The phone rang.
“Hey, this is Casey, what’s up?”
Chris: “The mafia knows about us. I just snuck out of Mumbai!”
Me: “How did they find out? Are you safe?”
Chris: “Someone tipped them off. I’m in a taxi to the airport. I’ll call you from the safehouse when I land in Goa .”
I hung up the phone and stared through the window out of my taxi as I watched farmers plant grain in the fields of northern India, where our nonprofit began. I rubbed my palms together in worry.
These were the moments I felt so far from my own small, US hometown – when one of us fled a city for safety while in India. What if Chris didn’t make it to Goa? What if this was the time they’d catch him?
We didn’t set out to make enemies among the rich, powerful, and corrupt in India. It just sort of happened as a by-product of our original mission: education.
Our startup journey is unlike anything you have ever heard. We’re very proud of our past and how we got to where we are.
Ivy School is a new startup that is tackling problems of child care here in the US, but our experiences and journey have been unique. Every twist and turn taught us something new, preparing us to become the entrepreneurs we are, qualified to launch this business today.
I opened my first school in a rural town in 2011 with some of my college friends. With the success of that one, we branched out, opening several schools in larger cities like New Delhi and Gurgaon in India.
Ten years later, our schools continued to be driven by an uncompromising determination to provide a high-quality education at a price Indians could afford ($15 a month).
While opening schools, though, I became seriously concerned about the atrocities of human trafficking in the area.
Girls were disappearing at an alarming rate and being sold for sex, and hardly anyone was talking about it. It was disgusting. It was wrong. And I knew I had to change that.
Since I had a background in film, I worked closely with friends and we decided to create a documentary to spread awareness.
In the process, we learned that the most successful strategy in the fight against human trafficking was the one we were already employing: education.
We knew we were on the right track – we had an amazing response to the creation of the documentary. It quickly became Kickstarter’s most successful human rights documentary highlighting this industry.
Of course, in getting the footage required for the documentary, we made a lot of enemies, especially the kingpins whose businesses we were potentially disrupting.
We quickly realized why no one in the area wanted to talk about the deep, dark underworld of human trafficking.
Uncovering these secrets often led us to flee for refuge.
Although this journey frequently put us in physical danger as we dodged treacherous people who really didn’t want us to tell anyone about their businesses, it also placed us right in the middle of potential opportunities.
Just as we’d stumbled into human trafficking while creating opportunities for education, filming the documentary led us right into another disaster zone at a precarious moment in that nation’s history.
While filming the documentary, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake hit Nepal, a country we all lived and worked in for many years.
We were in utter shock but knew we had to do something fast, or many more people would die.
Within 24 hours of the earthquake, our team landed in Nepal with cameras in hand, and a deep network of friends and colleagues prepared to make a difference.
We sprung into action, joined forces with our friends, and started a new organization called Nepal Rises. Just like that, we’d switched gears to direct what suddenly became the largest volunteer organization to help in the crises of the coming weeks.
At one point, Nepal Rises was comprised of more than 500 local Nepalese college students who joined us in delivering supplies and distributing clean water, food, and medicine. We also provided shelter for many displaced and hurting individuals.
Our work was highlighted in the New York Times because we were directly responsible for saving lives and moving quickly.
So how did we go from the streets of New Delhi and the post-earthquake disaster zone in Nepal to tackling child care in the U.S?
First, I’m from the US. I was raised in a small town in Idaho and moved to San Francisco right after graduating college. I had always dreamed of creating an education startup closer to home.
Secondly, we started becoming parents.
I was worried about finding a quality preschool for my child and couldn’t find any good source of information that would help me evaluate whether or not schools were of high quality.
This experience drove me to start doing more research about the immediate challenges and opportunities in childcare stateside.
I knew education could change lives. I’d seen it work globally.
But, I realized the US was in no emergency compared to what I’d seen the last 8 years. There was no evident trafficking, although we knew it existed here as well as abroad.
There were no earthquakes taking lives and trapping the nation in recovery. It’s a first world country – the mafia was unlikely to hunt us down for attempting to educate children.
But I was surprised by what I learned, though. The need is huge in the US for childcare, although for completely different reasons.
For example, in the US, the majority of parents spend more money on child care than it will cost to send that child to college. Our research showed that parents were frustrated as many of them reported long wait-lists and difficulties trying to secure childcare.
Once parents were finally able to get into a child care facility, many reported that they weren’t happy with the services.
Never before had we come across an area in education where people were investing so much money into something so precious and being so dissatisfied and frustrated by the service.
Ivy School was started because early childhood education needs to change. Public perception is finally starting to evolve as pockets of society realize that a child’s early years are the most important time of potential growth during a person’s life.
90% of child development happens by the age of five. It is crucial to national and global success to give all of our children the very best start possible.
We are up for this challenge. We were made for this.
When we find a need (global education, human trafficking, earthquake relief), we commit quickly. We work fast, we leverage data and technology, and we organize ourselves efficiently to tackle what is ahead of us. Nothing – no person, no tragedy, no need and no challenge can stop us.
Each project from our past has prepared us for this day. Our passion, grit, and deep desire to educate and protect children have motivated us through the years, and those things will be our biggest assets as we face this challenge, too.
But we can’t do this alone. We need you.
We are tackling a complex industry that hasn’t seen much innovation. Each day we work closer to our ultimate vision: a world where all children have access to a high quality, safe educational environment regardless of where they live.
We believe we are starting something that will not only change children’s lives but can potentially change the world. Since day one, we have been committed to providing education for all children around the world.
Education changes everything for a child and is a basic right, but many children grow up without the chance to learn. Education determines achievement and potential.
It creates opportunities to join the workforce and to become a leader. Quality education gives children the biggest head start in life. That desire for the global advancement of educational opportunities is what drives us every day.
So we are proud to announce our Student to Student program. For every child enrolled in an Ivy School in the U.S., we will enroll a child in need in a developing country, doubling the effectiveness of our collective efforts globally. With your continued support, we will strive to alleviate illiteracy worldwide.
We’re are looking for passionate educators, technologists, operational gurus and dreamers. Building the future takes the right team.
If you’re interested, please reach out. This isn’t just a project — it’s a movement. Let’s do this!
Founder & CEO
“We have a child-care crisis in this country. We had the solution 78 ….” 23 Jul. 2018, https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/posteverything/wp/2018/07/23/we-have-a-childcare-crisis-in-this-country-we-had-the-solution-78-years-ago/.
“October 2016 – NPR.” 1 Oct. 2016, https://www.npr.org/documents/2016/oct/Child-Care-and-Development-Report-2016.pdf.
“Brain Development – First Things First.” https://www.firstthingsfirst.org/early-childhood-matters/brain-development/.