Aigerim Khafizova is a co-founder and CEO at Edgravity, an education tech company from Kazakhstan.

EdGravity

Edgravity develops original digital content for lifetime learners. It helps youth and adults to maximize their potential, prepare for the future of work, maintain a meaningful and mindful workstyle, build resilience for the jobs of the future, and stay human in the age of digitalization. In today’s job market, there’s no such thing as being “done” with your education. It’s a lifetime process, and Edgravity wants to make it enjoyable.

A little background story about how we met to make things clear. I (Lunara) had a chance to virtually meet her when my dear friend invited me to participate in the Lean In Shymkent community during the quarantine period. Aigerim was a guest speaker for one of the sessions. After our interactive call with her, I felt like I needed to talk to her more and share her story here with you, in Headapreneur.  During our conversation, we found out a lot of funny coincidences and shared interests. Like same hometown, area of education, and big love for learning and travelling. I felt immense radiant energy coming from her and pure desire to make a positive impact. I believe she is an inspiring leader and game-changer of our time. Read below to know more 🙂

For the past 10 years, Aigerim has been working in the field of education, and for 5 years in the field of technology globally and locally. In the government, business, start-ups which all brought to the point where she decided to start a company.

Personally, I also see this as my own mission as well as to guide people in this journey. What inspires me is solving different things. I love learning and I think learning is what helps me to be balanced, find a job, be promoted, or start a business. If you can learn, you get inspired every day. You find inspiration everywhere: in cinema, music, science, technology, business. By all these aspects of life.

How do you learn?

I approach the learning process strategically

  • Professor Anders Ericsson in his book “Peak” argues that in order to master a skill, one need to set a clear specific goal. 
  • Second, you should focus on learning, which means you need to organize your practice. For example, say you are learning Digital Marketing (DM). If your energy is highest in the morning, set aside uninterrupted time before noon to sit and focus on learning DM. 
  • Third, immediate feedback – from your mentors, colleagues. At Edgravity, we pay immense attention to the teaching process and our students have an option of getting personalized feedback from instructors. 
  • And the fourth, frequent discomfort or in other words stepping out of your comfort zone. Say, you are learning DM, you can’t always learn, you need to embark on launching campaigns, revamping strategies  – you need to get your hands dirty. At Edgarvity, especially with skills-based courses, we combine both theory and practice, and learners work on various projects to hone their skills. For example, at Design thinking and Storytelling course learners design their projects, at Personal Branding course students have to reach out to famous people and go live on Instagram. 

In my personal learning practice, I apply the same 4 principles.

In addition, I usually identify 1-2 areas for learning and I try to spend time on each one of them during the 3-6 months period. Currently, I am exploring: Product development, Software Architecture, Digital Marketing, Learning Sciences, and Business, but I am focused on learning sciences and business. I usually make a list of online courses and books on each of the areas and devote at least 30 min per day for my studies.

For those of you who are struggling to organize their learning process, I recommend participating in a free 7-day challenge based on a course “Learning how to learn” by professor Barbara Oakley available on our website: edgravity.com, that we developed together with our partner academia.kz and professor Barbara Oakley herself.

Why Edgravity?

I want to rethink how we should learn. We create in-demand skills with top industry experts in the world on various topics on how to prepare people for future work. We help them reskill and excel at work and life. As well, I believe by 2025 we want to rethink the way people learn. Make education enjoyable, make it fun, and profound at the same time, applying a holistic approach to learning. It’s not just about your brain. It’s about your body, your mind. It’s not just about digitally skilled, but you as a holistically who you are as a human being. We want to be a part of that story.

EdGravity

Definition of online education by Aigerim

Program or learning experience, journey for student that helps a student to bring from point A to point B. In terms of format it can be anything: from audio to video to live webinars. It depends more on the business model of the organization. This experience should be enjoyable and could be in different ways. On your own or you can be a part of a certain batch and instructor. More importantly, for me, it’s a quality part. When we create courses, it’s not just a camera and you talk in front of it. It’s a lot of work, it’s like creating a movie. It’s not a repetition of offline learning.

Pandemic’s influence on education

In Kazakhstan, 3.5 million school students started to study online in a couple of days, that’s just crazy. Before you would never enforce people to learn online and now they have to. So it’s already changing. Based on the forecast of education experts, it would be more blended, partially online and partially offline in traditional education, in universities and schools as well. So it won’t be the same anymore in terms of delivery of the content. Even the content might not be relevant anymore, so they have to adapt and prepare students in a different way. 

