I’m Back! (Even Though You Didn’t Know I Was Gone)

Fueling Growth, Truth and Purpose

Twenty years ago, in a Philosophy of education class I was taking while doing my undergrad as a future High School teacher, I decided that I would open a school that would radically change the way we educate our children. It would be a school where self-directed, collaborative and experiential learning is encouraged, far different from the dominant schooling model. But how could I fund that dream?

The idea for Braindate came right after I finished my master’s in education, where I had focused on building the pedagogical model of my future alternative school. It was in 2008, and that meant first building my social enterprise, and coming back to my school idea when my children-to-be would be school-aged. e180 and its signature product, eventually called Braindate, were born.

Creating La Cabane: A Space for Learning and Community

Fast forward to 2017. While playing with my daughter Nora at the park, we met Jeanne and her mama, Sophie Duchastel de Montrouge, the lady with a princess name that would become my sister, my co-mama, and my partner in revolution. Our girls were 2 years old at the time, and after Sophie and I unsuccessfully tried to fit our dream into the boxes of the grueling school permits system in Quebec, it became clear that our daughters didn’t need a school.

They rather needed a space where they could lead meaningful lives, rooted in play, compassion and active citizenship. Our families decided to join the world’s millions of homeschooling families, just as the pandemic hit. We quickly realized that there was a crying need for other families who had chosen this pedagogical approach to come together as a community in order to enrich their family’s educational experience, to assert their rights and ultimately to inspire a transformation of contemporary education.

This is especially true for families for whom homeschooling is not a choice, but rather a last resort decision. Many of the families who access our services have chosen to homeschool because they have encountered barriers to accessing a positive and accessible education in the current education system, specifically for their children with special needs. The seed for La Cabane, a creative learning space for families, was starting to grow.

La Cabane, fabrique familiale

Designing La Cabane’s Creative Space

Alongside the founding children of La Cabane and our designer Bruno Braën, Sophie and I dreamed our ideal space which would be radically welcoming of children, offering them a physical experience completely adapted to their needs. It would be exciting for parents, inviting them to drop their barriers, and be inspired to immerse themselves in the creativity inherent to childhood. The layout of the furniture would encourage interactions between families and the creation of a sense of community. The space would be intriguing, leading us to believe that anything is possible.

The result: after nearly 4 years of work, one of it being full-time for me as I took a sabbatical from Braindate in 2022, La Cabane is now a registered charity and a thriving community space, offering programming both for homeschooling families during the weekdays and for all families on the weekend.

La Cabane workshop

We converted a former bank into a 6000 sq. ft. creative space dedicated to families, combining a gigantic disco ball perfect for our Sunday dance parties, a creative coffee shop, workshop spaces, and a kitchen designed for children, where young and old can learn while creating.

Our next major project: transforming the parking lot into a into a carbon-neutral space offering both 2700 sq ft of urban agriculture and play space on the green rooftops, and 6000 m2 of affordable indoor space that will accommodate 3 to 5 new community and cultural organizations, enhancing the meager supply of cultural and social activities for marginalized families in our neighborhood.

Returning to Braindate and Reflecting on its Mission

Sooooo, the Board of La Cabane is growing stronger and stronger, a wonderful Executive Director has been hired, Sophie is brillant: it is time for me to come home to my Braindate team and dream, fully recharged and inspired! Huge thanks to Sylvain, Patricia, Alex, Claire and Brudis who held the fort while I was busy building not-a-school! 🙂

During this sabbatical, I have been thinking a lot about what I set out to do with Braindate since its beginning, which is to allow every human being to live a more fulfilling, connected and ultimately happy life by learning from other human beings. 

Since 2008, my dream has been to connect humans with the conversations they need to fuel their growth, their truth and their purpose. With over one million users in 187 countries, while still being in control of 100% of our shares, one could say that the team has moved nicely in the direction of that dream. And with the launch of Braindate Everyday last year, we are now offering organizations to guide them and support them in turning their workplace into a learnplace where team members are learning in the flow of work (more on that to come!), which is definitely a game changer in terms of our impact.

A couple of weeks after my return, Julius Solaris, one of the most influential thinkers in the event ecosystem, said about Braindate on Linkedin:

“Your platform doesn’t get nearly enough credit and traction it should have. It’s the best effort at content driven networking we have in the industry.”

Reading that comment was bitter-sweet for me. On the one hand, coming from someone who built a career around the event industry’s new technologies and best practices, it was flattering to read! But on the other hand, Julius is right. I know wholeheartedly that Braindate (that is, the combination of our technology and caring team) changes lives. So why aren’t we more widely known?

Sharing Our Learnings and Being Brave

One reason is that we decided early on not to raise venture capital, in order to keep control over our mission and direction. Hence, we don’t have the marketing budget of other “networking solutions” of the industry. But there is something else.

My colleague Marie-Gil mentioned to me recently how inspired she was by the leadership of JR Sherman, Rainfocus’ CEO, who went on stage during their latest event to openly discuss the strategies and failures that led them to their outstanding success. My dear friend Jenny Glazer asked me, last September while we were brunching at C2 Montréal, why I don’t have a podcast or a blog to share all of our learnings.

The reason is simple: I prefer to let our work speak for itself. But it recently hit me. I realized that I am doing my team and other humans that could benefit so much from our expertise a huge disservice. I’m just the same as some of our users who think they have nothing special to share, while they are sitting on a pile of golden mistakes, big and small wins, special ways of thinking/doing/behaving, that could be invaluable for other folks facing similar opportunities or challenges.

So I decided to do what I tell my daughters and be brave. 🙂 I’ll share more, even if I feel self-conscious and terrified to come off as braggy, or irrelevant, or everything-else-that-can-justify-that-I-choose-to-hide. But just as I’m excited to be back at Braindate and focus with our team on what truly matters to bring our impact to millions more humans, I’m excited to take a chance personally, and go all in for our dream. It’s our time.

Engaging in Meaningful Conversations and Building Connections

If you are curious to engage in conversations around fun stuff such as “helping other humans to grow”, “creating thriving communities”, “learnplaces” and “what it means to do business our own way as women & why it matters” and why not “witches in business”, join me by following me on Linkedin and let’s have a blast. 🤘

See you soon, on LinkedIn or in a braindate somewhere in the world (starting with San Diego, if you happened to be at Workhuman Live next week)!

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