LEONOR STJEPIC + SABEEN NANJI

EP 008 / 01.03.2022

SHAPING THE CHILDREN
OF OUR FUTURE 

Leonor Stjepic_b_w.jpg

Leonor Stjepic  0:00  

The world is full of possibilities.I think it's that that sort of optimism and lack of cynicism, I think is just amazing. It's very inspiring. I think the ability to be curious about the world I, I think that's what keeps us all young. Actually, if you continue to be curious about the world, and questioning and not being afraid to ask questions, I think that's really essential for all human beings. And I just am particularly when you sort of look at very young children, just the way that they, they seem to have no barriers about interacting with each other. I think that's just fantastic. So I think those are the things that hopefully they've taught me, you're listening to the mission makers show, a podcast that inspires humans to get into the mindset of success.

 

Farah Nanji  0:54  

My name is Farah Nanji. And I'm the founder of a business in the motorsports industry that explores leadership lessons from things like Formula One. I'm also a DJ and music producer in the underground electronic scene, and a public speaker on key topics like resilience, building high performance teams, overcoming learning difficulties and stimulating creativity. And to tie it all together, I love writing thought provoking content as a journalist for these industries, which is so unique in themselves. On this show, I'm sitting down with some of the most inspiring and driven people I've met around the world to talk about their processes, their failures, the lessons they've learned, and how they are truly making an impact for this world.

 

Today, we have a very special episode lined up for you with two guests who on a monumental mission to transform children's lives through the Montessori method. First up is Leonor Sepic, an influential driving force in global education, who currently serves as the CEO of the Montessori group, where she's established transformative initiatives such as the leadership programme that overlays Montessori values into the boardroom. And she's bought in key partnerships such as the Jane Goodall Institute, where children learn how to implement practical changes for the planet. She's also a fellow council member with me on the kindness Matters campaign for UNESCO, spearheaded by Tessie and need and ourselves. Secondly, we're joined by my sister Sabine, who's a returning guest to mission makers. In Season One, we had a profound conversation about unlocking the messages and secrets we encounter in our childhood. As the co director of our family business in Montessori, Sabine has dedicated her adult life to serving children. And so today we go deeper into how we can serve and protect the future generations.

 

So just before we begin, if you're interested in some really cool rewards like Virtual DJ lessens the chance to ask ask questions and exclusive merchandise, head over to patreon.com forward slash mission makers to check out how you can access these exclusive rewards. And thank you to all of you who've been writing in to us and subscribing to the show. It really makes a difference. So don't forget to hit that subscribe button. If you love the content we're making here at Mission makers and help us take the show to the next level this season. Leonor, welcome to Mission makers. We're so delighted to have you on the show. How are you doing today?

 

Leonor Stjepic  3:15  

I'm well and I'm really excited to hear what you're going to ask me in the next hour.

 

Farah Nanji  3:22  

Yes, absolutely. Well, we are also joined today by my sister who is a montessorian. And given Leno's background in Montessori. I thought it'd be lovely to welcome to being back on the show. Some of you may remember her from season one. She was our season finale. So yes, how're you doing today Sabine. 

 

Sabeen Nanji  3:40  

I'm really good. Just came back from being with the children. So I'm more fresh now and excited to dive right into it. 

 

Farah Nanji  3:48  

Fantastic. Great. So Leonor, you've lived an extraordinary life, starting at your roots. I'm aware your family came to the UK as refugees who'd been exiled from Spain because of a peaceful campaign against the then facist political agenda. This is a problem that's still prevailing today, what has coming from a refugee sort of background taught you?

 

Leonor Stjepic  4:11  

I think it's taught me that, I suppose I got to see the best and worst of people at a very early age. I think that one of the things you know, I came into a Britain that was not as welcoming of diversity. That's what I was born into. You know, I was born in at an age where there was a lot of racism, there was a lot of fear of a different sort of coming a from a refugee family. And secondly, from I was the only, the only pupil I was the only girl but actually the only pupil in my whole school that didn't come from an English background. So you know, and I'd get asked lots of very weird questions, like, oh, you know, how does it feel like living in a house? Well, no, we kind of lived in houses in other parts of the world. So, you know, it was just this really strange, naive questions that were asked. So so I got to see people who who genuinely wanted to understand and who were curious, and that was great. But I also got to see sort of the, the not so nice side of people when they fear something that's different. And as we know, we're all humans, we all have the same desires, the same fears, the same concerns, the same values are at the heart of it. And it was strange for me at an early age, sort of seeing that some people could be afraid of that,  or didn't see that. So I think that was a, that was a big lesson for me, as I grew up to understand that not everybody sees the world in the same way.

 

Farah Nanji  5:55  

Yeah, it's a shame how we still have so much, you know, that though, those themes are still still there with people less welcoming. We haven't, we haven't moved too far in the right direction, in the space of time that we've been here.

