Her research, based on her academic work as a Gates Scholar at Cambridge University, indicated that student achievement is quite affected by environmental factors including:
The more mixed-use the location, the more racially and economically diverse the peer learning groups.
Schools should be well integrated with other commercial facilities in close proximity to central business districts.
Temperate climates dramatically affect knowledge retention (10 degree Fahrenheit can affect retention by 30%) as does access to natural light.
Design classrooms and dormitories with generous windows and cross ventilation.
At the same time, she also realized that most traditional development companies were unwilling to bear the risk associated with privately financing education partners. It was this combination of design philosophy and openness to schools as compelling co-tenants that enabled the Christie Company to perfect its model of cross-financing educational space with synergistic private use. Her conclusion was that the private sector offered the most advanced development and financing capacity to allow schools to benefit from these enhanced facilities and environments. The only path forward was a smart partnership of mutual benefits that fosters intelligent risk sharing between the two parties. She then focused on adapting well-tested BOT contracts from other hard infrastructure sectors to meet the metrics of the education sector to create the optimal proprietary financing structure that balanced affordable lease obligations with fair and attractive commercial returns for investors. A few years later, Christie’s development model captured the interest of the U.K. Government and several other African governments looking for viable solutions to finance their urgent education infrastructure needs to address the existing access crisis. After years of thoughtful local engagement in Africa, the “Integras” model was born, integrating the Christie U.S. model with the cultural needs of African partners.
Over the last 10 years, The Christie Company, through its investment in Africa Integras, has grown to become one of the largest developers of education infrastructure in Africa, with over 1.2 million square feet in development. In response to market demand, the organization is now pursuing investments in new educational environments, based on the different ways in which youth learn. Going beyond the classroom, the organization is conceiving of investments that address the entire spectrum of pedagogy well beyond the traditional classrooms it has historically built, such as learning-by-doing, learning-by-teaching, learning-from-media, learning-from-social-media, and learning-from-peers, to create a vertically and horizontally integrated platform of support for education access, in all its forms, on the continent.