From the recent webinar I attended, I really liked the professor saying that most probably new generation all of them are gonna have an online learning experience. The reason is that most probably we are gonna have another pandemic very soon. So, people will be ready for that to a certain degree.

In terms of rural areas, there might be many challenges. Kids might watch from one computer or have a computer with pre-recorded content or they will get a device that can give them access to the internet. Based on the experience of other countries, TV involvement might be a good solution. 

Also, besides that, there are so many other issues in rural areas. My sister had a project in a rural area of west Kazakhstan, near Atyrau. Some kids didn’t even have fundamental education: they had issues with sanitary conditions and healthcare. We were teaching them how to wash their hands. I believe, first of all, there are some basic things that need to be changed.

Challenges at work

Pandemic, internet access, education providers. Meanwhile, the culture of learning is not that mature yet. You need to explain to people why you need to study constantly. 

Internal challenges we have every single day. We’ve changed our business model completely during these two months. We cut things which brought us a profit and said we’re not doing it anymore. Certain courses that people wanted before, let’s say a year ago and now have changed. We should look at the economic situation because people can’t afford much nowadays. They are scared, they are losing jobs. Now we want to put more effort into courses that will help to get a job, get opportunities. Get access to new jobs abroad, freelancing. It accelerated this process for us now. Right now we’re thinking how we can help people very fast. 

Work during a pandemic

In the beginning, we’re a bit scared, cause we’ve been waiting for 3 programs to come out: in digital marketing, branding, and Instagram. We counted on them that they will be released in March. But we couldn’t have a production. And our instructors were from different parts: from Moscow, Dubai and Nur-Sultan and we were in Almaty. So three of the productions were postponed. But later on, we figured out how to make it work. 

Right now during the pandemic creating courses takes a lot of time. We have the whole team working on one project: we have production, post-production, team working on content. We’re thinking how we can optimize this process. How can we make it faster? How can we create more courses that people really need, because sometimes you have an assumption people will love this and need it, but actually they don’t. We know our audience well, but you never know how it can be perceived. It’s like launching a movie. 

Creativity helps you everywhere. We recorded many courses without instructor talking. Let’s say we have an instructor from the Middle East. We recorded his voice, we gave him all the instructions and then we connected it all with visuals here in Kazakhstan. With another instructor, we decided not to wait and decided to launch the course live as she is teaching. We will record another part after quarantine. So it’s actually wasn’t a problem for us after all. It was an interesting experience and we figured out how to do it even on the distance.  

Also, we’re growing now and how we can keep our culture. We have a very friendly culture. We don’t have a hierarchy. How can we maintain it while we grow.

How does the organizational culture of Edgravity looks like, what are your values?

Within our team, with our partners, and with our students we rely on the following main principles:

lifelong learning, integrity, creativity, being learner/student-centric, and grit. 

Our Operations Lead Aidana Batyrova very beautifully talks about Edgravity’s culture in a Women in Tech Podcast by Espree Devora. 

Also, we are a very diverse team of engineers, lawyers, finance grads, and social scientists, which makes our culture very multidisciplinary.

How do you find experts?

In most cases, building long term relationships. It’s not one-time thing, it’s more of a commitment. We share financial commitments as well, both parties invest. We know that it’s going to be a journey. Work every day together and think about how we can improve it, how we can market it and etc. In most of the cases, we establish long term relationships with our instructors. For instance, with Yulia Nikitina, who is CMO of Lamoda, we are working on a Digital Marketing course right now. We met in Hong Kong via one common friend I’ve known for five years. We’ve realized we have common values, visions, which helped us to be partners and create a course. 

What is work-life balance for you?

I work a lot, so I’m not sure if I’m the best person to talk about work and life balance. I believe it’s very important to know yourself in a way how your body functions and at what time of the day your brain is most productive. It helps you to be more efficient in your work and also manage your energy. Generally, energy management and body intelligence are so important.

  • Routine. In order to stay sane in this crazy world and not get burnt out, it’s important for me to follow my routine. I usually wake up pretty early. I have certain points like I drink water, do face massage for 5 minutes, have a coffee and then practice ashtanga yoga every day for the last four years. After ashtanga, I feel like I’m ready to communicate with the world. I make gratitude rituals in my journal and then start planning my day. So to start working and face the world I need to prepare myself for a couple of hours. 

Ashtanga yoga involves synchronizing the breath with a progressive series of postures—a process producing intense internal heat and a profuse, purifying sweat that detoxifies muscles and organs. 