 

Leonor Stjepic  6:08  

I think that that's why education and the work that Sabeen  and other practitioners doing is so important, because helping our youngest members of society learn about difference and respect differences, the only way that we're really going to actually make a difference in how we view each other in the world.

 

Sabeen Nanji  6:30  

Well, touching on that note, the meaning of your name is light, or sunray. Would you say that this has a strong connection with who you are as a person and your mission? 

 

Leonor Stjepic  6:41  

And that's really interesting. I didn't know that. And it's, and you know, it's just hit me because someone reached out to me recently that they, so I do a lot of mentoring. And I was I mentioned to entrepreneurs here in Croatia, and one of them said, we've come to an impasse, and you came into our life like a ball of light. And I thought, wow, that was a very, very strange thing for them to say. So now you're saying that I'm thinking oh, there is there is something about wanting to shine a light on? I think that's true. And I think that comes from sort of my family upbringing of, because of the because the work that my family did in, in sort of shining a light on what they felt was wrong, perhaps it's just something that just, I feel is a part of me and has always been a part of me.

 

Farah Nanji  7:38  

Definitely. And we always love to go deeper into the meaning of our guest name in Mission makers. And it's very interesting, because we've had many guests who've never known that, that that particular meaning was their name. And we found that it's played quite a sort of subconscious role, somehow in their in their journey. So that's awesome. And Lena, we've both recently been a part of Tassie and the UNESCO kindness Matters campaign. There was an amazing experience, and what legacy do you believe an initiative like this can can have?

 

Leonor Stjepic  8:12  

Well, I think what it can do is it can, first of all, inspire others to continue doing acts of kindness and start talking about about acts of kindness. I think the fact that we're celebrating kindness is hugely important. Often, people don't stop to think that this is actually important thing that we should celebrate. We talk a lot in the media and in society about what's wrong with the world. But when you look at all those amazing what over over a million acts of kindness already and, and more coming in it, I think it makes me realise that there is something worth celebrating and shouting about because there are a lot of people doing a lot of good things in the world. And we should encourage that and celebrate that. And that's the legacy and having a UNESCO day of kindness, which we hope is what's going to happen as one of the objectives of this campaign will be a way of celebrating that globally. And I think that that's really, really important. And I think it goes back to what I was saying at the beginning that it what it does is it shows that we have those common values. I mean, these acts of kindness are coming from all over the world. There's there isn't one particular nation that is kinder than another nation. It's coming from people from all over the world, different ages, different religions, different races, and that really is a common human value, that we have the ability to do something for someone else, without waiting or asking for gratitude for doing that act of kindness. 



 

Farah Nanji  9:50  

Absolutely. And that's what should be making the news, not the negativity that we see on TV. And it sort of instills that sort of awareness, you know, of as you say that you we all have these similar values and principles. And there isn't one nation kinda or than the other or anything, but it's certainly something to, to celebrate and, and just be aware of on a daily sort of basis. So, moving into Maria Montessori. Now, she, you know, obviously founded the Montessori education in the early 1900s. And yet today, you know, it's still widely used as a as a sort of method around the world. So it's incredible how pertinent and relevant her ideas are still to this day, clearly, you know, demonstrates that, you know, a good idea or a good framework can stand the test of time. So what led you to this path Leonor considering that you didn't come initially from that background of education?

 

Leonor Stjepic  10:46  

Well, I think, because I am who I am because of education. I I'm very, very clear about that. Then I say that often, if I am the first woman in my family to have had a career, and that's because I had the opportunity to have a good quality education. And interestingly enough, now that I look back now that I understand more about Montessori, I do think that my primary teacher Miss Jacobs, who was a huge influence on me was Montessori trained, because a lot of the things that I now recognise as Montessori were ways of working with us as children, and some of the activities and the ways that she dealt with us feels very, very Montessori. And so I think I think that I probably was actually taught by Montessori without realising although it was in a state school. So it wasn't a Montessori school. I think that what's really, in sort of, for me, as brought me to that is, brought me to this is exactly that, that power of what the way that education can create change in a human being in a child, but also in society. And that's what I'm really interested in. And that's really where Maria Montessori started, if you think about where she started, you know, working with the most socially disadvantaged children, this was this was her way of changing the world. And she talks about children as sort of agents of change. And I think that that's something that I've sort of instinctively felt because of what it had because of the power of education and the change it made in me. So when it was actually quite interesting that when I was looking for another job, I actually had two job offers on the table, and one was Montessori, one was another one. And on paper, the other one was far better. It was more money, it was near to where I lived, it just had a lot more. And it was something I'd done before. And when they rang me up and said, Look, we really want you for this job. I did what you're told never ever to do, which is, you know, you're always told, oh, you should say yes. Let me think about it. And you know, put the phone down. And then, you know, think about it and call back. I just immediately said yes. And I put the phone down. And I said to my husband, I don't know why I've said yes. But I've said yes to this job, and it just doesn't seem you like the logic wouldn't, you know, say that this is a better job. But instinctively, I just felt that that was the job that I had to do.

