Please acquaint our readers with your journey as women entrepreneur.
I have never thought of myself as a woman entrepreneur. I am just following my passion and enjoying every moment of my work. If you are ethical, sincere and committed, have the right skill sets, opportunities and network, success is bound to follow. I have not chased success in monetary terms, but have always believed that the good you send out will come back to you manifold, and it has.
I was born in the year World War 2 ended and the United Nations came into existence. My parents told me that I was responsible for world peace, and this charted my life course at the moment of birth. Ever since I remember, I have been working for a higher cause, and Education according to me was the best way I could give back to society.
Through marriage, destiny brought me into a family of philanthropists and educationists who also believed in promoting quality education. Our Thadomal Shahani Trust has helped to open many schools and colleges in India, including the Thadomal Shahani Engineering College, run by the HSNC Board, and the Thadomal Shahani Centre for Management run by the Shahani Group.
The icing on the cake was when my son Akhil Shahani returned as an MBA from the Kellogs Graduate School of Management and after delving in startups which did not hold his attention, decided to follow his passion and build his career as an Edupruneur. This was my dream for him too, and we decided that the Shahani Group would focus on providing education to the rich and poor alike based on skills development and employability. There has been no looking back since then for both of us.
As a women entrepreneur, what are the specific challenges you are facing? How are you coping up with it?
In a patriarchal society like ours, remaining true to myself and finding my own voice were the keys to my success. A woman is not taken seriously and to overcome this she has to stop the negative self- talk and focus on building her self- confidence. I put in years of hard work to create my own reputation and today my confidence assures success, even when I am up against a boardroom full of men.
I am lucky to have a strong support network. As they say, it is not what you know, it is who you know that is important. At our Shahani Group and HSNC Board, The Deans, Principals, Faculty, Staff and students are like extended family and I share a great rapport with the Trustees of all the Boards I am part of. People ask me how I can wear so many hats and yet be so calm. My secret is collaboration and delegation.
Hiring the right people, time management, managing cash flow or funding growth and developing sales forecasts and hitting those targets are the key challenges. For a woman entrepreneur, there is always the real fear of failure, but I never allowed my insecurities to keep me from achieving my targets.
How do you maintain work-life balance?
It has never been easy for women to juggle a career and a family life, but resilience is one of the greatest strengths of a woman. To achieve my goals on both the fronts, I prioritise, delegate, compartmentalise, find some me time, take care of my health and stop trying so hard!
While I am skilled at multitasking, it is not possible to do everything singlehandedly, so on the home front I encourage my family to do simple chores, try to turn them into ‘mini managers’ and don’t feel guilty about it as this helps them in the long run.
In the current work from home environment, the lines get blurred, but it is a good idea to compartmentalise. I try to separate my work from home activities and focus fully on the work at hand be it on the career or home front. These are two separate aspects of your life that you have to tackle.
I learnt the importance of saying “No” and focused on attending only important events. For your own sanity, it is best to stop trying so hard as things do take care of themselves if you allow yourself to relax.
Could you please take us through the journey of Chairperson Emeritus of the Women’s Movement for Peace and Prosperity?
The Women’s Movement for Peace and Prosperity was started soon after 9/11 by Indu Jain and Ram Maheshwary, Chairperson and Senior Director of the Times Group respectively. Working on the premise that women could start a new world order of peace and non violence through their compassion, we focused on giving a voice to the voiceless women. I was the Founder Trustee and first Chairperson of the Movement and over the years we created Mothers’ Centres where the under resourced women were given health checkups and skills training, communication and confidence building skills etc. We had many sessions on Gems of all Faiths in order to bring communities together and create an environment of love and mutual support.
I am currently a Patron of Women’s Movement, which is also working on cleaning up Brijdham and Vrindavan as one of its projects.
What are your thoughts on the importance of a woman edu-preneur in developing countries like India?
With the education system in India becoming more technology based, and undergoing a rapid expansion and improvement, a woman edupreneur has become one of the most sought-after work from home entrepreneurship opportunity for women.
From starting a play school from home, online tutoring or home tuitions or being a tutor partner with an educational centre, she can also start her own franchise of a reputed education brand. Franchising opportunities makes it attractive for women since it creates greater flexibility in hours and low overheads which makes it easier for them to get finances and become business owners.
