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Ed. Magazine

One on One with Christine Renaud

Christine Renaud

christine_renaud.jpgChristine Renaud, Ed.M.'07, remembers her teenage years well, complete with all the challenges and complications that age implies. "It was a fight: me against 'the system,' and I was not going to lose," she recalls of a time when making her point was a bit more important to her than making good grades. But when, at 18, Renaud spent two months in Guatemala teaching English, her whole perspective changed. "I decided that education was the most efficient way to create multiplying agents of values that had become dear to my heart: solidarity, social justice, and human rights for all," she says. "But now it was me in front of them: me representing authority, me enforcing rules I didn't really believe in, me playing the teacher. This feeling of discomfort brought me to wonder about another way of educating, another way of understanding human potential development."

This revelation propelled Renaud through college and to the Ed School, where she says she discovered she had so much more to learn. And her learning continues as CEO and cofounder of E-180, a website, blog, and soon-to-be mentoring portal, where anyone seeking to expand their learning without formality can be matched with a mentor on any topic for free.

How did E-180 begin?
E-180 came out of necessity. My work visa was up (I am Québécoise) and I had to leave the United States unless I found a sponsor. I had been an entrepreneur all my life, and I was ready to start my own thing. That meant going back to Montreal, where I could get financial support to create a social enterprise. I was thinking about an education-related media venture: educational documentary production company, a publishing house, an educational marketing company -- all meant to promote the values behind democratic education.

What finally sparked the idea?
As I was investigating the type of grants I could get for an educational media company, I fell on Facebook's grant for the creation of new Facebook applications. I thought, "So many people on Facebook, so much knowledge, such a culture of sharing. What if people were aware of what their friends know, and could learn it from them?" Even though I never applied for the grant, E-180 was born. We believe that education doesn't have to be institutionalized and that the Internet provides amazing tools to help us to find mentors to help us jumpstart our learning in any field, with one single meeting.

The E-180 website uses the term "social entrepreneur." What does it mean to be a social entrepreneur?
There are as many definitions of social entrepreneurship as there are social entrepreneurs. For me, a social entrepreneur is someone who tackles an issue affecting the common good by creating a new initiative. Just as your typical entrepreneur identifies a market and a product to alleviate the "pain" of its prospective clients, a social entrepreneur prioritizes social return over profit as her measure of success.

And why is "consensual education," another term used, so important?
Consensual education is important because there is no other way to learn. Education is a relationship, and a relationship where consent is absent is oppressive. ... Education can only happen where mutual respect and trust exist between the parties involved, and it's an everlasting process of negotiation. It is based on the teacher knowing the personal goals of a student and committing to them, and the student trusting that the teacher is a guide who has her best interests in mind.

How have you been getting the word out?
Even in the online media world, I wholeheartedly believe that communities are best created by meeting with people, listening to their needs and comments, being attentive to their reactions, and adapting your offer. Viral publicity is certainly a tool, but with all the noise present online, it is not enough. That's why we've been guest speakers at many conferences and paid many beers and coffees to talk about E-180 and hear what people have to say about it.

Our podcasts, Twitter, and the blog have also served us tremendously. They serve as a permanent presence that people can refer to once the beer is gone. It also allows us to hear what the community has to say on a daily basis. That's one of the most fascinating things about the Web: the amount of information people share out of caring for an ideal.

Once the portal is launched, how exactly will it work?
We are still developing the portal, and I want to save some surprises for our users! But the big idea behind E-180 is a matchmaking website where people can jumpstart their learning by finding and meeting great mentors. As I mentioned before, we believe education is a relationship, where everyone can contribute to the learning of others.

Give me a real-life scenario.
Martin just got a MacBook after being a PC user for all his life. He wants to learn how to fully utilize the different functions and shortcuts a Mac has to offer. Ghassene is a Mac employee and a Mac aficionado. After finding Ghassene on E-180 and viewing his profile to make sure he has good ratings as a mentor, Martin contacts Ghassene with the tools provided by E-180. Ghassene can then evaluate if Martin is an active member of the community, if he teaches sometimes or just takes from the community without ever giving back. They like each other's profiles, so they meet for two hours, during which Ghassene shows Martin tips to use his Mac to its fullest potential. While chatting, Ghassene realizes Martin is Mexican and speaks Spanish: he connects him with his girlfriend about to leave for Mexico, who wants to learn some basic Spanish.

These meetings already happen informally everywhere: I basically learned everything I know about entrepreneurship and online media by chatting with people over lunches. E-180 just creates an easy way for people to access and find great mentors and to create a community around the passion for knowledge sharing.

Tell me about your other venture
ArtAnywhere is a Web portal connecting visual artists with individuals and businesses interested in renting art. More than an online gallery, ArtAnywhere is social enterprise that aims to create worldwide communities striving to ease accessibility to the arts. We help emerging artists to develop their entrepreneurial skills so they can make a great living out of their art. Second, we provide the tools for the "emerging collectors" to develop their own sense of aesthetics and their ability to navigate the field of the arts.

If you were to create a mentor profile on E-180, what would you teach?
People often come to me to ask about the process of starting up a new project, alternative education, social entrepreneurship, social media, and "life coaching." What they don't know is that I can actually cook without any recipe and whistle whole songs, harmonies included.

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