 

Sabeen Nanji  13:18  

Amazing. I think what really stood out for me is and always has is that it just takes one person in your life and one teacher who can just walk in and just change your whole path and your whole being and and on that note, I think one of the biggest challenges is how do we ensure that those who are less privileged have access to quality education? And do you have any thoughts on that, and it's a huge is a huge mission in itself. Just curious to know.

 

Leonor Stjepic  13:47  

Now, absolutely. And that's part of the work that we're trying to do. So we're trying to sort of we're trying to attack the problem in in different stages. So we are doing work with trying to influence government. So montessori group sits on the all party parliamentary group for early years education and childcare. And we also sit on the all party parliamentary group forming and work because we think that both sort of interlinked, and those bodies where we sit with other partners in the early years space to try and get our voice heard at a government level. So to be able to sort of shift government policy. So that's one aspect of it. The other aspect of what we're trying to do is by funding research, we hope to be able to because often you go and talk to governments, and I've spoken to ministers, and I've spoken to MPs, and they say oh yes, but where's the data? So being able to show good quality, rigorous data, will able will hopefully sort of also shift that. So I think there's a sort of on that big level. We're trying to do that on a on a smaller level. What we're trying to do is support practitioners, because if we don't have good quality practitioners, you're not going to have good quality education that kind of goes without saying. So how we support practitioners, how we support them to upskill. To do CPD to train is really important. And we do that through our scholarships and, and also by trying to make training more accessible. So sort of through creation of host centres, rather than have people come and train with us now in London, we're going to be we're setting up host centres in parts of the country, where, you know, there are people who may not be able to afford to come and train but could do so locally. So we've got one in Manchester, in actually an area that's that's got quite a lot of social deprivation. So it's about giving access, but also it creates a sort of an is a sort of an aspiration and inspiration within the community, if you've got some sort of a hub there where people can go and train, see, that's our place where we can go. And also by sort of funding projects, social impact projects that we're doing so and that's across the world. So for example, we've just recently finished in a going to restart the second phase of a project, teaching street children in Pakistan, where there is no classroom, we're doing a project and I'm going to go visit them tomorrow, we're doing a project here in Croatia, in an area that was devastated by an earthquake last year. And the idea being that if we can show that good quality education can be done in any environment, it will inspire others to think actually, we could go ahead and do that as well, we, you know, it's not it's not ideal, obviously. But it's, we shouldn't stop because there isn't the ability to have a beautiful classroom. I mean, that would be the ideal, but where there isn't, we shouldn't stop children having an opportunity to have access. And for us, it really is around the practitioner, you know, if you've got a really good practitioner, someone who really understands and has that commitment to quality and understands the, the approach in the philosophy, and how to work with the children and how to work with materials, then, really, whether that's in a beautiful, you know, sort of building or in a container somewhere, you've got that sort of ability for children to be educated. 

 

Farah Nanji  17:22 

Definitely 

 

Sabeen Nanji  17:22  

amazing. 

 

Farah Nanji  17:23  

Oh, sorry, Sabeen, go ahead. 

 

Sabeen Nanji  17:25  

No, I was just gonna say, I think for me, it's that you can have the most beautiful classroom, but if the person who runs it isn't hasn't got that warmth, and that, that way of being with the child, it's just not the same at all. So, as you said, it's much better that the person who's there is that's the biggest asset that you can ever have. 

 

Farah Nanji  17:46  

Yeah, definitely. Definitely. And as, as sort of, perhaps a lot of people listening may not know that there is sort of a, you know, a difficulty on the sort of getting that quality of practitioners into into Montessori. So, you know, why do you believe that is and and what can we do to kind of inspire more people to either become Montessori ins or for perhaps more, maybe it's a systemic, you know, issue? What, yeah, what do you sort of believe whether? 

 

