Early Ed Leadership & Innovation

We train frontline early educators and child care business owners in entrepreneurial leadership, and research ways to support them at scale

Building community


“My families and my community needed me to stay open. I never thought about shutting down,” says Dorothy (Dottie) Williams, the owner of Dottie’s Family Childcare in Dorchester, of her decision to remain open through the COVID-19 crisis as one of the state’s 500 emergency early education and child care providers.

“You’re not just taking care of someone’s child. You’re taking care of your community,” says Williams.

Williams’ emphasis on community is evinced by the fact that older neighborhood children whose younger siblings are now in Williams’ care still gave hugs (pre-COVID-19) when they came through her door.

“They have fond memories [of being in my program]. I have fond memories of them,” says Williams, who is a Leadership Fellow in our Post-Master’s Certificate Program and a graduate of our Small Business Innovation Center. “It’s a community.”

Although Williams is an expert in early child care and education, she sought out programs from the Leadership Institute to learn new ways of running her business, which requires a completely different set of skills.

“I didn’t want to work harder, I wanted to work smarter,” recalls Williams of her decision to enroll in the Leadership Institute’s Small Business Innovation Center a few years ago. Through that program, she learned how to fully automate the administrative side of her business, using the digital platform Kinderlime to streamline billing, logging staff hours, and other daily administrative tasks.

“I would never have thought [to do that] if I hadn’t participated in the program,” Williams say. “It’s saved so much time.”

Williams also credited the program for teaching her skills such as how to advertise online, develop a website, and keep up with accounting. Those skills, in turn, have helped her diversify her funding stream. As Williams has become more comfortable accessing digital technology and tools, she’s raised her business’s profile using the platform NeighborSchools. She also became affiliated with Dana-Farber Cancer Institute’s Family Child Care Network, a referral program for employees seeking a licensed, home-based child care provider.

“It’s a wonderful way to have access to parents that I wouldn’t [otherwise] have access to in the community that I’ve been serving,” Williams explains.

Previously, Williams depended on families receiving subsidized or otherwise publicly funded care for much of her business. But now she also serves families that pay privately, making her business more sustainable.

After completing the Small Business Innovation Program, Williams applied to become a Leadership Fellow in our Post-Master’s Certificate program. There, Williams has studied the ways in which government policy, advocacy, and funding are intertwined with policies to improve Massachusetts’ system of early education and care.

“Family child care has as much right to be at the table as centers, [large chains] and private schools, and we should not be considered the low man on the totem pole any longer,” said Williams.

In July, Williams offered testimony before the Massachusetts legislature’s Joint Committee on Education for its Oversight Hearing on the Status of Early Education and Care in the Commonwealth during the COVID-19 emergency.

Williams says it is absolutely vital that the state’s system of early education and care survive the COVID-19 pandemic even stronger than it was before. Why? Her answer, not surprisingly, can be boiled down to one word: community. “If you do well as a system, as the state, as the government, then I’m going to do well,” she said. “So, we all need to do well.”

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