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Lockdown sparks expansion opportunities for Eco Educate

After cancelling of her all upcoming school environmental workshops due to Covid-19, Lesley Ottey of Eco Educate has leapt outside her comfort zone to connect with a global audience via technology.

Eco Educate specialises in sustainable resource education and provides hands-on workshops for hundreds of preschools, primary schools and high schools across Canterbury. The organisation works alongside Waimakariri and Ashburton district councils.

Even before lockdown hit, Lesley was closely monitoring overseas developments and anticipated that her business model would be severely impacted due to the face-to-face nature of her educational sessions.

“When we hit level 2 my preschool visits were cancelled and then the schools followed. It’s been a real rollercoaster ride. I travel all over Canterbury interacting with hundreds of students each week and I didn’t want to put anyone at risk so I knew I would need to rethink my entire business plan in order to survive.”

After the initial shock of seeing pages of deleted bookings in her diary wore off, Lesley decided to look at her business with fresh eyes to see how she could deliver her programmes online to new and existing clients.

She discovered Outschool; an online video learning marketplace founded in the United States in 2015 for primary and high school students which connects students, parents and teachers. Teachers provide lessons for students all over the world in their chosen subject in exchange for a payment for each class.

“I realised that they didn’t have any environmental educators on the site and thought I might as well give it a go as the service has expanded from the USA to Canada and the UK and is now launching in Australia and New Zealand.

“It’s very popular among the home-schooling community so I am keen to see where it takes me.”

To complete the application Lesley had to go outside her comfort zone and upload a video of herself and provide information about her online learning space. She quickly remodelled her garage into a classroom and faced her fears head on.

“To be honest if you’d told me two months ago that I’d be creating an online classroom, using Zoom and making videos of myself in order to teach children all over the world I think I would have run as fast as I could in the other direction.

“By being forced to go outside my comfort zone and getting into the corners of my business and shaking it apart I have discovered new opportunities which will continue to complement my existing business regardless of what happens.”

Lesley anticipates a potential return to onsite workshops later this year and in the meantime, she is continuing to explore new concepts to grow her business in different directions.

“I’ve had the chance to rethink how I do a lot of things and I am really open to new ideas.”

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