New Brunswick Company Brings Canadian Education to China
Wee College is an early learning and childcare franchise program with multiple locations in the province of New Brunswick. CEO/Founder Melody Munro has made early learning and childcare her life’s passion since the 1980s, launching her first childcare centre in 1994. She sees Wee College as “entrepreneurship with a purpose.”
“I saw the industry being so much more than childcare and well-being,” notes Munro. “Recognizing that in order to encourage children’s intellectual growth it was necessary to introduce them to worlds of discovery that would engage their minds and their hearts.”
In 2013, she franchised her first Wee College, with several more locations launching over the past three years. Munro has no plans to stop at New Brunswick’s border, however. She recently participated in a provincial trade mission to China, with eyes on bringing Canadian-made early learning to East Asia.
ONB: Why look at China as your next potential move?
Munro: Three years ago we had families here from China; they had brought their children to attend our summer programs and were very impressed. They became interested in franchising and bringing our curriculum back home. Interest in our offerings has been very organic like that; there’s been no real marketing push.
I’m part of the Wallace McCain Institute’s Entrepreneurial Leaders Program (ELP), and via that network I became aware of the trade mission to China.
I wondered if there would be interest—in one of the world’s powerhouse countries—for educational offerings from a tiny company in New Brunswick. Could we really offer something of value to the Chinese? I quickly found out the answer was a resounding yes. We were very well-received and ONB made it seamless, connecting us with schools, embassies, and provincial education districts. It’s an exciting time for us.
ONB: What were your big takeaways from China?
Munro: The first thing that struck me was the reverence and beauty of their culture. The first memorandum of understanding (MoU) we returned with came from a region very rich in history, Shandong. There is such a pride there, and a great degree of self-questioning. Educators are asking themselves “are we doing this well?” It was grounding to have them ask me for guidance. Some schools were doing extremely well, and I could only celebrate them.
The other thing I noted is the like-mindedness. They have the same goals and aspirations for their children, both as parents and educators. They think outside the box, trying to create worlds that will engage their kids. I also found that they’re curious about our culture, anxious to learn from us and have a real desire to collaborate.
ONB: What do you see as advantages of operating from this province?
Munro: Sticking with the China theme, ONB and the Province have been really supportive of businesses with a vision for growth, and trade missions such as the China experience encourage this. The public sector has really helped position us well in places like China.
You can pick up a phone and make an inquiry of just about anyone here. You’re only one or two people away from anyone you need to connect with. You really can make the small size of this region work to your advantage.
Wee College franchisees’ classes are full. Our Hildegard Campus looks like a wee United Nations, as many beautiful cultures are coming to play and learn in our center. Many have journeyed here from communities around the world and are finding New Brunswick has all the necessary ingredients of a healthy, happy and secure community. I believe it’s our acceptance of people and our ability to value each other that makes NB our nation’s best-kept secret.
I’ve been asked many times how Wee College came to be — one small voice at a time. Answering a need for working families, and the growth and development needs of their children. Everyone wants everyone to succeed here; there’s no stomping on others to get ahead. Working in this industry I feel confident saying it’s a great place to raise a family.
ONB: Tell us about your leadership philosophy. We’re especially curious how you manage to keep multiple franchises on the same page.
Munro: In terms of keeping everyone on the same page we committed to developing up-to-date curriculums, protocols, and practices supported with the latest technologies. Our own Wee Guardian platform acts as a campus management and communication system allowing us to monitor how campuses are doing, ensure reporting is consistent, track communication and more. The model is successful and is now monetized with franchisees using it.
I’ve always believed it necessary to work with like-minded individuals to move an agenda. I’ve never been shy about bringing in the necessary skilled, trained, and educated personnel that would bring the desired strengths needed to deliver our message. I’m not an island unto myself, that’s something I recognized early on. More leaders need to make peace with that.
Franchising has taught me valuable leadership lessons. I’ve learned that not everyone is going to be an ideal candidate. You’re going to have to stay with your model that which has been proven to find like-mindedness in franchisees in order to grow properly. We have over a dozen licenses, yet when you’re inside any of them you get the same feeling, you feel the same energy, the same passion. There’s something at every Wee College that connects us — the attributes of the people working, playing and managing. Passion is the fuel that moves me and a contagious energy within our world of Wee.
Learn more at WeeCollege.com
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Images via Wee College