I will safely assume that many of us have a list somewhere, whether it is a mental or physical list, of what we would like to learn if we ever had the time or money. However learning is always an investment, and for time-poor and cash-strapped modern folk, further education beyond formal schooling can often be a stretch too far. But it doesn’t stop you from wanting it, and this is what chalkle° founders Silvia Zuur and Linc Gasking discussed over a coffee in Wellington in July 2012. From this they built chalkle°, an alternative education source that not only strives to make education more accessible to everyone, but to also strengthen local communities at the same time. I sat down with Silvia Zuur to talk about the chalkle° vision, its growth and future goals.
Firstly, how did you come up with the name chalkle°?
Chalkle has two naming contexts. First of all blackboards and chalk, and then street art, where the pavement becomes the blackboard, and which is our main design inspiration. It’s all about expressing creativity. Our tagline (six degrees of education – represented by the small circle next to ‘chalkle°’) is because we believe there is six degrees of separation, or education, between people, and that you can find all the education you need within your community.
What was the dream for chalkle° starting out?
I guess for me it was enabling everyone in every community to take their learning into their own hands. To be able to curate their own education – and to have choice and possibility as to what they want to learn in their own life-long learning path. We wanted to provide them with those opportunities.
The knowledge is in the community and we wanted to tap into what is already there. We are really just connecting the people who need to be connected.
In three words, how would you describe chalkle° classes?
Can I give you four? We have four Principles – Strengthening community, Learning, Accessible, Collaborative – and this is what we strive for in all our classes.
So how do chalkle° classes work?
There are two main parts. First you, as a Chalkler, can just sign up – there are no membership fees and limited barriers to entry. You just need access to a computer, and then you can get notified about classes that come up which match your interests. We try to make it easy for you to be a part of.
For you to be a teacher, you just get in touch with us, we send you a form, and we see what you wish to share. We have a whole spectrum of teachers, from beginners to well-seasoned professionals. The latter tend to be more independent and don’t need that much support to get started, but people who aren’t used to it may need help with finding a venue for their class, figuring out how much to charge, how to shape their class, and those are all services that we provide. We try to make certain that it’s possible for everyone to have the chance of teaching.
Building on that, why is collaboration so important for chalkle°?
I think there are two layers. First of all we’ve really identified with the Collaborative Consumption movement, but secondly collaboration comes core to what I do in terms of how I work. I go into every working relationship trying to find out where’s the win-win, and sometimes not just the win-win, but the win-win-win-win-win. I’m always trying to find how one plus one can equal more than two.
So there is an element of social good in chalkle°. Speaking of Collaborative Consumption, there seems to have been a shift towards businesses and organisations being more socially and community minded – have you noticed a similar shift and do you think it’s attributable to anything?
I think people are starting to realise that competition is not the answer, so therefore that begs the question what does collaboration look like in the business world. As individuals, especially in the West, we’re quite ego-centric – it’s all about the individual. But then you start to see how that can create disenfranchised people – they feel isolated. People are starting to realise, or at least I hope they are starting to wake up, to the fact that if they know their neighbours, there is a personal benefit as well as a societal benefit. AirBnB is a classic example – ten years ago we might not have done that, but we’ve gotten up to a point that we trust people coming through. I think we’re still very naïve about it, but I’m excited to see how it develops, for example things around reputation and online trust. And that’s really important for chalkle° – we’re building an offline community – we happen to be using technology and online systems as a way to connect everyone, but it’s all so that we can strengthen the face-to-face community.
You and Linc (co-founder) met at Enspiral. Has continuing to work in this space had a big impact?
Oh it’s what’s made chalkle°. I describe Enspiral as an eco-system or a nursery – that growing, nurturing image. Practically, it’s the fact that we have lawyers and accountants in the same space, combined with people who have ridiculous amounts of start-up experience. Those are the hard skills, and then you have the soft skills – everyone out there is creating something, and so there are those emotional connections and work relevance. For example, our Horowhenua chalkle° channel connection was made through an Enspiral connection. Perhaps the value comes because we’re all creating something new…in this work you’re constantly trying to convince people out in the world that what you’re doing is awesome, and sometimes having people who have your back just means that you can thrive.
What are your next steps for chalkle°?
I hope that chalkle° can enable more communities to collaborate and explore their learning. Practically what that looks like now is that we’re really interested in working with more communities around New Zealand. We’re keen for people to get in touch if they have an idea – if there’s a community centre, library, local council, or a trust – we’re really interested in partners who share our values and want to collaborate. I hope Wellington continues to thrive and grow – we’re organising two conferences in the next couple of months…the UX Design Day on the 10th October and we’re helping to organise Social Enterprise Week in mid-August.
About our ambassador // This article was contributed by Community Ambassador Kim Anderson. Kim is a Design kid from Wellington who loves crazy ideas and gizmos and has a complicated relationship with the internet. Say hi on Twitter @_kim_anderson or on her blog.