently launched the Global Online Teaching Fellowship, a first-of-its-kind virtual service and professional learning program for future leaders in education. The Fellowship seeks to empower online education pioneers with a premier global teaching experience that helps them grow as professionals while making a difference in the lives of the students and classroom teachers they serve.
My colleague Lauren Conn leads VIPKid’s social impact work and talks about how creating a positive social impact globally is really in VIPKid’s DNA. “Leveraging universal talent can help advance equity in education and I’m excited to accelerate the potential of competent education professionals so that their incredible skill sets can benefit children who are in the greatest need of more educational opportunities.”
Success of the VIPKid Rural Education Project (REP), a philanthropic initiative that launched in 2017 to bring free, high-quality English instruction to rural schools in China that would not otherwise have access, inspired the creation of VIPTeach. Along with the support of hundreds of expert VIPKid teachers, the program has already reached more than 1,000 schools and 50,000 children throughout the rural parts of China.
“Everyone at VIPKid is united through a common mission to expand educational opportunities for children by empowering teachers to be successful,” Lauren says. “There is never a shortage of support or eager volunteers willing to lend their expertise and time to seeing these innovative projects succeed and take shape.”
It is a tremendous honor to be featured on Fast Company’s list of Most Innovative Workplaces. Considering innovation as a foundational pillar of VIPKid, we hope that this recognition allows us to attract, grow, and retain talented people who are just as passionate about education as everyone already here.