“I couldn’t find what I was looking for, so I created it.”
Isn’t that what most mompreneurs do? Take any episode of Shark Tank, Etsy shop or brick and mortar business and you’re bound to find a similar story.
Except there’s nothing standard about Rebekah Neumann, the founding partner and chief brand officer of WeWork, the world’s most successful co-working company, or her “pet project”.
It began with a search for her daughter’s elementary education, continued with her inability to let the idea go (she calls it a “non-negotiable”) and concluded with a pilot program in TriBeCa this past year.
WeGrow is a groundbreaking initiative in the education space, officially launching this fall for preschool- 4th grade children, at the WeWork headquarters in New York City with desires to expand globally. “If there’s one thing we know how to do, it’s scale,” said Neumann.
What the former equity trader found lacking in other curriculums was a “conscious perspective”. WeGrow is setting out to change that with a mission to cultivate the whole human- not just the brain, but the heart and soul too.
“It has become clear that the passion drive, creativity, altruism and wonder we strive for everyday are all traits that our children naturally possess. Somewhere along the traditional educational path, these traits can be lost, and we have to fight to find them again as adults… They are natural humanitarians, entrepreneurs, and artists… Through better understanding their passions and the ways they can use their gifts to help others, children will grow as self-aware, empowered, compassionate creators.”
I met with the “founder, CEO and mom” (her official title, by the way, which should tell you just how different her approach is) last Friday at the WeWork offices in Chelsea where the school- which, like the founder, is the epitome of cool (tree houses, acoustic clouds, a vertical farm)- is currently underway by Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG).
In a vintage tee and high-waisted pants with long, flowing locks and carrying a cup of tea, Neumann resembles more of a yoga teacher than head of a billion dollar empire (I later learned she is, in fact, certified as a Jivamukti instructor.) but that’s exactly why this program will succeed. And, more importantly, flourish.
A few moments with Neumann and I, too, felt centered, present and emboldened. The mother of five’s commitment and calling is inspiring. What woman doesn’t want her child’s spirit looked after but how many schools actually offer that, by way of curriculum (and not just the by-product of the infrequent impassioned educator)?
When I asked how she planned to achieve this, Neumann spoke of a laugh circle to kick things off every morning. No flag salute, rules or lesson plan- laughter. Simple yet profound and precisely the kind of common sense but unearthed idea our schools- and life- are lacking. Who wouldn’t (and shouldn’t) want to start the day that way? At WeGrow, originating from a place of positivity is just the beginning.
Teachers and collaborators are trained in progressive educational pedagogues from Montessori, Reggio Emilia and Bank Street and the curriculum includes practices like meditation, martial arts and conscious eating along with familiar studies like foreign language, science, math and music.
By “reimagining the idea of the classroom and fostering a creative, curious and entrepreneurial spirit through a hands-on, student-led” program, WeGrow aims to “allow children to discover their talents and learn how to use them in today’s world.”
An example of the entrepreneurial component is the farm stand that the pilot program introduced this year. Children planted seeds, harvested produce and ran a market to sell their products at WeWork. They made over $1,000 per farm stand. They then decided, as a group, how best to use that money, ultimately choosing to support an animal shelter.
There will also be mentorships with WeWork members where children “begin to identify their callings and apprentice under employees and members already living that dream.” One child in the pilot program showed a love for fashion, was connected with a designer and WeWork member and mentored alongside her. Not only was she able to learn about the industry but also see how “fundamental principles of math like addition, multiplication and measurements come into play. She is now hoping to develop a children’s clothing line because of the mentorship.”
Neumann says used to lay in bed at night and worry (#relatable), but no longer does. She’s channeled those fears into a solution for not only her kids, but ours as well. And, now, instead of nightmares, she wakes with passion.
WeGrow is currently accepting applications for their founding class.