He may have incurred the wrath of Lord Sugar on The Apprentice, but lawyer and entrepreneur Felipe Alviar-Baquero is as passionate about education as ever. As he writes here, education is about more than just exams – whether you’re in Colombia or Kent
I grew up in Colombia where lots of children don’t have the benefit of a good education. When I moved to England, although the education landscape is obviously completely different, I maintained my interest in children’s learning. I believe the most important thing is to inspire young people and new generations.
I work as a City lawyer during the week, but five years ago I set up one of the biggest indoor play areas in the country, called Tiny Town in Luckfield, Kent. We get around 40,000 visitors each year. Kids can hang out in our fire station, our hospital, our supermarket and lots of other areas, where they can begin to get an understanding of how things work. It’s about learning through play. I believe there’s a need to create an entrepreneurial culture at home and school – and I believe entrepreneurs should focus on the social impact of what they do – and that’s what I’ve tried to do with Tiny Town.
I think it’s so important to teach children and young people so-called soft skills – how to talk to people, how to look them in the eye, how to connect with them, how to work in a team. These are skills you need whatever your choice of career – whether you’re going to be a doctor or go into business, you need to know how to get along with different types of people.
I’m glad that politicians across all the parties are beginning to accept that exam grades aren’t all that matters, and that personal qualities and communication skills can be just as important when it comes to employability. Of course exams and qualifications are important – I know that as a lawyer – but there are so many other attributes young people need if they’re going to make a success of their lives. Qualifications aren’t an end in themselves. They’re only a means of achieving what you want in life.
My appearance on The Apprentice this year was quite an experience although I couldn’t really say it has changed my life. The impact of the show is a huge, with millions of viewers, so of course people recognise me in the street, which is really nice, and we have a chat. My main reason for going on the show was to inspire the new generations to become entrepreneurs.
I lasted until week nine, which isn’t bad! I went out on the round about sourcing various items at the cheapest possible price. There were a whole load of things we had to source, and one of them was a human skeleton. Lord Sugar said he wanted an ‘anatomical skeleton’ and I bought a paper anatomical skeleton, which met all the required specifications. It was much cheaper than a one made of bones, but it was still an anatomical human skeleton. What’s wrong with that? He didn’t specify he wanted one made out of bones! And the exercise was all about sourcing items at the best possible price.
Everyone I meet says I was right and Lord Sugar was wrong! I’ve got 100% support on this. If he wanted a ‘real’ skeleton, he should have said so. But he said I was trying to be a clever lawyer and trick him. But it was nothing like that. I was just trying to win the task for my team.
The business plan I took to The Apprentice was my indoor play area, which is social project. I want to open a group of play areas, which are fully accessible for disabled children. I have a cousin who has a severely disabled child and he’s called Felipe after me, so I feel we have a special connection. I think there need to be far better dedicated play areas for disabled children. Even thought I didn’t win The Apprentice, I’m still pursuing the project. We’ll get there in the end.
Felipe Alviar-Baquero is a lawyer and entrepreneur. He’s appearing at the London Festival of Education on 28 February. Book tickets at: londonfestivalofeducation.com/line-up and follow the Festival on Twitter @LFE_15