David Chiem: Steering the 21st-Century Global Education Movement

The 10 Most Innovative Business Leaders to Watch in 2023

In the business landscape, inspirational stories are often written by innovative leaders who start from scratch. Armed with just an idea and a clear vision, they build a successful company brick by brick – which has the potential to disrupt an industry or become an incredible movement. The ‘Visionary’ David Chiem, too, began his entrepreneurial journey from nothing in the late 1990s. Now, he is the Founder CEO and Executive Chairman of MindChamps, which Dr. Joseph A Michelli, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal No. 1 bestselling author, calls the “Global Education Movement of the 21st Century” in his book “The MindChamps Way.”

David’s success story is even more impressive when one considers where he came from and the challenges he overcame. He and his family had to flee war-ravaged Vietnam overnight in 1970s. Everything was taken away from them, and they arrived as “boat people” in Australia after surviving a close encounter with pirates and enduring life in a Malaysian refugee camp.

When he first started MindChamps, David’s biggest challenge was getting people to believe in him when all he had was a powerful idea but no financial means. Today, MindChamps is a force to be reckoned with in the education sector and the organization has built a solid reputation as the only education institute to inculcate the Champion Mindset in its curriculum and nurture every child to be their own Champion. MindChamps also has the distinction of being the only preschool that is publicly listed on the Singapore Exchange (SGX).

David can claim to be successful in monetary terms, but he does not like to measure success in terms of dollars and cents or expanding footprint. He believes in measuring it by the direct impact they make on society. “Materialistic rewards might create an illusion of success, but really, the most powerful and overwhelming feeling of success for me is when our students – we call them Champs – make breakthroughs and overcome adversity to go on and shine in their own way,” David says. “That success echoes throughout their whole lives.”

David’s family highly prized education, as they lost everything in Vietnam. David points out that his father had a strong philosophy of never taking anything for granted, and his parents always stressed that the one thing no one could ever take from them is their education. “This gave me a strong mindset, and I was determined to make a difference and to give back,” he adds.

From First Day in School to First Day in Film School 

On his first day in school in Sydney, Australia in 1978, David could not understand a word the teacher said. He recalls that a girl turned to him and said in Vietnamese, “The teacher’s asking you what your name is, stupid.” Hearing that, tears rolled down David’s cheeks, and he thought, “No. Just because I don’t speak the language, it doesn’t mean I’m stupid.” His classmate’s words made him very determined, and he topped his class that year.

David had another life-changing experience at the age of 14, in 1984. He heard on the radio that producers were looking for a teenage Asian to play a starring role in a television series. His sister jokingly said: “Why not you?” That night, when he went to bed, he asked himself: “Yeah, why not me?” Five and a half months and many auditions later, David was cast in a starring role in “Butterfly Island,” the first Asian to get a leading role in mainstream Australian television. “My whole paradigm shifted. I was so taken by the world of the arts and, particularly, the power of storytelling,” he says. David’s father had always wanted him to be a doctor; so, for David, it was a heart-wrenching moment when he had to tell him that he was selected and chose to study acting at Theatre Nepean.

David spent most of the 1990s honing his skills not just as an actor, but also as a producer, scriptwriter, and director. David graduated with a BA in Communications from the University of Technology, Sydney, and earned a Master’s in film-making from the Australian Film, Television, and Radio School. In addition, he also ran his own production company, shooting TV commercials for major brands. “In between, I also wrote two novels with Brian Caswell. One of them, ‘Only The Heart,’ which became a set text for final year English literature, is in its 22nd reprint,” David says.

And the idea for MindChamps took root on David’s first day at film school when the head of the school came in and said: “Congratulations, you’re here because you have talent. Now that you’re here, we’re not interested in your talent. You’re here to learn the craft; it’s the craft that will lift your talents to heights you’ve never imagined and will continue to do so.” David had an intellectual epiphany hearing those words. It sparked him into thinking about what he saw as the global gap in the education system that drilled into students what to learn but never taught the craft of learning.

And the moment he noted that it was about the how and not the what, David realized that the education system had also neglected the mindset of the learner; as a result, he started to research and read papers on educational psychology, neuroscience, and mindset formation.