Leonor Stjepic  18:12  

Yeah, I mean, I think we, the reality is that we are not giving early earliest practitioners that the respect that they're due, in a way, so it's almost sometimes I mean, I, I've heard, you know, people set describe it, well, it's just babysitting, isn't it, or it's just playing with children, isn't there isn't a sense of it being seen as education. And the these, you know, these amazingly dedicated practitioners that are working with very young children are educators, they are they have the most, in fact, given that, that the sort of zero to seven are the key ages for child development. They are actually the most important educators, you know, alongside the family, but they are the sort of outside of the family the most important educators. And yet, government funding isn't there. There isn't as a sort of that, that sense of we've got to really as it from a government level, we really need to invest in these people. We need to invest in their development, we need to give them a good living wage, we need to support the nursery sector that just isn't there. And there's just us saying it. I think we hear it from people who work in nurseries and earlier settings, we hear it from others in the sector. It's a big big problem. And of course, if you can, you know and people have to live people have to pay their bills and you know, if they can't afford to do a job or can be find that they're paid much more working at McDonald's or being a cleaner then as much as they love working  with children, it's going to be incredibly difficult to attract people. We were doing what we can in terms of making the training accessible. And that's part of this campaign in that we're doing with the with our kind of colleagues in the sector with with the all party parliamentary groups is around, we've got to invest in these people, these are really, really key people for the future of society. Because as we've just said, how, how children are brought up will, you know, that the, those experiences they have at that age will sort of set them on the path as to what they will be as adults. And so it's a really important part of society that we have to invest in. And yet, there isn't that investment there. And that's the big, big problem, big, big problem that we've got to that we're all sort of fighting really hard to, to get past and then and a part of it isn't getting this talking about. We're talking about research. I can't tell you how many conversations I've had with ministers and people and policymakers where they say, Oh, yes, but where's the data? And, you know, okay, how much more data do you need? But there is there is a reticence and I think that partly, I think there's been a little bit of reticence on the part of practitioners who are very humble and very modest actually shouting about this. And I think we need to, so we're going to shaft on their behalf. That's that's what we're doing. 

 

Farah Nanji  21:35  

As you say, it's just alarming that when the brain is being formed 90% by five, how can people neglect that or play, you know, under under value, the importance of that, of that foundation that gets set...Sabeen you were about to say something sorry. 

 

Sabeen Nanji  21:52  

yeah, I was just gonna mirror exactly what you say like from the ground running this, it's exactly what you said, there's just not the investment there that was that can be viable in the long run, unless you really love what you do. And you have that mission in your heart to sustain us through all the obstacles. I can very much empathise with those who aren't able to continue this in the long run. Because it is is such a challenge for the practitioners for the organisations which are set up but invested into doing this work, but without the funding to make it viable. It is very, very difficult to sustain it.

 

Farah Nanji  22:30  

Yeah, I mean, I think Sabeen. I mean, correct me if I'm wrong. But before the pandemic, I remember you told me that it was alarming the amount of nurseries that were being shut down. Was it was it one in five or something like that, 

 

Sabeen Nanji  22:40  

one in three, 

 

Farah Nanji  22:41  

one in three, 

 

Sabeen Nanji  22:41  

one and three are closing around the country. So it's a very big alarm bell that something needs to change. 

 

Farah Nanji  22:49  

Definitely. So how is your sort of how's the pandemic changed your daily life in sort of running the Montessori organisation? Has it evolved any of its processes or anything like that? 

 

Leonor Stjepic  22:59  

Yeah, we've we've completely shifted. So we we've gone, gone done remote working now. So we're working remotely. What we did start off with is we it was very clear to us at the beginning in March 2020 that families felt overwhelmed. And so we kind of invested in our Montessori or free Montessori network. It's a free online resource for anyone who's interested in Montessori. So they don't have to be Montessori. Ian's they can be parents. They can be carers, they can be child minders, they can be practitioners, they can be Montessorians of course, and the idea is that we wanted to sort of give support there so that was part of it. And again, this idea of having hubs across the country. So instead of expecting people to come to London, having local areas where people can go and train was a really important part of it. And because we knew that we wanted to increase the the status of Montessori practitioners, we co created the international Montessori Institute, which now offers it's the world's only degree purely in Montessori education. Because we wanted to say actually, these are highly educated people, which will we will be offering we're just going through the validation process to offer masters and to allow people to do PhDs as well. And also that was to kind of move away from that perception that it was sort of alternative we keep, we say yes, it's the alternative. It's not alternative. The alternative to an education system that everybody realises is broken. Everywhere I go in the world, everybody says to me, we have to change our education. We one of the things I think the pandemic has has done is made a lot of people globally realise, not just families and people in education but businesses, governments, that the future requires us to have different skills to the skills that we had, that started in the industrial revolution, we're in a digital revolution, we need all these social emotional skills. And it was quite interesting, because when you said about how kind of the Montessori approach is still valid, it's actually I would argue even more valid because what it's really good at is teaching those sort of social emotional skills, particularly, that are going to be needed that are going to be needed for the future. So people really need us people really need Montessori. And so we're, we've been a lot more active as well, since the pandemic and going out there and talking about the need for Montessori. I said, working with colleagues in the sector to talk about the problems facing the sector and the and the funding, we've been quite assertive about sending open letters to government to the Prime Minister, to the chancellor, and really sort of, we felt we have to, we have to give a voice to people who are really suffering. We also started doing some work, we had a little project, that's actually we just had some reports in today, as it happens, working with a social enterprise, a covenant that gives food boxes to families, because, again, one of the things is nurseries often know their families and their communities better than anyone else. And we were getting feedback that there were families who were struggling financially because of the pandemic, and particularly in areas of social deprivation, where it you know, people are living paycheck to pay slip. And they were not at the level where they were necessarily on the radar, social services or getting benefits because they were working parents. But they were struggling. So this, what Vener does, it provides plant based nutritional food boxes, for families that need that additional support. So it's one hot meal a day, plus breakfast plus snacks, and it's all plant based. And there's recipes and there's access to an online forum and all sorts of things. And, and they're given away for free through our Montessori network. And we've just done a pilot project to Manchester in Liverpool. And I think we've got 184 families receiving food boxes who are absolutely thrilled, because it's just making a big difference to them and to their family's health. Because as the children are hungry when they come to their setting, they're not going to be you know, as receptive to learning as children who've had a good meal. So yeah, so those are some of the things that we've been doing during the pandemic.

