“The Pandemic Has Made Our Mission More Critical Than Ever”

With TalkingPoints, Heejae Lim, MBA ’15, bridges language barriers between teachers and parents.

August 06, 2020

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Illustration of two people facing each other and talking, with a colorful speech bubble between them. Credit: Irene Servillo

Illustration by Irene Servillo

When I was 8, I moved from Korea to England. I did not speak a word of English. I went to a public elementary school that was full of Korean immigrants. My mom became the parent leader in the community, translating for all the Korean parents who did not speak the language. That had a huge impact on me.

Heejae Lim, MBA ’15

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Portrait by Agata Nowicka

Heejae Lim, MBA ’15, is the founder and CEO of TalkingPoints, a nonprofit that uses a multilingual family-engagement platform to help parents connect with teachers and become more engaged in their children’s education.

We know that helping teachers connect with families, especially in low-income immigrant communities, can be crucial to student success. But we also know that family engagement is really hard if you’re new to the country. If you don’t speak the local language and have limited education, where do you even start?

I started TalkingPoints while I was still a student at Stanford GSB. Our role is to bridge not just language barriers but also cultural and educational barriers. The COVID-19 pandemic has made our mission more urgent and critical than ever. We’ve seen that in the numbers. At the start of March, we were serving about 500,000 families; as of mid-May, we are serving nearly 1.5 million families, and we now support two-way translation in 100 languages. We also saw an eightfold increase in communication volume in March and April. We believe this growth trajectory will continue.

COVID-19 is exacerbating inequities in the education system, especially in underserved, diverse communities, so we’ve decided to provide free access to our platform during the pandemic. And what we’ve seen over the last few months is not only are we enabling distance learning, but we’re also facilitating access to fill other needs among the most vulnerable populations. For instance, schools are using TalkingPoints to tell parents where to pick up free meals and lunches for their children, as well as how to access health care and unemployment benefits.

The future of education remains murky, as with so many things in this new COVID-19 world. But it’s clear that a remote learning environment will continue to be important. It’s also clear that there’s more potential for families to be true partners in their children’s education. There is a tremendous amount of goodwill and empathy being built between parents and teachers right now. Everyone is in it together.

I’m also grateful for the support we’ve been receiving from the Stanford GSB network. I’m always eager to hear from professors and alumni who want to help us reach more people.

I find this work so meaningful. Our teachers and families are what keep us motivated, and my team and I get up every day excited to make a small contribution.

— Told to Steve Goldbloom

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