“I decided to follow my passion and founded MindChamps based on strategies derived from research in ‘the 4 Domains’ of Education, Psychology, Neuroscience, and Theater,” he says.

Filling a Gap in Education

In 1998, David founded MindChamps in Sydney, Australia with the idea to fill in the gap that existed in education. From a very young age, the gaps in society have piqued his curiosity. He has tried to understand why they exist, the missing elements, and the things that could be better. He also has never shied away from asking the uncomfortable question, “Why?” David says that he always seeks to find out “Why is it done that way?”

“When we were kids, we assumed that the government would solve all the problems – fill in the gaps, but when we grow up, we realize that governments can’t solve all the problems,” David points out. He noted that government systems try their best but fail to make a significant impact, as the systems are made of people, and people have pride, greed, jealousy, and a tendency to stay within their comfort zones. “That’s why some gaps never get filled,” David says. The idea to start MindChamps stemmed from his desire to fill in those gaps – particularly, the gaps he saw, globally, in education.

Starting from ground zero with nothing, MindChamps now has a global presence. Its global mission is to nurture the power of human potential for a better tomorrow. In order to achieve it, David and his team have set out a clear social charter to “challenge and lift education standards globally.” “To do this we seek to create educational opportunities and fill gaps in education systems,” David says. “Together with our other stakeholders, we are working to fulfill our commitment to create educational opportunities where they would not otherwise exist.”

When they first began their journey, David believed that it would take about a decade to research, build, test and craft a solution before they could make it available in a way that could credibly allow them to share their story and tools on a broad scale. In 2008, the broad-scale sharing occurred with the launch of MindChamps’ first PreSchool in Singapore and the beginning of MindChamps’ franchise model.

“Based on MindChamps reputation for educational excellence, even before we opened the first MindChamps PreSchool we had already reached full capacity and we had 150 more students on our waiting list,” says David, “We had also signed franchise agreements for 22 MindChamps PreSchool centers in Singapore.”

Difficult Beginning and Challenges

MindChamps began with the aim to fill the gaps in early childhood education and a focus on teaching children how to learn and not just what to learn. To achieve that, David and his team had to deeply understand and respect the global education system and challenge the paradigm that had been accepted for so long. In the beginning, according to David, they were like “a David versus the Goliath of an education system that was slow to change.”

And when David and his team decided to prove themselves in the highly competitive Singapore landscape, they found themselves up against established industry players – some with over 40 years of track record. Through this, David truly learned the value of the Champion Mindset.

“In the best of times, the ‘Champion Mindset’ is a valuable commodity,” according to Emeritus Professor Allan Snyder, the award-winning neuroscientist and the Chancellor and Chair of Research at MindChamps, who coined the term as well as researched and developed the concept. David says that with that wisdom in mind, he was able to add, “in the worst of times the Champion Mindset is an absolute necessity.”

The Champion Mindset also enabled David to continue moving forward in the face of skepticism and fierce competition, overcoming the setbacks and challenges brought on by SARS in 2004, the Global Financial Crisis in 2008, and, most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic. “Throughout it all, I learned from my experiences, turning setbacks into set-ups, constantly adapting, and where necessary, re-inventing to keep our business on track and growing,” says David.

Education Model and Unique Curriculum

“The Champion Mindset enables every individual to become the best that they can be. MindChamps is the only education institute to inculcate the Champion Mindset in our curriculum and nurture every child to be their own Champion,” David explains. The Champion Mindset is one of the 3 Minds that underpins the proprietary 3-Mind Education Model: The Champion Mind instills perseverance and excellence; the Learning Mind promotes academic excellence; and the Creative Mind frees the imagination and enables multiple synthesis.

The foundations of the 3-Mind Education Model were based on the 3-Mind Revolution, the book David co-authored with Brian Caswell, MindChamps’ Dean of Research and Program Development.

MindChamps has its own unique, research-based curriculum and intellectual property. As a result, MindChamps was accorded the WIPO-IPOS IP Award in 2015 by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS) for excellence in Trademark Portfolio of the Year amongst all industries.

