Businessman, educator, thinker, doer and dreamer, a man who worked on projects for the White House in the US and in the Ministry of Public Works, Ports and Roads in Australia, Dr Christopher Reynolds is all this and more. In a career spanning more than three decades, Dr Reynolds moved from Australia to the US, back to Australia and from there to Brunei and eventually the UAE in 2000 in various jobs that included teaching, public relations and law.
In the UAE he taught business ethics, marketing and law at the Zayed University and Sharjah University until he opened the British Institute of Learning Development (BILD) in 2002. The journey to his present role - of managing director of BILD in the UAE and St Andrews College International, where he heads a programme that helps children with learning difficulties improve their abilities and succeed at school - has been a long one. But it has also been eventful.
He holds a Bachelor's degree in political science, two postgraduate diplomas in eduction and theology from Australia as well as a Masters and a PhD in philosophy and constitutional law from the Claremont Graduate University, California. As part of Senior Professional Staff for the US Senate Judiciary Committee, Dr Reynolds worked for the late US Senator Ted Kennedy. He is also the author of Global Logic, in which he predicted global changes for business in the 21st century. Through it all, he says, he loves life and "throw myself at it".
"I have had breakfast with a US President, and sat in the street with the sick and hungry. However, not all the big names have been the most influential in my life. In fact, I am still friends with people I have known since I was seven. They don't care where I have been or what I have done."
He enjoys reading, learning, prompting a dialogue about history and philosophy. He still enjoys listening to AC/DC, "because they are getting older as well. I went to school with the younger brothers (the lead singer and rhythm guitarist). I was there when their two older brothers were expelled from school because their hair was too long."
I grew up in Sydney and trained to be a teacher in Adelaide during the Vietnam War, where I became part of the anti-war movement that had taken hold of young adults in Australia at that time. I chose to study political science, as I wanted to run for public office one day. But upon graduating I found that 80 per cent of high school graduates had not managed to enter university due to the economic recession. Most of them were on the dole because there was no work.
I couldn't go on to become a teacher. So I borrowed money, bought a large country property on the outskirts of Adelaide, and in 1975, started a halfway house to care for, train and educate teenagers and young adults. I called it the House of the Rock. Six years later, I had 22 full-time staff, five halfway houses, 400 people in various aspects of the programmes and more than 1,000 children receiving care. I also fostered five students through high school.
I travelled to Europe between 1980 and 1982, on a fellowship to study other such youth facilities. At that time, while youth services elsewhere in Australia achieved a 5 to 19 per cent success rate on average, the House of the Rock enjoyed 80 per cent success rate.
In 1983, I returned from Europe and left for the US. I went to Washington and tried to get a job in the US Congress. I was told I would never work in the US capital because I was too old (30), well-educated, married and a foreigner. After a year of poverty I got a chance to volunteer in a congressman's office.
As one might imagine, working in the US Senate and Congress and being the first Australian to have held such a position was a life-changing experience. From there it took me just five months, instead of five years, to rise to Senior Professional Staff for the House Select Committee on Children, Youth and Families. In my years in the US (1983-1986), I simultaneously enrolled at Claremont Graduate University and studied with some of the best intellectuals in America, including the eminent Peter Drucker. It was an experience that changed my life and gave me a heightened level of personal strength and confidence.
Returning to Australia in 1987, I worked in various fields - public relations, politics and civic projects. Thirteen years later, in 2000, having taken up professorial responsibilities along the way and taught at universities in Queensland, Brisbane and Brunei (1997-2000) I progressed to hold the position of Associate Professor, College of Business Management at Zayed University in the UAE. I started BILD in Dubai in 2002, and in order for this project to happen I drew upon my experience and knowledge in all three fields of my work - business, politics and education.
Prior to starting BILD, we were seeing some children for therapy. I thought we could do so much more if the medical-focused work could be combined with schooling. I became convinced that the medical work to improve cognitive capacity had to be combined with education. I discovered that under the UN convention, every child has a right to education, so they shouldn't be kept away from school.
I have to say that getting the institute to where it is now has been the battle of my life. I have wonderful staff who put up with me and love being part of what we do. At BILD we nurture and treat children as special. Each child in the education programme gets an Individual Learning Development Programme with the aim of enhancing learning capacity and thereby increasing learning achievement. A child who is a slow learner can get labelled for life but our research shows that as the brain is continually learning, it is possible to accelerate and direct development to improve neuro-physiological development and increase learning ability.
Sceptics might disagree but it is possible to increase or optimise a child's learning capacity by using a complex set of tools involving touch, sight and sound that can improve their perception and efficiency of their brain.
I grew up in Sydney, Australia. While I have been tenacious since childhood, a quality brought on by a loving and strong-willed mother, and being trained to struggle to win whether in sport or studies, my tenacity has rarely been directed at self-fulfilment. On top of my drive and enjoyment in achieving high standards, I have a strong sense of adventure and remain a Sydney boy at heart. I love my rock ‘n' roll, I surf, swim, ski, dive and play tennis.
Sydney is a city that produces a lot of laughter and fun and also shapes strong personalities. Add to that the fact that I had a strong mother who was a social magnet and being outgoing came naturally to me. She loved singing and introduced me to theatre, rugby, tennis and swimming. She enrolled me for elocution lessons and I won my first public speaking competition at 12.
Of course, no win came easily. To become a teenage swimming champion took a 8km walk to the swimming pool every school day morning at 6am. To excel at tennis took two years of training before being allowed to play a game. Winning in rugby was a lot of blood and mud, and just personal strength to stay at it. We were exhausted and bleeding on most Saturdays till we got there as a team. I remember how my knee hurt after a tackle and the coach running over to offer me a Band-Aid. But I had to get up and resume play and then go off to the hospital to get three stitches after the match was over. I can't remember who won that one. But even now, I love nothing better than to win something as a member of a team.
I did an OK job at school and won a government scholarship to study at Flinders University in Adelaide. But it wasn't till I settled down to real study at university that my intellect developed. But that didn't seem to knock my love for rock ‘n' roll, surfing and riding a Triumph motorbike.
I read a lot. I went through more than 1,000 books and articles over four years while researching for my book, Global Logic.
My dream is to continue working in child development and education - and to do it better. I mean, if someone would lend me Dh4 million, I'd proceed to build a school to show the world what we can do for children and how schooling can change or improve learning capabilities for both children with learning difficulties and those with talent.
Since the time I lived in Adelaide and set up a residential care community called the House of the Rock (1975) to help unemployed and homeless youth, I have been involved in helping children and young people. Even today, some 35 years later, I will still fight for children to get a chance to progress in life.
The world which was earlier divided on the lines of the haves and have-nots is now divided into the ‘know and know-nots'. Everybody in the world should have the opportunity to learn.
Children shouldn't be sidelined because they don't fit in a regimented and antiquated system of schooling. It's the schooling system that has to change to help children achieve their potential.