A Business History of Enki Education
This month, July 2014, Enki Education is making a major shift in direction, with the closing of our homeschooling program. This has raised many questions and we thought it would be useful to share the Enki business history to shed light on what brought us to this point, and on the direction we are looking to find new ways to bring Enki to families and schools.
Enki is a 501 (c) (3), independent, non profit organization, run by the Director, Associate Directors, and Enki Board of Directors. The Enki Leadership Council, comprised of parents who have been with Enki for many years (described further below) serve an advisory role to the Directors. We all work together, along with parents, to bring this education into the world.
In a nut shell, Enki grew out of parent requests of Beth, in response to her vision of education for peace. Since, from the beginning, the driving force was bringing this education to children, parents, and teachers, our focus was always on the education and not the viability of the business. Over the years we have come to see that, just as all aspects of the web must work together in the education, so too, the business must be a vibrant and contributing part of the whole and work within the principles of the Enki Web or ecosystem.
From day one Enki has been a primarily volunteer organization, and all research and writing work has been done on a volunteer basis. For the first 5 years all work was donated in full. For the next 10 years, half of all work was donated, and half done for deferred pay which has not yet begun to be reimbursed. Until July 2014 all work done by paid staff (Directors and support staff) wais paid in part now, with part deferred, and part donated (in about equal thirds). This does not include tech work (as no one would do it under those conditions), which is all paid in full, per job.
This was not intended to be a longterm structure, and over the years we have consulted with business management experts in the non-profit arena and, at their urging and that of others, attempted to work with a varitey of cummunity-involvement structures to balance the situation.
As of July 2014 it became clear that the current structure was not a viable and none of the community involvement structures were successful. We, therefore, moved to a structure where all work done will be paid for, which, in turn, neccessitated the closing of Enki Homeschooling. We are currently looking for other avenues, such as classes and consultations, to continue to bring the Enki vision to families and teachers.
Detailed posts on the history of Enki, and the history of parent suggestions in Enki can be found below.
More Detailed Overview of the Business:
In 1991, having seen Beth's work with children and the vision she was unfolding, a group of parents asked that she start a school with her unique approach. Enki began in response that request and with it, the Shambhala School and the Enki Teacher Training, both in Halifax NS, began. The notion from the beginning was that Enki would start paying its staff (Beth, Blake, and Christina) when the school was on its feet. Until such time all money went to expenses and the school teachers' salaries.
For the first 4 years there were no written materials, just the training. This was, in large part out of concern that, once written, Enki would become dogmatised. As we grew, people needed and requested more support so the initial guides were written, but only for those who had done the training. Then other people asked (persistently) for those. We resisted releasing them because of the hardening that the written word alone stirs, but eventually gave in to the repeated requests.
We resisted creating resource materials for another 5 years out of concern that people would mistake the support material for the heart of Enki. Then, because people were burning out trying to reinvent the wheel and because it is hard to go from vision to reality with no support materials, we developed the resource books- but we were still concerned about these being misleading, leading people to mistake content support and suggestions for the heart of the work. Finally, in response to parent need and requests, we added the Instruction Manuals - and we were that much more concerned about rigidity taking root. All the way, we have held concern that once one offers materials, people mistake that for the heart of the approach and a lot of "shoulds"" and dogma is the result – encapsulated in the common use of the phrase “not Enki enough.”
So selling materials was not the goal or the impulse through which we began Enki. Since our original focus was on bringing the education to schools, we all thought that the schools would grow enough to support the work done by Enki Central. We all assumed the lack of pay would last a couple of years and we were willing to put in that time for the sake of bringing Enki to birth. But we learned, repeatedly, that schools never feel they are on their feet and after 4 years, we brought in management consultants to look for ways to make it all more viable.
The management consultants had ideas, most of which we tried without success. This cycle continued through 4 business consultants, 3 Charter School Proposals, and 2 more Enki schools - with never enough money to pay the Enki staff at all.
