Meaningful Business (MB:) Please tell us a bit about your background.
Latifa Al-Khalifa (LAK:) I’m a two-time STEM certified educator and a National Geographic educator. I completed my undergraduate degree with a double major in Politics and International Studies from Monash University in Melbourne, Australia and a Master’s degree in International Relations from Regent’s University in London, UK. I worked in diplomacy and research for a number of years before I co-founded Clever Play in 2018.
MB: What led you to start Clever Play?
LAK: Our story starts in a likely place for the origin of a learning revolution – at school. In 2017, after my sister witnessed a personal frustration with how the rigid structures of schools dulled natural curiosity and stifled her children’s natural desire to learn, she believed that she could break the myth that children need to be taught in order to learn. She was on a mission to make learning joyful with playful STEAM (science, technology, engineering and maths), and so we joined her to prove it by founding Clever Play.
Inspired by thought leaders like Marc Prensky, Sir Kevin Robinson and Mitch Resnick who call for more creativity in education, my sisters and I believed that learning foundational skills and igniting interest in STEAM early make kids feel empowered to take on their own learning and future. We believe that hands-on and playful STEAM is the new textbooks. Because playful STEAM can teach what textbooks can’t: curiosity, creativity, collaboration, confidence, imagination. In 2018, Clever Play opened its doors and started playing with possibilities.
MB: What are the main problems you are trying to solve?
LAK: The world is rapidly changing, for better or worse. As cliche as it sounds, change is the only constant. As parents ourselves, we want to be ready to answer the future’s call. We want to prepare our children for these changes, not protect them from it. Education is one way for us to future-proof our children. But, there are many forms of education. Formal education in school has its function and purpose but other educational alternatives can develop and bring out the potential in other areas of our children’s lives. The question is, how might we do that?
That question sparked the Clever Play journey. All of us have been a child before. We assume that children need to be taught in order to learn. We forget that children are naturally curious and they can learn when given the freedom to follow their own interests and curiosities. When that happens, they become active learners and creators, instead of passive consumers of information. When given the autonomy to learn, the world is our children’s classroom.
Let’s allow our children to experience the adventure, freedom and wonder of childhood. Challenge their intellectual abilities and nurture their sense of curiosity and creativity. Let their curiosities inspire and empower them.
At Clever Play, we want to be for our children, who we needed when we were young. We want to give autonomy back to learners and allow them to learn on their own terms (their own pace and structure). Along the way, they will build important life skills, discover themselves and their passions. At Clever Play, we create a thriving environment for your children’s curiosity, joy for learning and self discovery. We focus on science, technology, engineering, arts and math as mediums to enable children to figure how the world works and their place in that world.
MB: What is your biggest challenge right now?
LAK: Transitioning to becoming a licensor is the biggest challenge for us right now – putting in place a solid infrastructure of systems, procedures, processes and support that will form the backbone of the company moving forward. We are doing this as part of executing on our growth strategy amidst uncertain times and modifying our business model to adapt to the changing market environment and consumer behaviour.
MB: What is your vision for the future of your business?
LAK: The international education sector has highlighted STEAM as great needs and we are better positioned than ever before to contribute in a meaningful and impactful way to address SDG4: Quality Education. With a growing community and established brand in the market, the foundational elements that make up Clever Play have been proven to blaze a trail with our target niche (early childhood learning). We are looking to build on our successes by scaling our efforts through our licensing programme. Our vision is to empower children to become curious creators and lifelong learners.
MB: What is your advice to other leaders who want to combine profit and purpose?
LAK: It’s a lot of work building a business but having a greater good makes it so worthwhile. Pick an impactful industry, recognise the power of inclusion, and create a business model that gives back. Always remember why you do what you do and what makes your business purposeful. And don’t forget to have some fun in the process too!
MB – What’s the best piece of advice you ever received?
LAK – “Win a gold medal at one thing” (advice from Jeff Hoffman.)
MB – Who inspires you?
LAk – My mother. She is a cancer patient and she inspires me daily with how she is fighting her disease head-on with faith, kindness and a positive attitude!
MB – How do you define success?
LAK – Living a life true to my highest values. To me, that is when fulfilment, contribution, freedom and flexibility intersect.
MB – What is something you wish you were better at?
LAK – Design
MB – What is the one book everyone should read?
AG – “Endurance” by Alfred Lansing
MB – What do you do to relax?
LAK – Unplug, read a book, and spend time outdoors.
Discover the other MB100 leaders recognised for their work combining profit and purpose to help achieve the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals in 2020, here.