Donna catches up with Dr Rebecca Zhi Herbert, founder and the Academic Director of Wisdom Spring Education. As Silver winner of the UK Customer Experience Awards for Customer Experience during the Crisis, and finalist of the Great British Entrepreneur Awards, 2020 has certainly been an eventful year for Rebecca and her team!
Originally from Wuhan, China, As a highly respected and Chinese/British education expert based in the UK, Rebecca set up Wisdom Spring Education in 2014 to help families in China to give their children an outstanding British education.
Since this time she has ensured children from the ages of 10 - 18 can safely and securely travel between the countries for their education and thrive in the schools and universities they attend.
However, in 2020 when the Covid-19 pandemic hit the UK, Rebecca was ahead of the game, having been aware of the outbreak in her hometown months earlier. In today’s podcast, I welcome Rebecca to tell us her incredible story of how the pandemic impacted on her business and the children and families she was working with, and how this has resulted in a new educational journey for both her students and her business.
Donna O'Toole is CEO of August, she has had the pleasure of supporting entrepreneurs, business leaders and teams to win the most prestigious awards in the world. Seeing first-hand how receiving awards and recognition has motivated teams, solved problems, supercharged brands and raised their profiles, helping businesses to grow and do even more good things for their employees, their industry and their community.
Hi, I'm Donna rohtul, and you're listening to my exclusive winning awards podcast. Over the years, I've had the pleasure of supporting entrepreneurs, business leaders and teams to win the most prestigious awards in the world. I've seen firsthand how receiving awards and recognition has motivated teams, solve problems, supercharge brands and raise profiles, helping businesses to grow and do even more good things for their employees, their industry and their community. In this podcast, I'll be sharing valuable awards, insights, tips and inspirational stories to make sure that you get the recognition that you deserve, so that you can go on and achieve your dreams. So what are you waiting for? It's time to start winning. Thank you for joining us today for this next episode of the winning awards Podcast. Today I have with me Dr. Rebecca G. Herbert. She is the founder and Academic Director of wisdom spring education. As a silver winner of the UK customer experience awards for customer experience during the crisis. And finalist of the Great British Entrepreneur Awards. 2020 has certainly been an eventful year for Rebecca and her team. Originally from Wuhan, China and as a highly respected Chinese British education expert based in the UK, Rebecca set up wisdom spring education in 2014, to help families in China to give their children outstanding British education. Since this time, she has ensured children from the ages of 10 to 18 can safely and securely travel between the countries for their education and thrive in the schools and universities they attend. However, in 2020, when the COVID 19 pandemic hit the UK, China was ahead of the game, and having been aware of the outbreak in her hometown months earlier. So it was Rebecca. In today's podcast, I welcome Rebecca to tell us her incredible story of how the pandemic impacted on her business and the children and families she was working with, and how this has resulted in a new educational journey for both her students and her business. So welcome, Rebecca, and thank you very much for joining us today. Thank you for having me. You're welcome. So you've been on an incredible journey this year. So first of all, tell us what wisdom spring education does and how you work that's done. Yes, and we are an award winning education consultancy. So we bring overseas students to the UK to study in a boarding school, or with their support donor through the whole school journey to take an offer at the top university. So I have a talk, I have a doctorate in education. I also have 23 years of work experience in education both in China and UK. Goodness me, I can't believe I have all started a journey over 20 years. And I've taken on various roles across the research, teaching international student recruitment, all sorts of jobs. And I utilise all my research and practice. And I created a methodology called ACE framework, effectively increasing the chances of our students getting into top schools and universities. So we aim to seamlessly integrate overseas students into the British school life. And our vision is to inspire overseas children to become global citizens through integration into multicultural British society. Amazing that sounds so inspirational Rebecca, and if I had children, and I was in a different country needing to put them in someone's hands, I would feel very safe with you with all of that amazing experience, although you don't look old enough to have that much experience. So obviously, 2020, then you've got all this experience behind you. Your business has been in operation already since 2014. So it was all going smoothly. You know what you've got planned for 2020. And then the pandemic hit, which like for everybody made a big difference to your business. But you were ahead of us, you knew and you were actually from Wuhan in China. So you knew what was going on before many of us in the UK did. So tell us a story of how you found out what was happening ahead of the game. And then what that meant for your students? Yes, of course. Goodness me, I can't believe this is already the end of the year, or just have has such a long journey. And so back at the beginning of this year, things actually moved at rather quickly and unexpectedly. So people always said okay, we need to have Plan B at that. time we have a Plan C and D as well, just the all the way through is a holiday, because that's that's kind of the expansion we could expect back then. So, as you said, I'm from Wuhan, which is a very popular so to this day. Which is amazing for me. So back then when schools were saying, Okay, do not to leave the country, because then you won't be able to come back. And so all international distance students have to stay in the country. But as a, as I said, I'm from Ohio, and I heard all the news and