During this time we also worked with 4 fundraisers (2 experienced Enki parents, and 2 paid professional fundraisers). The conclusion of all consultants and fundraisers, after a great deal of work on their parts and expense on our part, was that Enki is not viable as a “business’ in today’s definition of that term. They, and the Enki leadership (directors and board), also felt that it was not in anyone's interest for the faculty to work for free and that it was important that a significant part of work time be considered as deferred payment. We moved to that structure with all work done in the first 5 years seen as a donation, and much of the payment for the next 10 years earmarked as deferred, (one third viewed as a donation and two thirds as deferred). For the last 6 years, all faculty were paid for 1/3 of their work, 1/3 payment is deferred, and 1/3 is donated. Each of the faculty works a very different amount of time, but the time paid remains proportional as does the pay rate. As of July 2014 all work done for Enki will be paid for; hence the closing of Enki homeschooling. It appears that deferred payments will, of neccessity become donated time.
In an effort to move to a financially viable structure, we brought in two additional experts in the non-profit arens and the Program model was born. This has not been successful, necessitating the closing of Enki Homeschooling.
Suggestions from the management team and Enki parents included the above, and:
- making schools pay in dues (we tried but it never worked);
- cutting back materials so that the price reflected industry standard on mark up (that would undermine Enki as that would mean 2-3 smaller books, rather than 10 - 15, and nothing else in a package - no audio-visual support or song CD's);
- raising the price to the industry standard (8 times individual production would be about $2400 per package – so out of reach of most families; i.e. a “no go”);
- running Enki as an online teacher education program (only now is there the video conferencing capability for this to make sense and we hope to begin trying it out next year);
- include video demonstrations, particularly as no one else does (did this, and it made no difference to sales and though useful to families, caused a greater financial and work time loss for Enki);
- selling online digital books (tried and lost $11,000 on that as the current systems cannot deal with the complexity that IS Enki);
- reselling second hand books to lower cost (tried and found the checking each page and replacing and updating as needed was far more costly and a waste of important creative time for Enki central);
- work with an SEO company to get us better marketing (did and lost $10,000, then we did it ourselves through a paid ad on mothering.com and got Enki to page 3);
- work more with charter schools as they have more money (we have - several times - and they all don't feel they have the money to invest in ongoing mentoring and training, and they are looking for financial deals).
- raising the price of materials to market top (which we did).
- movement to a program system with digital materials (explored this and found the start up costs are high, and discussed issues of use of Enki in a digital format with parents and felt it an unwise direction to go, given that the same start up costs would be incurred, as would be with the Program model.
- movement to a program system, including leasing of materials which would be spiral bound to simplify the rechecking.
The fundraisers all concluded that schools, and not curriculum companies like Enki, get grants. And, further, that our curriculum is too far ahead of its time to get even a second look by foundations. They all felt it not worth pursuing - and we were down $7000 for that information.
Production of Materials:
Some have asked why, with such costly materials, providing Enki Homeschooling depends on so much volunteer help and the cooperation of the full community in the CBE policies. This is a straightforward situation with 4 elements: 1) the sheer amount of material; 2) the nature of ground breaking material, 3) the small size of the group we serve; and, 4) the standard cost of running a business.
- Because Enki is such a profoundly different approach to education, we have found that teachers (whether at home or in the classroom) need detailed guidance and accessible resource materials to support their work. This means that we provide a lot of material and all books are sold for 1/4 the mark up considered the industry standard (you can see this in that you get more than 10 times as much material in an Enki package as you do in a package from Live Education).
- Enki resources are unique and ground breaking and involve many, many cultures; they are not a repackaging of materials that are already on the market. As a result, the time and care it takes to develop and authenticate them is phenomenal.
- Though the homeschooling group was a lively and engaged one, in business terms, we have a very small community to whom we sell and even a small number of people not honoring their purchase agreements (as happened in 2014) has a devastating impact.
The nature of running a business is that it usually takes 50% of the net for operating expenses (after the hard costs of production of each package); this is industry standard. This means that, for example, for a $700 package, about $300 goes to hard costs for the materials a given person receives (not including the costs of the original writing etc.), and of the remaining $400, $200 goes to operating expenses exclusive of salaries (we run under the norm on this closer to 35% than 50% or about $150). That leaves $250 per package to pay for the administrative and consultation work. At the numbers we sell, this covers under half the time that actually goes into this. So half this work and all of the original research and writing for each book had been done as donated time. That could not continue and so, sadly, it was necessary to close Enki Homeschooling.