A dream of exporting good quality South African wines to the United States has laid the foundation for a much bigger cause - re-configuring a child’s early years.
Somerset West man, André Shearer, CEO and co-founder of Cape Classics and chairman of the Indaba Education Fund (IEF), says the Indaba Montessori Institute outside Stellenbosch has one goal in mind: breaking the barriers of early childhood development. “The aim is to lay down a different foundation and help youngsters be their best selves,” he says.
The 25 year journey started in 1991, when Shearer and his brother Gary launched Cape Classics in South Africa.
Part of the first wave was trying to export previously unexported wines abroad, focusing more on Europe due to the sanctions on wine imports to the States. When the sanctions were lifted, the Shearer pair made a call to the embassy, and the first official wine tasting for the Americans was organised, which went off well. Being a small business importing wines, they had to battle quite a few losses but finally prevailed, with one focus in mind, to create a brand category that never existed in the United States. “My wife (Ange), now a health practitioner, was an initial investor funding our initial presence in New York. We couldn’t have done it without her.”
Shearer says the biggest stumbling block was the invisibility of “Brand South Africa”. Despite having South African wines on the shelves nobody bought them. The tastings, however, brought a change in the way Americans perceived South African wines. “We had earned trust in the market,” says Shearer. “There was no room for error. We had to uphold the high standards.” On 25 September 1992, Cape Classics opened its US office operating from New York and today represents more than 25% of all South African wines imported into the USA. Brother Gary left the business about ten years ago.
A successful brand under the Cape Classics umbrella is the Indaba Wines, largely due to its generous contribution to the IEF, which funds the Indaba Montessori Institute.
A portion of the global sales of the Indaba wine is allocated to the IEF. The Indaba Montessori Institute supports the Montessori way of learning. Following the international Montessori (AMI) curriculum, Shearer says the institute is all about shifting the education paradigm, to help create a globally respected educational standard that inspires the development of open-minded, balanced and truly self-sufficient young people.
All three of his boys, now aged 10, 17 and 19, have been through a Montessori school.
Research shows “the most rapid brain development occurs before the age of 5,” says Shearer. “Education is the means by which humanity can shift itself.”
Educational philanthropists like James Walton (of the Walmart family) are collaborating with and supporting the work of the IEF, bringing strong international relevance to the organization’s mission.
In August, the first AMI training program for teachers in the first plane (0-3) will start at the Indaba Montessori Institute. Shearer says foreign AMI trainers will be imported to conduct the training. “We want to create a global standard and shift the education paradigm that is a 100 years old. That is why we are doing what we are doing.
“With extraordinary Early Childhood Development we can have an impact over 25-100 years that will truly be able to change a global paradigm.”
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