 

Sabeen Nanji  28:03  

Amazing. Leonor, you've spent much of your career working with young people? And what are some of the things that they've taught you over the years?

 

Leonor Stjepic  28:13  

Okay, well, I think what they've taught me is that the world is full of possibilities, I think is that sort of optimism and lack of cynicism is just amazing. It's very inspiring. I think the ability to be curious about the world, I think that's what keeps us all young. Actually, if you continue to be curious about the world, and questioning and not being afraid to ask questions, I think that's really essential for all human beings. And I just am particularly when you sort of look at very young children, just the way that they seem to have no barriers about interacting with each other. I think that's just fantastic. So I think those are the things that hopefully they taught me.

 

Farah Nanji  29:07  

Very, very interesting and Leonor or something we discovered in our research for this interview. Switching gears a little bit, I discovered that you previously worked at Decca Records. So I never knew this, and we've been friends for a while now. So it's quite excited to sort of find that out. So talk to me about sort of that journey and what sort of teachings did you take away from the music industry and working at such a high pace label?

 

Leonor Stjepic  29:35  

Um, well, obviously, so I was sort of running the recording studios, I was sort of head of admin for the recording studios, which meant that and of course, these were the days before mobile phones and internet and email. We used to have to get equipment and producers and you know, technicians to certain parts of world because they were recording a particular recording with, you know, somebody that was going to make a record. I think what it taught me was planning, really planning. Because often, you know, they're very, very big stars, they had a two year diary. So we were planning for things that were going to happen in two years time. But then flexibility, because things often go wrong, and not panicking when something goes wrong. And just sort of thinking, Well, you know, I'm just going to take a step back. So is having a plan B, and a plan C, and A Plan D, and a plan, you know, in your back of your head because something is likely to go wrong.  

 

Farah Nanji  30:47  

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What inspired you to sort of then work, sort of make that shift into the private sector? Cuz I know you're in the charity sector as well. And I know that that was quite important for you. Do you want to tell me a little bit more about about that? 

 

Leonor Stjepic  31:45  

Well, it was a very pragmatic choice. So when I but when I started working in a charity, it was at the age of a team and I helped set up amnesties working group for children with time when children's rights weren't part of embassies mandate and, but also campaigning and working for children that had been imprisoned or tortured. And it was just amazing. But I realised that I might kind of co founders realised that if it really was going to be impactful, it needed to kind of be done at an institutional level. So we were also campaigning for Amnesty to take it on as part of its work, which it did. At that time, the charity sector was not what it was now, it was not a career path for anyone young. And so I went into the private sector and to maintain, you know, carried on volunteering. I'm really glad I did that for two reasons. First of all, because I got to get a lot of skills which have become very, very useful to me. And when I went back into the charity sector, it gave me a mindset that I think has been really helpful to me. And I think the second thing was, and I think this is very frivolous thing to say, but I was very fortunate, because when I was in my younger years, I had the money to actually do lots of fun things. Because you know, when you go into the charity sector, you don't earn that much money, you know, I took a 75% pay cut. So I actually managed to do a lot of the fun things that I probably, you know, might not have got to do if I'd been in the charity sector from when I was 18, or 19, or 20. And, and so I look back and think, yeah, I've got to do all the fun, shallow, frivolous things, when I was young, and then got to do the more serious things as I got older. So that was quite like good.

 

Sabeen Nanji  33:46  

Well, you definitely seem to be a massive change maker, wherever you go and bring the light to every environment and every sector that you're working with. And looking to the future, and particularly in the early years. What sort of changes do you hope to see in the future?

 

