By Andrew Hill, Company Founder
It is clear to anyone who walks into our facilities that The Essential Learning Group owes its success to the professionalism and dedication of its staff. Even now, I am struck by how impressive these people are, who have come to Shanghai from nearly every part of the world to contribute to our enterprise. From the way everybody works effectively and collaboratively, it becomes clear to any visitor who stays for a while that we could never achieve what we do without solid leadership.
The story of our emergence has another, easily overlooked side, though. Establishing a foreign-owned enterprise, particularly one of our size, demands a familiarity with how to accomplish things in China that can only be acquired through long experience. As a 23 year veteran of expatriate life in Shanghai, I have had the distinct honor of filling this role at The Essential Learning Group.
My role within the organization is general in nature; often, I am called upon for seemingly small matters, such as helping to smooth out miscommunications between Western and local Chinese staff members. Less often, and just as importantly, I am responsible for some larger-scale tasks that demand more familiarity with local practices. To illustrate, I will share with you how I found our permanent home in Putuo district.
Any facility that could serve all of The Essential Learning Group’s needs had to meet a fairly extensive list of criteria in order to be safe and conducive to learning.
- A playground adjacent to the building
- A cafeteria
- Soundproof rooms
- Washroom facilities on every floor
- Straight, wide hallways
- Safe stairs
- An enclosed parking area for pickup/drop off
In Shanghai, where space is scarce, a property with every one of these attributes is exceptionally difficult to find. I reached out to as many contacts as I could find in order to locate exactly the right building. We spent time practicing in a series of temporary facilities as I reached out to an ever widening circle of people, until it finally paid off; a friend of mine with connections in real estate finally informed me that she had found our ideal home, and all that was left to do was make a deal. It was a terrific feeling, but not as satisfying as some of my day-to-day work.
My proudest duty is advocacy. Often, I am charged with sharing our work with members of the local community. I give tours of our facilities to people from various fields, including government, higher education and business. I impress upon them that what we do is important, beneficial and repeatable. We demonstrate to somebody that any child can learn, and that children who benefit from well-executed interventions have a greatly improved quality of life. We help families to live more happily together. I feel privileged to be the bearer of such good news to visitors who had not learned about us.
As we look to bring our services into communities beyond Shanghai, I look forward to helping The Essential Learning Group to establish itself in new cities and to deliver high quality special education services to many, many more children in the future.
Company Founder, Director
Andrew has lived in China since 1989. Aside from his work at ELG, he is also Acting President for the Shanghai Rotary Club (2015-2017). In 2010, he was awarded the Charity Star of Shanghai, in recognition of his work teaching migrant workers to care for the elderly. Andrew has a real passion for helping children, and is responsible for starting ELG‘s sister NGO, XiErSen.