Imagine a world in which children are not only taught reading, writing, and arithmetic, but also to value other human beings, the importance of kindness, to recognize their emotions, and develop pro-social abilities at an early age.
Why do we focus on wrote learning and less on helping children build resilience, empathy, and critical thinking skills?
Because, it’s during our earliest years that we learn our most important lessons in life. Lessons that will shape our values, how we engage with society, and lay the foundation of who we will become in our later years.
This is the ninth and final interview style episode of our debut season, and we are going out with a bang, a double feature, in fact. Today, I’m talking with not one, but two of the leaders behind Think Equal, an evidence-based, early years education program designed to help foster socio-emotional learning, critical thinking, and key interpersonal skills in young people.
In the first half, I talk with Leslee Udwin, the founder and executive chair of Think Equal. We spoke about her groundbreaking human rights film, India’s Daughter, and the discoveries she made through the journey of making that film, how culture could make people lose their humanity, and the realization that early education was needed to help build a future where gender-based crimes were no longer rationalized or normalized in society.
At times, our talk does touch upon some unsettling experiences Leslee went through while researching and producing the film, and includes discussion of violence against women. Whilst these experiences have ultimately acted as a catalyst for social good, some listeners may find the early part of our episode unsettling, in which case, feel free to skip forward.
The second half of this episode is with Lina Benete, the new CEO of Think Equal. Whilst Leslee provided the history and ongoing positive impact of the organization, Lina and I take a forward-looking focus discussing the future of education, the role of digital technology in the classroom, AI, and much more.
The duo you’re about to hear from complement each other perfectly. Leslee is one of the most spirited, impassioned, and articulate individuals I’ve ever spoken with. Her conviction and dedication toward helping people, especially young people, is unmistakable, as is her relentless energy and commitment to positive change.
Lina brings a remarkable list of achievements, worldly knowledge, and an appreciation for both historical, modern, and emerging education methods, all of which inform her strategic vision for Think Equal. Along the way, my guests and I talk about the impact of the program, both in terms of individual and societal benefits, the importance of empathy, the values that make us uniquely human, and why we should strive for balance in our lives.
Whether you’re a parent, educator, learner, or someone who’d appreciate living in a safer and healthier society, this is an episode that hits on so many levels.
Topics we cover
Part one with Leslee Udwin:
- The story of Leslee Udwin
- Her film, India’s Daughter
- What inspired her to start Think Equal
- Challenging cultural norms
- Working with the United Nations
- Her favourite part of the job
- What’s a modern remedy for today’s challenges?
Part two with Lina Benete:
- Her journey to becoming CEO
- Global organisations she’s worked with
- What she’s learned working with international orgs
- The importance of traditional learning methodologies
- The future of education and the role of AI
- What she’s been learning
- What’s a modern remedy for today’s challenges?
Changemakers in this episode
My first guest is Leslee Udwin, an award-winning filmmaker and human rights champion in every sense of the word. After finding success with several impactful film and television projects, including the docu-drama, Who Bombed Birmingham (which helped overturn multiple life sentences for those wrongly accused of the 1974 Birmingham pub bombings), and East is East, winner of multiple awards, including a BAFTA, European and British Independent Film Award, just to name a few accolades. It was Leslee’s powerful and critically acclaimed documentary, India’s Daughter, which told the difficult, tragic, and important story of a young woman’s unjust demise at the hands of sexual abuseers back in 2012 that is pivotal to today’s interview.
Leslee’s experience of making the film, specifically the revelations of systemic cultural bias and themes of injustice, flamed her ambitions to address these pressing social issues, becoming the seed from which Think Equal was born.
In part two, I speak with another important figure at the organisation, and that’s their new CEO, Lina Benete. With over 20 years experience in education strategy development, program design, and leadership of teams in education context the world over, plus time at both UNESCO, the World Bank, and the Global Partnership for Education, there’s seemingly no one better position to help guide Think Equal, its facilitators, and most importantly, its young cohort of students into the future.
That’s what this second part of the conversation is all about. With the Leslie, we explore the formation of Think Equal, the core mission and the factors that led to the creation of the organization, and the company’s ongoing social impact. Then, Lina and I pivot to focus not only on the here and now, but also where the program might be headed in the future.