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Spotlight On: Ivy House CEO Kate Lander

Updated: Apr 9, 2021

As Part Of: Digital Education Awards 2020 Winners Interview Series

Written by Louise Gookey | Published: 8th April 2021

Photo Credit: Ivy House Award

Ivy House London’s mission is to change how the world develops talent. They provide transformational personal and professional development at a time when it is needed most, and aim to turn the talent of today into the leaders of tomorrow. In 2020, they won Breakthrough Product of the Year at the inaugural Digital Education Awards.

CEO Kate Lander is responsible for the strategic direction of Ivy House and the development and education sectors including overseeing the development of digital solutions for many global banks. Kate is a qualified accountant and chartered financial analyst and is also a non-executive director of OfS, the government regulator for universities. Our journalist Louise Gookey sat down with Kate on Zoom to talk all about her career, Ivy House, and the future of digital education.


Can you tell us about Ivy House London?

We are a group of experts in life and leadership development. We view ourselves, not as an alternative to traditional education, but as something that helps glue it all together. For example, we are big fans of young people working towards their exams, but to help them make the most of these, we want to help them make informed decisions that are relevant to them.

When heading to University, students often focus on ‘what they are going to study’, but it’s also important that someone knows what the best environment is for them as well. For example, is it a campus university or a town based university. It really is about how they can get the best out of themselves and how they can live their most extraordinary lives.

As an organisation, we work with two key markets, schools and corporate organisations around the world. We deliver a range of content and tools around personal and professional development

In our corporate space, we work with people as exciting as Google and The Economist and in the school space we’ve got the whole spectrum, at one end we’ve got Eton College, and then we also work with some of the schools in the most deprived parts of this country.

Can you tell us about your involvement in Ivy House?

I’ve been CEO for almost three years, prior to that I had quite a varied career. I started out as an accountant, it was a classic case of being good at maths at school, so you end up in finance. However, I never took the time to consider ‘what’ environment was best for me, where I would excel and this is something we focus on at Ivy House.

I spent time as a trainer before moving back into banking and becoming an MD. This was the first time I got personal development training, and I was over the age of 40. Through that personal journey I realised that although I was good at my job it was actually making me quite unhappy. I decided to move back to education, which was always a passion of mine, I then met Elke Edwards, the founder of Ivy House, we had similar views on personal development and started working together.

25 years on, I am still seeing young people coming into the city just because they were good at maths or economics, but not really understanding themselves. As a result, they pick the wrong environments to work in. For example, choosing a career as a trader or an analyst, it suits two completely different types of people. I saw so many brilliant young people ending up in the wrong place and feeling that they had failed.

We want to help young people understand themselves better and to go on to do amazing things.

I think this will resonate with a lot of people, especially during lockdown when we have had a chance to step back and reflect.

I think you’re right, I think a lot of people have welcomed the chance to press pause and get off that treadmill. We have got to know ourselves better and have realised what we miss and what we don’t. Our corporate clients are becoming aware that young people are going to have to take more ownership of what they’re doing as we continue to work in a more remote world.

Leadership always starts with self-leadership; you can never lead others authentically unless you’re leading yourself effectively and in a world where we are more remote, that ability to understand and lead yourself is going to become even more critical.

“We want to help young people understand themselves better and to go on to do amazing things.”

How do you see digital education developing after lockdown?

I hope they take the best of what was happening before lockdown and some of the progression we have made during lockdown.

Technology has changed the way we learn and consume but formal education has not caught up. There has been this transformational shift and I think the younger generations have really suffered because how they learn as humans is different to how they learn within education. So my hope is that these two things come together.

That being said, I don’t want to see digital learning replacing face-to-face learning, I strongly believe there is a time and a place for both. I hope we take the things that have made us learn more effectively and use that in education.

So do you believe a blended approach is the way forward?

I think the world has realised that learning places, whether it be schools, universities or corporate learning spaces, are not just about passing exams, it is about creating a community, creating a place of interaction, creating a place of experiences. We do still need to transfer content and measure that, and digital is a great way of doing this, but we should also be bringing people together for that community, interaction and sharing of experiences.

That is very much what our schools program is based on - we have a digital program for where the content sits, and then we deploy that into schools with facilitators bringing people together for discussion groups and creating a community.