David also points out that as part of MindChamps V2.0, MindChamps Music, the world’s first integrated music-in-education program, was introduced as a key component of MindChamps’ core curriculum. A synthesis of decades of research by Emeritus Professor Larry Scripp – of Harvard’s ‘Project Zero’ and the prestigious New England Conservatory, Boston, U.S.A. – together with the 3-Mind Education Model, this program has achieved patent-pending status in the U.S.A., Singapore, Australia and the U.K., a status that is rarely granted in the domain of education.

5 Core Values and Vision

David is of the opinion that a franchise business’ success is not about its footprint, and those who chase a footprint will eventually shoot themselves in the foot. “It is difficult to get out of the rat race of constantly chasing numbers, and once caught in that cycle, it is easy for the business’ core values to be eroded, eventually sapping the soul of the organization,” says David.

So, at MindChamps, from the very beginning, David and his team realized that to build a strong culture that lasts and thrives, they needed to make sure their values were clear. David recalls that it was so important to them that they spent three days as a team to define their 5 core values, which are:

Heart – Everyone is guided by the best interests of children, and that is at the heart of everything they do.

Integrity – Integrity is about having the courage to do what is right.

Prosperity – Everyone is fully committed to ensuring that all their stakeholders thrive.

Growth – David and his team believe that personal growth and realizing their potential are fully aligned with a learning mindset.

Expansion – Everyone at the company is there to serve the global community and to create a movement that benefits generation after generation.

“Our overarching philosophy of 100% Respect, Zero Fear is a way of approaching the world that leads us to have full confidence in ourselves, while respecting the rights and perspectives of others,” says David. “This philosophy and our core values come together to empower the Champion potential within every one of our team members.”

The vision for the company is to nurture the power of human potential for a better tomorrow. As human beings, the ability to learn and grow is encoded in one’s DNA. David adds, “Our DNA provides the potential, but it is our experiences that harness that potential enabling us to achieve our unique full potential.”

David established MindChamps in order to develop a new vision for learning, but in order to achieve it, they first had to be successful. David and his team realized that the only way to create something larger than any individual was to first create their own leadership model – Trinity Leadership.

The MindChamps Trinity Leadership model develops high-level leaders who can achieve more than they believe they can, by developing the three key trinity areas – Self, Thinking, and Strategy.

In his soon-to-be-published book, “Trinity Leadership,” David explains that leadership is a craft, in fact, an art form that can be learned. “Leadership involves deep self-reflection where we must first understand ourselves,” he adds. “Only then are we in a position to understand other people and lead them to achieve change and growth.”

What Is Next?

When he was working to fill in the gap in the education system globally, David realized that there was a gap within this gap. He explains that society had been putting the importance of education upside down. For example, if they were to ask anybody in the world what are the world’s leading education brands globally, names such as Harvard and Oxford would immediately come to mind. “This is because when it comes to education, the world, in general, puts tertiary education as being the most important,” David points out.

The latest research, however, shows that in the 21st Century World of A.I., nurturing the mindset of the learner is far more critical than mere academic achievement, and it is now known that this mindset is best nurtured in the first six years of a child’s development. “However, when we ask people, what are the world’s top preschool brands, most people are likely to draw a blank as there really is no number one player in this space,” David says. “So, our mission was clear: to become the No. 1 global preschool brand.”

MindChamps is the only early learning organization to have a curriculum uniquely synthesized from authoritative research in four domains and from four different continents to prepare children for the world of tomorrow. David reveals that to achieve this mission, they strategically piloted their research-based programs in the world’s most rigorous and highly competitive educational environment: Singapore, where the East and the West converge. “We have since achieved the number 1 position in the premium preschool segment with a market share of 38.5 percent,” he adds.

MindChamps is currently operating preschools in 6 countries, and now the stage is set to bring its award-winning franchise model to the U.S. and make a difference to American children and their families. David and his team are humbled by Dr. A. Michelli’s observation that “While both Cesar Ritz and David Chiem have built businesses that strive for transformational excellence, there is one fundamental difference between MindChamps and the Ritz Carlton Hotel Company. That difference relates to the speed by which MindChamps has catapulted to international prominence.”

David firmly believes that MindChamps as a movement is larger than any individual, and the story of MindChamps will continue to be told in 100 years’ time as they are here for good – and for good.