Leonor Stjepic  34:04  

I think, and I'm quite, you know, as I get older, I'm more pragmatic. And I'm very pragmatic, I am not going to see the massive shift in the time that I have left my working career. But even if we just shift a little bit, even if we and actually it's really quite interesting, because the charity sector is a good, a good analogy of where early years kind of is now, where when I first as I said, you know, back in, when I was sort of working as a volunteer in the charity sector, there weren't you know, the, it wasn't a career that people people went into it as a career if they were very, very, very dedicated, but understood that it wasn't valued as much as it should have been done. And that's shifted tremendously in my lifetime, tremendously, you know, charity sector, you know, you now go and do degrees in charity management, you know, you people have that as a career path. And that's what we want for early years, we want that shift, I want to see that shift I, I may not see it completely, but I want to be able to see a progression and a shift that sees early years educators valued as teachers, as people who are professionals paid what they should be paid, you know, the same as other teachers in primary schools and secondary schools. And given the same level of respect of government level that teachers do, outside of early years, so that, for me is what I really want to see. Because if we do not help society understand the importance of I'll go back to it, and I'm never going to sort of excuse myself, but keeping repeating this, if we do not give early years, the the importance that it has in child development, we are not going to have a society worth living in if we really aren't, because we're going to be failing our youngest members of society, who are going to be the leaders of the future. So we have to, we have to do this work, I'm really quite kind of driven and passionate about it. So I'm, I'm in a fortunate position that this is my you know, because of my age, this will be my last full time role. So actually, I don't mind if I upset anyone, I sort of pushing for this, because what's gonna happen? Yeah, and that's actually quite freeing for me. But it also means that I can be very, very assertive about what I want and calling for what I want, not for me, because, you know, I've achieved what I want in my life. But for those people who really, really deserve it, because the amount of hard work and commitment and dedication that goes into sabeen as, you know, in, you know, being with children working with children is immense. And we need to, we need to value that we need to sort of, you know, up the status.

 

Sabeen Nanji  37:10  

Well, it definitely fills me with a lot of hope to know that there's people like you in our corner and fighting the battle for us, because as you say, I think, earliest practitioners, as much as we do try to make a noise about the conditions and everything else. It's  difficult to make a change on the policy level. So it really means the world to know that there are people like you who are so dedicated to make a noise. And I'm also curious to know as well, that, as, as we're so aware that Montessori isn't a teaching method, it's a way of life and its philosophy of being and how do you feel about the other age groups? And do you feel that there's a lot more work needed to be done to ensure that we can introduce these concepts and philosophies into the other age groups as well? 

 

Leonor Stjepic  38:03  

Oh, yes, absolutely. And when we look at sort of schools around the world, where you have a montessorian, going up to the age of 18. So why not? Why not? Absolutely. And beyond it is it is like it is a life. It's an approach to life, it really is an approach to life. I mean, we're just about to launch in November, a series of webinars around monitoring and leadership, because modern leadership is montessorian. Exactly what Montessori you know, sort of said that educators and practitioners should do with young children is how you should you know, as an adult, as a leader, you should deal with your, your staff, you know, sort of empowering people wanting them to try and fulfil them, think of them as unique, all those sorts of, you know, respect, all those sorts of things, our values for life, respect for the environment, you know, we'll talk about climate change and, and the world needing to change. I mean, Maria Montessori was talking about it 100 years ago. So it's, it's really important. Yes, I think it should. And I think that if we can get there, that's a really good way of having everybody move forwards, including those that are working at the earliest years of sort of saying, actually, this is really important. So let's move everybody forward. So yeah, we'd be , it's it's something that we are very keen to do. 


 

Sabeen Nanji  39:34  

It's funny that you're mentioning about montessorian leadership, because that actually brings us on to a question that we had, which was also how is the role of leadership different in your sector than it is in others? So maybe you could expand a bit more on that? 

 

Leonor Stjepic  39:49  

Yeah. It it's similar in many things, although there are many common themes, obviously in leadership. I think it's the differences is, when you have a leadership role in an organisation such as Montessori, you, you can't really walk away from it at the end of the day. It's there's, it fills me with a huge sense of responsibility of what I have, as a leader, it makes me think that I can't, I can't just sort of switch off my laptop and not think about it, you know, switch off, because it's too important. It's too important than I think that that's the difference that there's a real sense of this is too important. And therefore, I can't just switch off, I can't just think, well, you know, the end of the day, it's a pay packet. And that's nice, I get a nice salary. Thank you very much, I'll go off and do something else. So I think it's, I think that's the difference that the level of commitment and the sense of the responsibility of the importance of what I and other leaders in, you know, in the same sort of field do compared to perhaps in a more commercial environment, where, of course, there's a sense of responsibility for your organisation. But there is perhaps the same sense of responsibility, I think, I don't know if that makes sense. 

 

Farah Nanji  41:30  

No, definitely, definitely makes makes sense. And something that you were sort of talking about earlier. Leonor, and, you know, and something that, you know, I think all three of us, as we've touched on, feel so passionately and deeply about in terms of the appreciation and the awareness and the resources coming through. Do you feel that the pandemic or have you observed, you know, sort of, from, from the people that you're around that there may be might be a little bit more appreciation? Because obviously, so many parents were kind of having to sort of look after their children without the daycare and without all of that stuff for a while. So do you think that perhaps that triggered a little bit of a shift or not really? 

