Sunday Observer, March 12, 2017: Recently crowned the matriarch of Jamaica’s new “first family”, Nicole McLaren- Campbell holds much of the island captive with her positive energy- driven life, which is well documented on social and mainstream media.
The educator half of the beloved Campbell family — her husband is Grammy-featured reggae artiste Jeffrey Campbell aka Agent Sasco (previously known as ‘Assasin’) — McLaren-Campbell is mother to daughter Lauren, five, son Joshua, four, and ‘bonus mom’ to eleven-year-old Ally.
Simply by engaging her in conversation, one is immediately struck by McLaren-Campbell’s infectious energy. A religious fitness junkie, she rises early and starts sharing nuggets of wisdom with her avid followers to help kick-start the day before heading to her AIM educational services office in Hope Pastures at the American International School in Kingston (AISK).
Seven years ago, McLaren-Campbell left her position as a senior policy analyst to Andrew Holness, then Minister of Education in the Jamaica Labour Party administration, to found AIM educational services.
Since that time the platform has successfully placed an ever-growing crop of hundreds of Jamaican students at top universities in the United States. Impassioned with a commitment to build a better Jamaica by encouraging the next generation of leaders to realise their potential through empowerment and motivation, AIM also comprises the AIM Higher Foundation, which serves to identify, develop and empower promising students from low-income families.
McLaren-Campbell also serves on the boards of the CHASE Fund and the Early Childhood Commission, and continues to make her mark in the business of academic and holistic education.
“My educational journey was challenging but eye-opening… a process I would definitely characterise as a blessing. I went away to Andover [Phillips Academy – a boarding school in Massachusetts, United States] when I was just finished with sixth form at St. Andrew [High School for Girls] and it really caused me to dig deeper. The experience broke me down but then built me up.”
The prestigious Academy was something McLaren-Campbell had pushed for herself, and her parents had to be convinced that it was the right step for their daughter.
“My parents were not on board at all with the crazy plan, but I was really determined… my extra lessons teacher” — famed MRC learning centre tutor Russell Bell whom she cites as the single biggest influence on her learning experience and life — “introduced the school to me. At the time there was no IB programme in Jamaica, just CAPE, but I didn’t want to focus so narrowly, so I had to force my parents to comply! They were reluctant, but luckily my mom got on board first and then convinced my dad. Mom was very supportive and open, she really trusted me in that way… which was amazing… and I am really grateful for that.”
McLaren-Campbell got a scholarship to attend the Academy, but had to face an unexpected dilemma as soon as she got there.
“Honestly, making the transition was more difficult than even college. I was uncomfortable because I was no longer the smartest person in the class, but that taught me a super valuable lesson that I still live by today: realise that there are always going to be people who are better than you or smarter than you, so don’t compare yourself to others.”
After Phillips, McLaren-Campbell went to Princeton University in the United States where she earned her Bachelor’s degree in Economics, followed later by stints at Stanford University’s Summer Institute and the University of London, where she earned a Master’s Degree in Globalisation and Development. Returning to work at the Ministry of Education, McLaren-Campbell notes she had always been interested in education,
“We have a history of education in the family on both sides: my father’s mother was a teacher, my mom is the Associate Dean of the Faculty of Humanities at UWI and has been teaching for 30 years, and my grandfather was a teacher as well, so I come from a long line of educators… I guess it’s in my blood!”
However, stepping away to form AIM was born out of recognising there were still some areas that needed improving for Jamaican students looking to compete on the world stage.
“I was a voluntary alumni interviewer for Princeton, and I met a young lady I thought was exceptional; she had all the right grades, but I could tell she needed to be a bit more strategic as to how she put things together for the application. She didn’t get in and it was too late by then, but I thought, wow, I really could have helped her, so I committed myself to help students figure it out and do this right.”
McLaren-Campbell is quick to point out that AIM also focuses heavily on strategic planning, not just for students’ academic lives, but also in a broader sense of overall development;
“We try to impart a sense of civic responsibility, and push the students to look at the bigger picture of the important things in life such as attitude over aptitude, mentorship, and how to find the passion to succeed… the other soft skills that are really critical.”
AIM is largely a university placement service and tutoring centre, but the overall processes and training are designed to leave students with more than a high SAT score and university placement. The benefits are clear, because some students have returned to AIM for help with post-graduate placement and career coaching, having completed their first step with McLaren- Campbell.