Where we can leverage technology and leverage digital, let’s do so, because with digital you have access to the best in the world, but teachers know their students and how they work so we must allow them to continue the brilliant work they do.

With that in mind what are your business growth plans for 2021 and moving forward?

Our mission is to bring the two parts of our business together, corporations need to help schools understand what they need and then to be part of that education.

At the start of March 2020 we were largely a face-to-face training business, when the world changed we took a long hard look and decided we would only go to virtual training if we could do it better. We never wanted to compromise what we did, and so we spent five months rebuilding our programs and we re-launched using technology.

We are focused on pulling together the best of both worlds when we return to ‘normality’.

We have also started to go global. Over the last year we have been running some pilot groups and one of our programs saw us run a totally global cohort across 24 countries, we will be focusing on expanding that.

We have also got a new project launching called ‘The Future Leaders Project’ which is a free initiative that we’ve created largely because of what happens in the world. It’s fully digital and focused around guidance and career support for young people.

We have a free resources platform containing interviews with young leaders which includes debates, talks on how companies are structured and also helping them understand what’s the right environment for them to work in.

Then we then have a virtual conference for the winners of our ‘Future Leaders of the Year’ competition.

There was a report from UCAS stating that because of the decisions people make at school, they eliminate two out of five of the careers that they would like to go onto, which is scary. We need to help them understand the consequences of the choices that they make.

There is some really brilliant research out there by Bright Network which asked employers to list what skills they want from potential employees, and it also asked students to list what skills they think employees want. The list was literally reversed, so there is a complete mismatch between them.

“Leadership always starts with self-leadership; you can never lead others authentically unless you’re leading yourself effectively.”

Does Ivy House London have any purpose projects that are helping underprivileged people to access education?

We have always offered scholarships on our programmes and one of the reasons we do that is about bringing brilliant diversity to our programmes.

We have two big initiatives in place at the moment, the first is what we called ‘The Fair Chance’ funding project where we work with corporate’s to fund and sponsor schools to do the awards program. We launched it at the end of last year when Covid was at its peak and very quickly the brilliant NatWest bank fully funded 15 schools to go through the award. The hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life was to pick which 15 schools we went for. NatWest was very clear on some of their objectives, they have a big drive around developing communities and having a reach across the whole country, including areas of low social mobility.

We also work with ‘Schmidt Family Foundation’, with Eric Schmidt. Eric and his wife Wendy set up a fund to promote and support amazing talent from some of the most deprived backgrounds across the world.

We have been working on the ‘Rise Program’ where we have had 29 delegates from 24 different countries. We are using digital to connect these groups of young people and helping them to step away from their lives right now and to develop their huge potential. We are always looking for partners who can help us bring our content to the people who could benefit from it.

Are there any technology trends that are having an impact on digital education at the moment?

I think from a digital education perspective we need to look at how people choose to learn in their own time and incorporate that into the education system. Alongside this, personalised learning will be important moving forward. A great example of this is the ‘Couch to 5K’ app, it has been hugely successful because it is personalised and adapts to you.

I also believe VR is going to be the next big thing, both for a cost perspective, but also the experiences and experiential learning it can bring. I think there is an opportunity for us to bring that into education. Also video, it’s an oldie but a goodie, the combination of using the best in digital data to personalise and then mixing it up with video interaction.

“We have always offered scholarships on our programs and one of the reasons we do that is about bringing brilliant diversity to our programs.”

Where are you in your global business plan?

Probably ahead of where we thought we would be, having the ability to go global has accelerated our plans.

In the corporate world we have always had global delegates physically come to our programs, but by switching to virtual, they can send more people on these programs.

We are also in a brilliant time zone, so we can hold programs in the morning and have people from Asia joining and in the afternoon with people from America. As a result we’ve been able to expand and serve global corporate clients more effectively.

With schools, we continue to work with people. We have been lucky enough to run pilot groups in America when the schools were shut and which has taught us that the younger generations are totally ready for development. They embrace the digital more, and they don’t have barriers up, we think our programs should be available to any young person anywhere in the world.

For more information about Ivy House, visit their website. The 2021 Digital Education Awards are now open for entry - find out more here.


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