Young Social Impact Heroes: Why and How Kavin Wadhar Is Helping To Change Our World
You will get comfortable on social media — just keep putting yourself out there. At the beginning it felt scary to be posting things out there for the world to see, with your inner voice critic thinking “will they like it?”. But now after doing hundreds of posts, videos and even Facebook lives to thousands of people — I feel fairly comfortable on social media. I think the key thing I realized was to be crystal clear about the message you are trying to convey and to be super genuine at all times. No one will fault you if you do these two things.
As part of my series about young people who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kavin Wadhar.
Kavin comes from a family of teachers. He spent 10 years himself working in Education publishing himself before he left to start a new company — KidCoachApp — a conversational tool to help parents build key skills in their children. He did this since he is extremely passionate about helping children to build a different set of “softer” skills that they will need to thrive in a fast-changing world and believes strongly that parents are well-placed to support this at home. Kavin lives in London with his wife and two young children.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit how you grew up?
Sure thing. I was born in the UK and have been fortunate to have a good education. Part of this was going to the University of Cambridge, which gave me some fantastic life opportunities. But it could have been very different. You just have to go back a couple of generations to see why. My grandfather grew up in a poor village in India. Legend has it that he used to study-by-streetlight which is how he became a doctor. This focus on education as a way of improving your life was passed on to my mum (who became a teacher) and eventually on to me. So it’s safe to say that education has always been a big focus in my life growing up!
You are currently leading an organization that aims to make a social impact. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?
We want children to have better “soft” skills so that they can thrive in tomorrow’s world. Soft skills are the non-academic subjects that are super important and yet don’t get as much timetable space at schools. Creativity, critical thinking, communication, leadership, empathy etc — the list goes on. These soft or “human” skills are what will help our kids add value with all the technology around them and help them lead happy and successful lives.
There is a LOT of literature on why this is a problem. The Institute for the Future predict that “85% of the jobs that will exist in 2030 have not even been invented yet”, underlining how quickly the jobs market is changing. It is thus not impossible to train a young person up for life, rather we need to develop transferable “softer” skills that will bear them well no matter how the world changes. The late (great) educationalist Ken Robinson still has the most TED talk views on “Why Schools Kill Creativity”, in which he said “creativity is as important as literacy” as he outlined eight competencies that we need to be developing in children. Finally, the OECD Director of Education and Skills said that “we need to develop first-class humans, not second-class robots”. What he meant is that robots will always crunch numbers and process text far better than humans ever can, so if all we did was drill our kids in math and English then we are setting them up to fail!
You can’t out-robot a robot, so let’s not even try. Rather let us differentiate our children through “soft” skills! How? Well — one area we don’t look at enough, in my humble opinion, is through parents at home.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
Do you have kids? If so can you remember when they were born and how your world changed forever? When my first child was born a few years ago I had felt a sudden surge of responsibility and empowerment. Responsibility to bring up an amazing human being. Empowerment that I could make the world a little bit better.
That feeling was double-underlined when I came across a surprising statistic recently. Did you know that the average child spends 80% of their year at home and only 20% at school? That doesn’t include time sleeping! Just time awake. Only 20% of that is spent at school, given the long holidays and all those weekends and evenings. I don’t mean to minimize the impact of schools (far from it) just to double-underline the power of parents at home. Each of us has a massive ability to shape our children to help them lead happy and successful lives.
Realizing this just made me want to facilitate the process. I knew I didn’t want to come up with anything too time-consuming for parents to develop soft skills in their children e.g. books to read or courses to do or clubs to go to. Parents have busy enough lives as it is! Rather I was after something parents could fit easily into our modern and hectic schedules, that just takes five minutes a day and has zero preparation requirements. That was how the idea of “soft skill building conversation starters” was born — and has since evolved into the “KidCoachApp”, available in the Apple & Android app stores and being used by hundreds of parents in the US, UK and beyond!
Here are a few of the questions we have:
- “What are 10 things to do with a cup?” (Creativity)
- “Is there life on other planets?” (Critical Thinking)
- “When is it good to fail at something?” (Resilience)
Each question has additional prompts to help parents take the conversations deeper and make the learnings sticky for their children. For instance — with the cups example — follow up prompts are things like:
- Upside down it could be a drum — what else can you do with it upside down?
- What if the cup was the size of a house?
- What if the cup was digital?
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest it. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?
I spent 15 years working in big corporate roles across strategy consulting and FTSE 100 companies. I loved this period of my life as I learned so much across different roles like strategy, sale and marketing.
But one day it all got a bit too much. I was stuck in this long internal meeting where people were squabbling over who got commission from a deal that had just been won. At that moment it felt like they cared more about their personal paycheck than the problems we were solving for our customers. I found myself wondering “What would it be like to work with people who are 100% dedicated to the mission?”