alls also hold all the important information about how this disease could spread very quickly. And this situation could be very severe. So we started to communicate with parents reporting to what was happening in the UK, even though back then the press in the UK, were kind of quite light about it. Because they, I think at the moment, at that moment, people didn't quite realise how bad it could go and how quickly it could go. But when we were speaking to the parents, we told them what was happening, even though they chose would be Canada's absolutely favourite in the UK. So while we suggested to them to get get like a start, they need to start and tickets at the same time. We you know, options is they they could not live without the school's permission. Meanwhile, we were in taxi, even though it was kind of final night is. So schools, parents, everything was quite loose, but we thought it's best that we get a hold of attack as possible. So we know. They could stand by they've got tickets, the school agreed to children to go, then we're ready. So really, it's working with parents, schools, and also external parties such as a taxi and homestay. I probably won't be talking about today trauma. And so I could give you a couple of stories donor if Yeah, that would be great. I mean, bring it to life for us. Because we can't imagine it must have been terrifying for the children and for you and for their families. So yeah, tell us about that. Yes, yes, of course. So So for example, school promises the back because we have two boys in the school. So the school said, Well, don't worry about it. We had, we have got really fantastic plan through this time. And it's the holiday. So we will have them on the campus looking after them through the whole period of time whenever we need to. So we actually call them and ask them to double sort of like a double checking. Are you sure there's a yes, absolutely. Sure. We've got enough staff of good accommodation. Everything was in place. So with so we, so we pass that message to these two boys, families, so they were quite happy about the plan. As I said, That's Plan B, two days later isolator I clearly remember that that was a Friday evening, and I got a phone call from the school. So that was kind of an emergency call. They wouldn't call your number, mobile number unless it's absolutely urgent. So they called me and said, Oh, Dr. Herbert, okay. You know, ask your colleagues to take the two boys out of the school. I was just two days ago, you were 10 years everything was in place. We had to take the boys out of school and also the parents didn't buy tickets or anything. So what how to act very, very quickly. I said what is the time you know, you you gave us they said well, now it was a Friday. We would like to take the two boys out of the school by Sunday. So go on it. Okay. And you know, to work on taxi and and a homestay but more importantly, getting parents to purchase tickets as soon as possible. So that's that's one thing but but but also there were many occasions when flights were cancelled one of our students was actually on board so he was sat in the aeroplane 10 years okay everything is fine i'm fine i'm here we're like okay fine so because we we asked our or our taxi drivers to stay till they went aboard so we felt that was saying right the taxi driver you know you could go and map or pick up another child in fact he was on the way to pick up an uncharted one school back to him and then the child said i don't know why but the flight is not going anywhere i just have been sat here for quite a long time and then the parents send us a message say or the flight was cancelled so i should call this extra driver to go back to heathrow and pick up the child so this is one student and another student flying to america to reunite with his his parents again you know when he arrived at heathrow then we got you know got a message from from his parents that the flight was cancelled so you know flights were cancelled pretty much the last minute or how to react quite quickly amazing and so worrying for you and for the families and for the children so but very reassuring also for them to know that they've got you there you know to get it all organised for them thank goodness yes yes it was very hard and but i mean when they were in school they actually felt quite safe because you know they were in a boarding school they felt quite safe they were in that so say save the bubble so getting all the the pressure till the very end so when this when schools will say right everyone has to leave yeah and then then they started to be very very worrying and what we did particularly towards the end when there's states in the uk and when they went on when they were on the road to to heathrow to the airports that's where we started really were assured and kept do regular updates where the parents and those children yeah and so then obviously you know those children go back home and next to your support you know everyone gets where they need to be safely everyone has been looked after but they still need to be educated and so in this country you know the children and my own children were you know then all sent home and being educated from home online with teams meetings and all sorts of things with school but and actually interesting we've had a conversation about this before and i remember you saying to me well they still need an education and once they got there and i thought oh gosh i didn't even think of that of course they do so what did you do then obviously you've got to then kind of pivot and change from being you know come to us and we'll look after you and be educated with a british education in in here in the uk to having a british education back home in china yes um yes so obviously education is very important so once they land is and we in china and other countries and we united the weight of their family and that's been his education back to education but in fact when they were were airborne we started working with their parents and schools and just setting everything up for them so for example the first thing we did was to support our parents to purchase vpn because that could be a problem but once they landed in china and they cannot have access to too many educational platforms so parents have to purchase a vpn also get a printer for example ready because i know