“We also focus on leadership…. what are you [the student] interested in, what problems do you see in Jamaica that affect you. We really push our students to get involved with initiatives in communities and get them to see themselves as active agents in their lives, instead of passing through and waiting until they are adults for that kind of engagement.”
With her coaching extending beyond the classroom to corporate culture, McLaren-Campbell’s purpose-driven approach seeks to unlock and maximise potential at all levels,.
“We look at where you are in relation to your purpose, set goals, determine how to execute them, and develop systems to move your life forward.” She notes that the ideal AIM client is not what many expect, as good grades and a great career are just part of the equation, “AIM is for someone who wants to achieve their life goals through education… education is an important tool in all aspects of shaping life and allowing dreams to unfold.”
When building the AIM business, McLaren-Campbell shares that she had to overcome challenges that many of her students now face.
“I had to really develop the courage to ask for what I wanted. When you are starting out brand new, you have to focus on making connections and building a network. I never had a trust fund or an amount of money saved up to start, so I had to go out on a limb, making cold calls to counsellors and high schools, and I had to just overcome the fear of being rejected and fear of failure, take the bull by the horns and just do it…I also realised I had to surround myself with people who think bigger than I do to overcome that obstacle of limitation in the mind so I could move forward and set big goals, even if they seemed impossible.”
Handling the local economy as well as parents’ perceptions of development was also a big part of the equation in building the business.
The AIM network now handles students from across the Caribbean and has also started taking a few from other overseas territories such as the United States.
A regularly featured speaker on the local academic and corporate circuit, earlier this year McLaren-Campbell ticked another box by completing her first book,
Make It Count: Tips on Unlocking Your Vision in 2017 and Beyond. The book is sold through Amazon.
In a few weeks McLaren-Campbell will be heading to Paris to participate in the Emerging Global Leaders Summit, as part of a UNESCO panel of Women Leading Change. With a nod to her growing international audience and supporters, McLaren-Campbell will receive the highly coveted Women in Leadership Award, given in recognition of leadership and dedication to empowering others through work.
As AIM’s international reach grows in tandem with McLaren-Campbell’s own popularity, one wonders, how does she juggle it all?
“I practise what I preach… so when I say self-discipline I have to practise that…same thing with focus. When something happens or I just don’t feel like it, I’m like, Nicole, remember you’re always telling people to push past feelings!”
McLaren- Campbell also credits her infrastructure at home as the main means of keeping her sane and the family unit strong.
“My support structure at home is definitely led by my husband, who has the most awesome intuition and grounds me in reality and [helps me]focus when I want to do a million things. He helps with planning for the business and is brilliant….it’s all about setting boundaries, organise yourself accordingly and have as many systems in place as possible to be able to manage… it’s not something that I take lightly or for granted. I am cognisant that I invest in very competent help, because that drives my sanity and ability to juggle.”
As a mentor and inspiration to many, it’s interesting to observe the habits and mantras that McLaren- Campbell lives by as well as the people she looks to for inspiration.
“The best habit I’ve formed now is exercise! It really gives me energy and such a sense of power. I’ve read over and over that all highly successful people tend to rise early and exercise, so even though it wasn’t in my nature I made it a habit. Energy is actually more important than IQ. If you don’t have the energy, then you can’t achieve what you want! I get all sorts of hateful comments and messages because I am very active on social media, but I just don’t tap into them or let them drain my energy. It’s also very important to be as clear as possible about what you want to do in the world. There’s so much power in clarity. Not only does it give a sense of joy and purpose, but it helps you to focus on what’s important and remain conscious of what you are doing despite any criticism or naysayers.”
McLaren-Campbell’s mentors range from international heavyweights like gurus Tony Robbins, Oprah, Robin Sharma and Lisa Nichols to those closer to her who have helped shape her present and continue to help shape the future.
“Peter Melhado has helped me so much with my business, his coaching and his advice have been completely priceless. His wife Nicole Melhado has also really taught me limitless and abundant thinking, God has been very good to introduce these people into my life. ‘Uncle’ Glen Christian from Cari-Med has also been an integral mentor… he taught me the “as needed” philosophy in growing my business and gave me my first office space for free at Cari-Med and has always really believed in me.”
Looking ahead, McLaren-Campbell notes that her book will be republished in print soon, and AIM is squarely focused on increasing its global footprint by building on the growing interest from other Caribbean territories, the United States and Europe. She also wishes to increase the Foundation’s activities. As her reach grows, so does her passion.
“Everything that I do is really an extension of my passion to empower people – to me, nothing can match the excitement and sense of fulfillment I get from helping people to grow in confidence and realise their potential.”