At that time, I already had some entrepreneurial feelings bubbling inside of me. I had had the KidCoachApp idea and had been thinking for a few months how I might go all-in on it. My personal situation was stable — our house was recently refurbished, the kids were sleeping better at night and we had some decent savings in the bank etc. It just felt like the right time to take the plunge. I knew that I would regret it forever if I did not “scratch the itch” and, ultimately, I felt secure enough in our situation and my capability that KidCoachApp would be a success!
Many young people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?
Validate, validate, validate.
I knew I was solving a big, important problem (around building softer skills in children). But what I was less sure was — “Could parents build these skills through conversation at home and would they be prepared to do so?”
So the first thing I did was to build a rough-and-ready website with some free questions for kids and asked parents to sign-up if they wanted more. Hundreds did straightaway. Speaking to many of them they immediately told me of the fantastic conversations they were having their kids using them. Ah-ha! There is something here, I thought.
The next bit was to check if an App made sense, or if a website would do. Talking with lots of parents quickly told me that websites just aren’t accessible enough. People wanted something they were used to, that lived on their phone and could notify them of new questions etc.
Finally, I had to check that parents would be willing-to-pay for this. Even though our cause is for social impact, I knew I wanted to run a profitable company where we could constantly invest back into the product. So we ran a survey to find out what the fairest prices were and we settled on a subscription that is about the price of a coffee a month. Pretty reasonable value I think to future-proof your child!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
As I was testing out the questions for the App, I had the chance to speak with lots of kids. They were volunteered by their parents to meet with me on Zoom as something different to do during lockdown. We even started a podcast called “KidCoach Conversations” where I recorded some of these. It’s worth a listen to hear some raw, unedited responses to interesting questions — funny and insightful in equal measure.
One of the most interesting of these chats was with 9 year Bobby. We were talking about building confidence and I had asked him “What do you find easy now that was once hard?” He started telling me about math and running — both of these he used to find tough but now is adept at timetables and quick in the 100m dash! The interesting bit was when I asked him “How did you get better at these?”. It turns out that with timetables he had asked for help, from his aunt who was a whizz with numbers. And with 100m it had come from within, since he really wanted to beat the other kids and win the race. The coaching moment for Bobby was to realize that asking for help or having a goal are great ways to overcome any challenge that he will ever have in the future, and that he already has two great examples from his recent past to given him the confidence that he can do so.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?
I made plenty of mistakes and will continue to do so! They were absolutely not funny at the time, but I suppose I can now chuckle about them having learned from the experience.
The biggest / funniest was hiring an SEO agency to build me a mobile App. It sounds bizarre when I put it like that I know — what does a Google search optimizer know about building eLearning Apps?! But I went with this SEO company since they also did websites…and websites didn’t seem too far away from Apps…and I knew the guy in charge…and I was in a hurry etc. Needless to say it did not work out. To their credit they realized about a month in they were over their heads and aborted the project, also giving me my money back.
So, no harm done apart from some time lost, but a couple of key lessons learned for me. Hire people for their strengths — make sure someone is fully competent in a topic before you hire them for it. Also — slow down for the important decisions. It is OK to go “fast-fast-slow” i.e. do lots of things fast to build momentum like posting on social media, but when it comes to something fundamental like who is building your product, then take the time to do the proper diligence.
None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?
My wife, Emma, is amazing. She has been with me every single step of the way and is a constant sounding board at home. She hears me out every evening as I tell her about my day, sharing in both the highs and the lows. With the highs (like featuring on the BBC) she makes me celebrate and be thankful for what the business has accomplished. With the lows (like having technical setbacks) she reminds me that I have got through similar things in the past and to keep going.
I’ve also been fortunate enough to be noticed and supported by some prominent education experts. Professor Neil Mercer, University of Cambridge, is a champion for Oracy with children (speaking / listening skills) and has contributed to the design of the KidCoachApp. I am thankful to doors he has opened for us, for example mentioning us on a podcast interview he was on, after which I had several inbound enquiries from schools. Another example would be Ian Gilbert — a TED talk speaker and author of “The Little Book of Thunks”. Ian is all about getting children to think better and is a big fan of ours. He even wrote a blog piece about us on his Independent Thinking website. Thank you both!
Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
I get notes all the time from excited parents who had just had a great moment with their children, using our questions and prompts.
For example one Mum told me recently that the questions have inspired her to do a regular “walk and talk” with her 8 year old daughter, who as a result has gone from a closed book to an open chatterbox! Similarly, a Dad of a 7 year old found the questions inspired him to start looking for the “coaching moment” in everyday occurrences like walking down the street, and is now coming up with all sorts of interesting questions himself!