 

Leonor Stjepic  42:08  

Oh, no, I think it did. I think it did. And, in fact, we did surveys throughout the pandemic that showed that that parents really be going to understand what it is that their children do during the day when they're not there. You know, what, what needs to happen. And I think there was a huge shift in attitude that we saw that we saw come in through in the surveys that we did, and we did surveys of both montessorian parents and non Montessori parents, and actually, of people who weren't parents, you know, what did what was their attitude shift as well, but who had, you know, had access to children, so grandparents and carers and others. And I think I think that's a good thing. And we need to build on that momentum. And I think we mustn't lose that momentum. But also, I need to say that this isn't said enough. During the pandemic, people forget that a lot of settings did not close, they were still open. They were still doing, you know, not only their own jobs, but often because they were taking children from other settings, because other settings, you know, children of key workers from other settings, because, you know, if you have a setting, you only have one child, you're not going to run the setting for one child, because it's not good for the child to be on it. So, so they were sort of moving to other settings. We heard of nursery managers and nursery practitioners who would go round and knock on people's houses, you know, that the houses of the parents and families or their children just to make sure everything was okay. They're really kind of went that extra mile who were doing so much during the pandemic, and that we don't hear about that. We don't hear about all that incredible community work. In my view, with you just talked about leadership, in my view, anyone who runs a nursery is a leader, they're a leader in their community, they may not realise it, but they are. And and I think we saw some fantastic examples of that type of leadership during the pandemic.

 

Sabeen Nanji  44:25  

So how can we offer more support to get more women into leadership roles, Leonor, and executive roles?

 

Leonor Stjepic  44:34  

Well, one of the I'm glad you asked that. One of the things that we we are actually doing as part of this degree course is actually a leadership module to give particularly those who who do the degree that wants to set up nurseries when they leave to give them a good grounding in leadership and business. So to give them that score, I think that what we can do is more is offer more mentoring that's important. And I would say that we have to shift what the definition of leadership is. And I think that that's another thing I'm very passionate about. And that I do when I'm not kind of being the CEO of Montessori. I do work with, with groups. I mean, we actually as Montessori as well, we're doing work, for example, with global thinkers forum, where we talk a lot about female leadership, and what does female leadership mean, and trying to redefine what female leadership means and what leadership means. Because as I said, I think that we, there's a perception that leaders are people who run businesses in suits. And that's not actually what leadership is, necessarily, you can be a leader in your family, you can be a leader in your nursery, you can be a leader in your school, and recognising and valuing that and talking about that as leadership is part of encouraging women because I think a lot of women are put off by this idea of who I don't want to be like that, that doesn't look like me, or doesn't feel like me, when actually, or I have to be, you know, hard and ruthless to be a leader. Well, okay, occasionally, but you don't have to be and, and I think that understanding what leadership and particularly the emotional intelligence of leadership will hopefully encourage more women. And as well, the pandemic has helped a little bit because, you know, if you can work from home, that can be really helpful if you have a family, or you have caring responsibilities that often do fall upon women. And this is this is, again, this is why we joined the all party parliamentary group on women and work because we thought, actually, this early years is predominately a female LED industry, the majority of employees are women in or in the in the sector. But secondly, most of the caring falls on women. So again, it is a female, you know, lead issue. So so that's the other reason why we wanted to do this work. 

 

Fantastic. 

 

Farah Nanji  47:12  

And so the last question we have actually about leadership is that your first CEO role was with the Galapagus, Conservation. And you've maintained CEO positions for more than 20 years, which is absolutely incredible. So during those times, and during these years, how's your sort of leadership style evolved? And what have you learned about being being at the helm of leadership yourself?

 

Leonor Stjepic  47:37  

Well, I would say that it has evolved in that I have been more confident about using my emotional intelligence. I think that I've evolved in being more confident about using my intuition, or trusting my intuition. I think that's the big thing. I remember early on in my kind of SEO, career, one of my chairs, who was male saying to me, Oh, yes, but you know, if you're a leader, you need to do this, this and this, and this. And I said to him, no, that works for you, that wouldn't work for me. And that was a big kind of lightbulb moment for me to understand that I didn't want to be a leader like that, because it would not have felt authentic to me. And so I think that's what I've learned to have that confidence to say, actually, no, that may be working for you, and maybe the way that you do things, and that's fine, but it doesn't work for me, I need to be authentic. And, and for me, I I'm an unapologetic about being collaborative and collegiate in my leadership. I'm very confident that I know I'm the leader, I don't need to go around telling everybody I'm the leader. And it was quite funny. My husband said the other day, I said something, and I was talking about someone and I was talking about my colleague, and he said jokingly said this, but you're their boss. I said, Yes, I know, but they're still my colleague. And that's how I view people as colleagues rather than employees or staff. Although obviously, you know, I'm the person that's accountable. So I will take accountability for anything that happens. So yeah, I think that's the big shift. 

 

Farah Nanji  49:24  

Fantastic. Well, authenticity, accountability, intuition, all extremely and collaboration, of course, extremely important, important things, especially as we move into something more of an automated world and such a chaotic world as well. So we're going to move into our audience q&a. We've had two questions come in, that we would like to ask you. So the first one is from Cameron in London, and he asks, What do you believe are the biggest challenges for the future generations coming into this into this world?