From http://www.ashtanga.com/

  • Meditation. Besides that, meditation is something that helps me to feel more grounded. 
  • For me, it’s usually very active physical activities as well. After a busy working day, I dedicate 1-1.5 hour for walking and enter a diffused mode of thinking. It helps me to relax my brain and usually during this time some creative ideas kick in.

Diffused mode of thinking is when we make progress by obtaining a subtle, but equally important, clarity of mind. Diffuse thinking happens when you let your mind wander freely, making connections at random. The diffuse mode of thinking does not happen in any one area of the brain, but rather all over.” 

  • Spending time with loved ones. Family for sure, I spend a lot of time with my sisters and parents, friends, nature.

Key highlights from journey that helps you today

At school, in 2005 I attended a debate tournament in Italy. It was a very turning point for me. I remember we had very good English at school, but I felt I wasn’t ready to debate. At that tournament, there were people from US, European countries. They had very good English and they had good understanding of notions and terms. And I remember when I arrived, I felt an impostor syndrome: I wasn’t able to communicate freely what I had to say. I just didn’t have enough knowledge, because the topic was more related to the international relations field. 

“Impostor syndrome (also known as impostor phenomenon, impostorism, fraud syndrome or the impostor experience) is a psychological pattern in which one doubts one’s accomplishments and has a persistent internalized fear of being exposed as a “fraud” Wikipedia

At that point in my life, I remember I felt not happy with myself. I remember that day so many years ago I promised myself two things. First, I will learn English and other languages to the degree that I would be able to express myself. So I started to learn French, Spanish and some other languages. Second, I promised that I would understand international relations so I went to study it in KIMEP. That was a key moment in my life. 

Another one is when I was working in Bolashak, after I came back from the US in 2012-2013. I learnt about Education and it was something that helped me to transition from international relations to education. I had the privilege of studying at the State University of New York at Albany, Masters in Education Management and Policy Studies with Full Bright Program in the US. That was something that completely opened my mind and I realized that I want to be involved in technologies as well. I had my internship at Udemy and Pathbright at that time which helped to figure out the power of technology in education in 2015. 

In Pakistan, I had a chance to work in the education field as well. We had a task to create an online course without much resources and people. It was a preparation program by Stanford University. We had a 3-months program for higher education institutions from universities, for 3-4 grade students. We prepared them for the job market: soft skills, leadership, excel, communication, how to write an essay or cover letter. I am very proud of our team at Amal Academy in Pakistan. We were more than a team, we were a family. The course creation process is like creating a film: you can’t do it by yourself, it requires teamwork. For example, all departments participated in the course creation process – team running fellowships, operations managers, content team, instructors, and marketing team. We produced 2 online courses per week, so that on Monday our instructors and teaching assistants could send the homework to students. 

Moreover, it was more than just a course creation process, we managed the learning process which was done using a blended mode of learning, we conducted in-person training, collected feedback from students, and updated our program. So, the program/product is never final, it evolves, as the fellowship evolves. I’ve learned so much from my boss at Amal Academy – Benje Williams, he is a visionary and a brilliant leader. 

I was a cameraman, editor, designer. We were doing everything. Plus we were helping communities in need at the same time. It was blended learning. Working 6 times a week. After that all of this prepared me to start what I’m doing right now, to start Edgravity in Kazakhstan. 

Advices to people who want to open a business

  • Don’t be afraid to be ambitious and dare to dream about big things. I think now it’s time for women to step up and bring change. And it’s not only about creating the business. There are so many pressing issues in the world right now, like climate change, education. I feel like all of us, men and women, have a responsibility to change it. Nobody is gonna come and do it for us. 
  • Listen to intuition. It’s not some magic, it’s a combination of different things that helps you and gives you some sense of what’s right or wrong. Women especially have this strong sense of intuition deep inside and they should believe it. 
  • Prototype. You don’t have to have investments to start your business. You don’t have to have a lot of money. Even up till now, we don’t have external investments, we’re doing it ourselves. Nobody is helping us. Just launching a prototype helps or better building different prototypes. 
  • Help a certain community. And what I also figured especially for women, very important is not only to start a business but also help a certain community. Most women I’ve met are very socially driven. So I think to find that area that they want to change is crucial. Communities want to impact or feel they want to change, that’s what will inspire them. In business, you just can’t make a business because you care for money or for certain things. It’s very difficult. Every day you wake up and you want to quit sometimes, it’s difficult. If you want to help a certain community, they will motivate you to keep going.