it's quite popular in most british households we would have a printer however in china we don't have a such a thing as a sample You know, I have to get ready. So, but I say we usually wouldn't encourage anyone to, to use the VPN, because of the respect to each country's, you know, decision on their information and all that. But But we felt this is this was a purely for children's education, also directly delivered by British schools, we felt it was necessary to have access to all the educational platform and information. So we, we helped parents to get proper VPN sorted out. And also, we alerted with the schools, making sure all platforms and all login details were ready. Once the, you know, once the child arrives, they know where to go, in terms of the educational platform their school was going to use, because there was quite a lot of changes just during a very short period of time. And sometimes children don't know where to go. So we actually had everything sorted when they when they arrived home. So that's the first thing technical issues. And then once the child has settled down, technically, we needed to help them with their homework, and also school and university applications, because some of our students were actually in the process. And so we worked with them, schools in the UK, as well as some organisations, you know, outside the UK, for example, the British Council because they've got offices in, you know, many countries. So we worked with them to help students to see their exams, which should have been sat in the UK, but because they could not go to the actual school, and so everything was done online. And so that's, that's homework, applications, etc. But more importantly, unique, I think, British education is not just in the classroom, it's also outside the classroom, you know, building that bond with their friends and, and the boarding house staff in the UK. So we did a lot of work around their social integration, again, because they just came to the UK in September, some of them literally just it was their first visit to the UK. In September last year. Now they flew back, and then they had to, they had to get that social connection with their friends they just made in the UK as well. Amazing. So you had a lot of challenges to get over with them. And not to mention as well, the timezone as well, because obviously, we're not all working on the same timeline, are we? So you know, that's another thing that you've had to overcome along the way. So obviously, so now we're getting, you know, further on in the year, and actually now, since the beginning, we've gone into a whole other academic year. And you know, pivots been a real big buzzword of 2020, hasn't it? And you've certainly had to do some of that. So what what does it look like now obviously, we're now here in the UK, we're now in you know, the second or coming out to the second lockdown. You know, things have changed. I'm not no one's really sure when anything you know, is going what the new normal is going to look like. So what does that sort of new normal look like for you at the moment? So at the moment, and some students, most students actually came back to the pay when the new tab and started because they have that child so that you know there have that confidence in us, as well as in schools in the UK. But now some of them were back to their offices, families, and certainly because they're the you know, the case that hex numbers were just kind of picking up and their parents work at Huawei. So some of them have gone back to their home countries, whereas others were still are still staying in in the UK. So now looking forward. There is not going to be normal normal incomes Africa. I don't know about other areas or industries back in education definitely is not going to even though I think some parents or some some some schools would like to go back to normal normal but I'm afraid it is not going to be like that and more. There will be some online learning elements in schools, it just HS the level of, you know, integrating online learning elements into their normal education. So, so I think everyone needs to be ready for that new No. Yeah, absolutely. And also, I would have thought, I mean, just sort of thinking here that this is, you know, online learning in education for young people is something that I believe was, you know, in the plan for most schools, but now, I think, you know, has, do you think that that kind of fast track to innovation in some ways, may actually end up being a positive thing in the future? Because of the blended learning sort of possibilities? Yes, yes, absolutely. So, because I did my PhD in AI, learning, and that's handy. That's where my expertise, ladies. So well, there are a couple of things we or perspectives, or we need to look at one, one perspective is definitely from, you know, from the school side, either staff management, so, you know, if, if, if it's a forum for a headmaster to consider also teaching staff and a lab technicians and how they can integrate online learning into the normal teaching practice. But at the same time, parents need to think how they adapted their parenting, in a sense, because before parents would be quite reluctant to, you know, pass a pass a PC war, or iPad, for example, or more modular children, but during the lockdown, parents were adapting to that, you know, quite quickly changing environment, as well as, as well as children. So, I've, I've read quite a lot of reports, you know, back, tracing back in March this year, till now, and many schools are particularly teachers teaching staff are positive about bringing some online enrollment into tuition practice. So just the how we're gonna do it, because I know some schools actually went to OBS stream, if you like. So they actually use this on tick tock, can you imagine tick tock videos to excite students. But again, that brings us to another subject. How far do I need to go? As an application is, so I'm actually writing a report for schools and parents, just to reflect on what we have done, you know, to the one we have experienced, either as a school or as our parents. And I want you to look at, you know, those good practices, and just reflect on those practices that and go with some solution, some solution to the future. Learning Environment. Yeah. Fantastic. Wow. So much to come. So then to round up