 

Leonor Stjepic  49:57  

I think the biggest challenges and in a way, I'm glad I'm the age is that we are moving very, very quickly into an age of transition. And transition can be good, but can also be chaotic. And nobody has any real idea of what that's going to look like. And as, as often happens, when you go through huge radical change, bad things happen, as well as good things happen. And I think that having that emotional resilience for people to be able to see this through is going to be big, big challenge, a big challenge. How do you nurture emotional resilience in the early years? I think Montessori is really good at that. And I'm sure so because it can answer that much better than than, than I can. And I think but it is, I think a lot about kind of building that that self esteem, that confidence, that ability to be to be independent, do things independently. I think that's that's the things that Montessori is really brilliant at kind of building that, that emotional resilience through that.

 

Sabeen Nanji  51:09  

Definitely, and I think also not sheltering them from challenge because adversity, as we know is it's part of life. And we need to ensure that children have challenges, whether it's physically, academically, it's important that they are in an environment which is safe and warm that can challenge them. Okay, Nina from Paris asks, what do you think Maria Montessori would think about the use and access of technology that children have today?

 

Leonor Stjepic  51:41  

Well, we are actually doing a project at the moment with a with an organisation with a collaborator to actually look at how we can teach children in a Montessori way to use technology safely. I think that she was an innovator and she was a pioneer, you know, she was not afraid of trying new things. If you think about Maria Montessori, his life when she when she was growing up, there were no planes, there was no telephone. There was no TV. There was no cinema, and no film, she adopted these things. And she was actually incredibly good at PR. Really good at PR, you know, we forget that. But you if you think about it, how else did this, you know sort of doctor from Italy, end up influencing the whole world, you know, going and working with people like Gandhi, travelling the world, she took, you know, she went by boat, and then when they were playing, she went by plane, you know, so. So I don't think she would have shied away, she would have been curious. And she would have been wanting to think about how does that? How can we use technology to benefit children? How can we use it in a good way? And I think that's what we're trying to do with this project that we're currently developing about? How can we do it? Because it's around us? We can't we could hide, you know, close our eyes and go, no, no, no, we're not going to allow children to have access to technology, they will get access to it, you know, one of their friends will have an iPad or a phone, they'll be they'll get access to it. So better to just confront the issue and help children, as you say, it's a challenge. It's a challenge for young children, let's teach them how to how to you face that challenge rather than pretend it doesn't exist? 

 

Farah Nanji  53:37  

Definitely, definitely agree we have to we can't ignore that it's here. And as you say, the access or the exposure story is something that we cannot. We cannot shelter, you know, children from and it's about being mindful and creating the right sort of, as you say, safe environment for that to exist in a harmonious way. So we've got our last section here is a quick round section. We've got five questions for you. Not more than 60 seconds on each. So first question is, what's a morning routine staple for you?

 

Leonor Stjepic  54:10  

walking my dogs in the garden.

 

Farah Nanji  54:13  

Nice. 

 

Sabeen Nanji  54:15  

What are you most curious about right now?

 

Leonor Stjepic  54:19  

What the world's going to look like the next 10 years.

 

Farah Nanji  54:23  

Aren't we all hey, Leonor, who's your most listened to artist this year so far?

 

Leonor Stjepic  54:32  

It's a it's a very old one is actually Ella Fitzgerald. 

 

Farah Nanji 54:35

Oh, nice. Very nice. Sabeen.

 

Sabeen Nanji  54:39  

What element do you gravitate to the most?

 

Leonor Stjepic  54:45  

Oh. Oh, I would say fire.

 

Farah Nanji  54:53  

Very nice. And, Leonor, the last question that we always love to ask all of our guests who come on mission makers is what are you most grateful for this month?

 

Leonor Stjepic  55:04  

I'm grateful for the ability to finally start interacting with people.

 

Farah Nanji  55:11  

Definitely, it was a beautiful note to end on. Leonor thank you so much for your time. We've learned a lot from you. And yeah, you're an incredibly inspiring, inspiring woman. And I cannot wait to see the sort of legacy in the what you develop with Montessori as you have been doing. It's been a beautiful shift to see what you've done with this with this role. So all the best. 

 

Leonor Stjepic 55:37

Thank you very much. And thank you for having me on. Thank you.

 

Farah Nanji  55:42

If you want to grab a copy of today's show notes, then head over to mission makers.com forward slash Leonor stepback where you'll also find notes from all of our previous episodes. We've got some amazing guests left for the rest of the season, so be sure to share the show with your friends and subscribe to us on Apple, Spotify, YouTube and wherever else you listen to your podcasts. You can reach out to me at Mission makers or at DJ dot n one n j on Instagram. And if you're interested in supporting the show and getting some really cool rewards like Virtual DJ lessons and exclusive merchandise, then don't forget to visit patreon.com forward slash mission makers. Thank you for listening. Until next time, keep it laser focused