Case Studies

The Business of Sustainable Education

May 17, 2019 1:09:29 PM

After spotting a gap in the sustainability education market, Lesley used her passion for horticulture, tutoring and the environment to create her own business, Eco-Educate.  With guidance from her mentor, Linda Norris, Lesley has used her skills to work with pre-schools and schools, helping to increase the level of learning around sustainability.  Since joining BMNZ, her business has not just grown – “it has flown”.

“You can’t get to the top of Mount Everest in one mighty leap – you need Sherpas and oxygen and then you can knock the bugger off. Business Mentors is my oxygen.”

So says Lesley Ottey - horticulturist, tutor, keen environmentalist and a woman paving new pathways – both for her business and for the environment.

Eighteen months on from signing up with national business mentoring programme Business Mentors New Zealand, Lesley says her Eco-Educate business has not just grown – “it has flown”.

This year she beat 58 other businesses taking out second place in the People’s Choice section of the North Canterbury Business Awards as well as winning the ECAN sponsored Environmental Step Change Awards.

And last year, just six months into her partnership with business mentor Linda Norris, she was successful in securing her first tender – “an 83-page beast of a document – a real biggie”.

That contract with the Ashburton District Council allows her to spread her skills wide, taking her sustainability messages and workshops to 125 schools, pre-schools and high schools, as well as within the community, throughout the Mid Canterbury District.

But her story could have had a very different ending.

Lesley Ottey was at her lowest point and almost ready to throw in the towel on her sustainability education business the day she met her mentor.

After eight years successfully teaching sustainability through workshops and primary and secondary school assessments, Lesley had that morning taken a severe blow when “out of the blue” she lost a huge contract.

“I seriously thought about throwing it all in.”

Lesley says she was feeling so down, her mentor would have been well within her rights to say no and put her in the “too-hard” basket.

But instead, Linda sat her down, listened to what had happened and encouraged her to get professional advice before she went any further, “which was extremely useful”, Lesley says.

“I needed to decide how I could push forward and identify new opportunities,” she says. “I am certainly now more aware of the importance of robust business contracts, but also how to build business systems and processes to get me on to a path that will stand the test of time.

“While I wouldn’t want to repeat what happened, it was a good learning experience that overall supported my ongoing personal development.”

Lesley started her Edu-Educate business in 2009 after spotting a gap in the sustainability education market when a pre-school teacher asked her if cucumbers grew underground.

Combining her horticulture and adult tutoring skills with her passion for sustainability, Lesley works with pre-schools and schools across North Canterbury, helping increase the level of learning around sustainability, as well as running gardening workshops for community and public health sectors in Christchurch and Timaru.

The past year has been one of growth in many ways. Alongside winning her awards and a new contract, Lesley has gained a wealth of confidence, has hired her first two staff - now working as a “team of three” – has formed a company, upgraded her technology and is looking at further expansion.

“I have so much more in place now – a proper accountant, lawyer, proper contracts – Linda has sharpened and crispened everything up. She has given me her ears, wisdom and installed much-needed confidence in me,“ Lesley says.

“I'm aware of my finances now rather than putting things in the too-hard box and handing everything to my bookkeeper. I'm not just working in the business – I’m working on the business.”

Lesley initially sought Business Mentor advice after a recommendation from a friend and an “almighty push” from her husband.

“I wanted to grow my business and wasn’t sure what to do next and realised I needed outside input and expertise,” she says, admitting that one of her key weaknesses was seeking help, so actually asking for advice was one major hurdle ticked off.

She says being able to let go of some of her workload by entrusting others with the expertise to do the job has been the biggest “head shift” for her.

“Kiwis think that we have to do everything, but I realise now that I don’t need to learn everything – it’s better for me to do what I do really well and to contract other people to do what they do well.”

While winning the awards was a huge boost to her confidence, Lesley says her biggest award is the success she has working with children, seeing their dedication and enthusiasm to make changes for their future and then watching them pass that message on to the adults.

Linda feels privileged to have worked alongside Lesley and see her grow in confidence and mindset and quickly achieve her clear-set businesses goals.

“She has confronted a problem and quickly turned it around into an opportunity, which just shows what a business can achieve with the right encouragement and support,” she says.

Lesley will continue her journey with her business mentor, treasuring their catch-ups and Linda’s “wonderful common sense, wisdom and expertise”.

Lesley’s three key takeaway tips
1: Get help
2: Explore funded opportunities through councils etc
3: Always carry business cards; you never know who you will cross paths with

Topics: Case Studies