your year, you actually won an incredible award, and you became finalists, another award, which I can't imagine that the start of this whole process, and this whole year, you could have even possibly imagined. So you entered the UK customer experience awards in the in the category of looking after customers in the crisis, which well, 100% that's what you were doing this year. So how did how did that feel when you're entering that award? And what does that really mean to you to get that recognition? It sounds like a cliche, if I say, you know, I really appreciate that recognition. But back then, when we were entering the year, the award, really I just wanted to tell all of these wonderful stories, how and how my team worked over the schools and parents and you know, reassures the students everything would be fine. I just wanted to tell letter one Yeah, how we would how we were working and how we supported it, everyone. And of course, it means a lot the award it I mean a lot for us as individual as well as you know, for the for the team, because they worked really, really hard behind the scenes. And I was the one in the front, but I've got an amazing team working behind it. See? So I think more importantly, I appreciate our parents recognition. So obviously, I shared this great this great news with them, with our students and parents that they were very excited about it, but they didn't messages they sent to us. He just can't imagine or to so he just thought, Okay, I know, I was probably quite trying to for Sarah, back then because of time difference and, but is definitely well worth it. So yeah, that but I think we're not going to just be content or where the award, we because in our company, there is a word that's going on all the time, which is revaluation. So all requests for what do we have a CRM. So we we have reflected on what happened and how we've worked through the whole journey. And we are going to apply all we have learned to our continuing work. So looking forward is not necessarily just the pandemic and not we're not going to have another one, but could be anything unexpected. So we need to be agile, be creative. And we really need to have plan A, B. C, and I think that's so true. Yeah. So is that your advice to all entrepreneurs out there like yourself, then who are looking towards 2021? And wondering how they possibly plan for the unknown? Yes, good. I could share with you and do audience. Personal, not a story, but something quite personal. Yeah, absolutely. We'd love. So, back in March, I worked really hard. And then April, May, June, it seemed endless, you know, we just we were just ploughing through, or barriers and difficulties are supported by were put up by a face, you know, in front of the school and said, the parents and of course, children. So one day, my dad called me and asked me how, you know, everything was going on in the UK, as usually, I usually give him good news. But back then there wasn't so much. So I said, Yeah, it is no typical. And then he said, Rebecca, you know what, I'm 83 years old. Now. And I've seen so many things in life. I know, he has said it before. But back at that time, I really felt what he was saying. So why he said his accent lots of things, libraries are full of ups and downs. And bad things can never stay here forever, there will be two things come in, you just have to get ready, you just have to keep going. So I think that that is probably one of my message is to give to you know, entrepreneurs, for 2021. Just to keep that resilience. Because how we, how we deal with stress and pressure is pretty much like you know our muscles, so the more you stretch your muscles, and then the more flexible they become. So the same the same, you know, how we cope with the stress. So really, we need to appreciate adversity and just be positive but but I don't believe just the paper positive will help us to be positive, but at the same time, we have to think of our heart and reflect on what we have experienced. And we need to get ready and grab this great opportunity in 2021. The reason I'm saying this donor is because I'm observing the whole world landscape of businesses is changing. And the needs of customers for us is you know, parents and the parents in the students but the needs of our customers are changing as well. And added to the cars are just always shuffling the how we grab this you know massive opportunity is what we should be thinking over the christmas a part of what we're celebrating with the families yeah of course that's brilliant advice rebecca thank you so much for sharing your story and your journey because i know you know i know as an entrepreneur myself you know sometimes it's really difficult to know are you doing the right thing should you plan something different you know what's going to come next but you're absolutely right nothing bad ever stays your dad's absolutely right good things do come and it is about celebrating and recognising all the little wins that you have along the way even even amongst the difficult times and looking forward with you like you say with positivity but with real agility as well and a mindset that is ready to change and ready to adapt to whatever the new normal is that we all find ourselves in amongst so thank you so much rebecca and congratulations again on your amazing award when and and i'm just getting through an incredible year you've done so well and you know we're all hats off to you for managing that and for keeping everyone safe and reassured and you know not worried that the children were in your hands so you've done a fantastic job never underestimate that so thank you very much and we look forward to seeing what next year holds for you and for western spring education oh wonderful thank you so much donna thanks thank you for listening to this episode of my winning awards podcast if you enjoyed it or found it helpful please share it on twitter and linkedin and if you have any questions please head over to crafted by auguste com where you can find out more about winning awards and contact me on the website you can also take our free awards test which will identify your award strengths and tell you how likely you are to win i really hope you've been able to take away some ideas today so that you can go ahead and win awards have an even bigger impact on the world and achieve your dreams