And in the words of Bobby — one of the children I asked questions to in our podcast — when I asked him “What happens when I ask you these questions?” he said “I can feel my brain growing!”
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
Great question. Glad you asked. Yes, for sure. My three things would be directed towards education departments in governments around the world:
- Make soft skills fundamental part of school curriculum: if creativity and other skills are just a nice-to-have they will never feature prominently enough. There are some brilliant examples of schools taking soft skill development very seriously and I would love to see curriculum changes to support wider adoption of this. One example is Grange School in the UK, where the entire school represents a little city. They ask children to role-play jobs like doctors, politicians, teachers to develop teamwork, resilience, self-confidence and community responsibility.
- Reduce burden of traditional academic exams: to make space for more soft skills we need to take something out. Many people fear that children are already over-examined and that they binge-revise just to pass exams, the result being the knowledge drops out of their head the minute they walk out of the exam hall. It feels like we are stuck in a system that overly tests the skills of “yesterday” with no plan on how to develop or test the skills of “tomorrow”
- Engage parents better and align home-school activities: as I already said, the power of parents is huge. I’m not sure it is fully utilized by all schools. Certainly we can step up efforts to engage the parent communities and extend school influence into homes. In deprived areas we need to give out laptops and digital devices that families can use to learn from at home. In all areas we need to do more parent workshops and meetings. I would like schools to ask themselves “What would I do with hundreds more remote teachers?” — because that is in effect what parents of children could be!
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
You can learn to do anything — you just need to allocate the time it. A year ago when I first started I had no clue about how to make websites. Now having been through five different iterations of our website, doing much of it myself, I feel confident to manage it on an ongoing basis. And if I really need an expert to do something very specific, then I now know exactly what to ask for.
- You will get comfortable on social media — just keep putting yourself out there. At the beginning it felt scary to be posting things out there for the world to see, with your inner voice critic thinking “will they like it?”. But now after doing hundreds of posts, videos and even Facebook lives to thousands of people — I feel fairly comfortable on social media. I think the key thing I realized was to be crystal clear about the message you are trying to convey and to be super genuine at all times. No one will fault you if you do these two things.
- Collaborate don’t compete — there are lots of experts out there already. Especially in my field of education there are so many education researchers, teachers, organizations, schools, resource providers etc. I learned quite quickly that it made zero sense to do battle, rather better to show what I am up to and invite feedback. In this way we’ve built up some great partnerships, with national charities and government organizations. I’m sure this will help with sales down the line.
- People love good causes — they will help you for free when they realize the social impact. The best example of this was an engineer who guest wrote seven articles for our blog. He did these on “STEM & Soft Skills” — articles based on science and technology like driverless cars but asking children skill-building questions like “should a driverless car be programmed to save a baby while injuring an old man?” The idea was to take the interest in something “cool” like driverless cars and use it as a launchpad to have though-provoking discussions.
- Growth is not linear — don’t check your website traffic every day! Some days will be slow but then other days will be crazy fast. Our growth as a company is probably down to the level of awareness we have with our parent customer base. The average day is nothing to write home about but when we get some get some really great exposure — like being on the BBC — the website just explodes. This non-linear growth is hard to predict and even harder to manage emotionally, so I wish I had been ready for that!
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
I’ll tell you why I am so passionate about changing Education. Simply that I can’t think of any other mechanism that can change the world so quickly and for the better.
If all parents in all homes brought up their children to be wonderful human beings — who could talk well with others, think well on their feet and feel well in themselves — how amazing a place would the world be in just 20–30 years when they have grown up?!
I appreciate it is extremely ambitious to believe that all parents could do this…but what if we could? Perhaps there would be no more poverty, since everyone has valuable skills to offer in the workforce. Perhaps there would be no more crime, since people are considerate of other people’s feelings. Perhaps there would be no more wars, since leaders have ben trained to see all perspectives and find peaceful outcomes always.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. :-)
The late (great) Ken Robinson. He unfortunately passed away in 2020 — can you bring him back?! As I mentioned earlier, Ken has amassed the most TED talk views ever for “Why Schools Kill Creativity” and I would love to bounce my ideas around with him on how parents at home can best help their kids to develop the soft skills that he and I are so passionate about.
How can our readers follow you online?
Best thing to do is visit our website — www.KidCoach.app — and sign up for free resources. Or you can just search “KidCoachApp” to go ahead and download the App. All of our social links are up on the website also.
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!
Appreciate it. Thanks for taking the time. It’s been a pleasure talking about the work we do at KidCoachApp. As you can see we are very passionate about it!