Many women have broken the myth that business is only for men and emerged as taking the front seat in running successful businesses and leading educational institutions.
Women are emotionally strong, are able to multi task and take risks and initiatives. Teachers are the hardest working professionals across the globe. The education sector requires women who are passionate about education, with great leadership and collaborating skills.
The in-born nurturing and empathetic nature of women helps them in developing the right skills for educating young minds and as edupruneurs they can be instrumental in creating a vibrant work force for our nation.
What are your thoughts on the current education arena in India? How do you perceive education as a path to empowerment, especially for women?
It is estimated that by 2030, one in four graduates in the world will be a product of the Indian higher education system. India will be among the top five countries in the world in terms of research output with an annual R&D spend of US$ 140 billion and have more than 20 universities among the global top 200 universities.
The New Education Policy envisages a host of reforms, and improved financial outlays in recent years could possibly transform the country into a knowledge haven.
Education is an essential means of empowering women with knowledge and skill sets for increased job opportunities. Education helps women overcome discrimination such as early marriages and lower mortality rates. Educating girls has a multiplier effect as educated women would want their own daughters to be educated and so the cycle would continue, further contributing towards economic growth. Not only is an illiterate woman at the mercy of her husband or father, she also does not know that this is not the way of life for women across the world.
What does the International Women’s Day slogan, “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a COVID-19 world” mean for you?
This theme celebrates the tremendous efforts by women around the world in shaping a more equal future and recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic. Women leaders and women’s organizations have demonstrated their skills, knowledge and networks to effectively lead in COVID-19 response and recovery efforts.
Today there is more acceptance than ever before that women bring different experiences, perspectives and skills to the table, and across the globe, women are at the helm of institutions carrying out effective and inclusive COVID-19 responses, from the highest levels of decision-making to frontline service delivery.
The crisis has highlighted both the centrality of their contributions and the disproportionate burdens that women carry. There is a call for women’s right to decision-making in all areas of life, equal pay, equal sharing of unpaid care and domestic work, an end to all forms of violence against women and girls, and health-care services that respond to their needs.
As a woman edu-preneur, what are your thoughts on Government initiatives and policies for increasing access and improving the quality of education for girls?
The expansion of education among girls has been an integral part of educational policies and programmes of the Government.
The ‘Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao’ and ‘Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan’ as well as ‘Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA)’ have targeted many interventions for girls. The Ministry of Human Resource Development has prepared a ‘Digital Gender Atlas’ for Advancing Girls’ Education in India. The National Scheme of Incentive to Girls for Secondary Education (NSIGSE) provides Rs.3000.00 in the name of eligible unmarried girls below 16.
CBSE has launched ‘Udaan’ and Kasturba Gandhi Balika Vidyalayas have been opened in Educationally Backward Blocks to provide for residential upper primary schools for girls.
In Higher Education sector, University Grants Commission (UGC) and All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) have launched schemes to provide assistance for advancement of girls’ participation in Technical Education.
The New Education Policy and Budget allocations envisage enhancing the quality of education through its interventions. All these schemes have many positives for the education sector if implemented correctly. Implementation is the key!
How are you seeing the world change for women after this pandemic?
Women have a vital role to play in post-pandemic recovery We should ensure that the post Covid, the economy and society are more gender equal and maximize opportunities for women entrepreneurship. This is smart economics and the result will be greater sustainability and resilience.
If action is taken, businesswomen will be able to capitalize on e-commerce opportunities, contribute more to gross domestic product as well as have greater influence and decision-making power.
Governments should help women access financial services, boost women’s participation in public procurement opportunities and promote solutions for continuity of business.
The global community must ensure that, together with climate change and environmental sustainability, gender equality is at the core of building a better future. Central to this is strengthening global cooperation, recognizing women as the drivers of a new sustainable investment ecosystem and supporting digital literacy and use of digital technologies.
What are the key trends shaping the future of India’s education industry?
There is a paradigm shift in the way present day learners process knowledge. Today, teachers cannot stick to conventional methods of teaching, but need to be more tech-savvy.
The smart campus will soon become a matter of survival for schools that want to stay in the race. Highly sophisticated multimedia equipment, virtual reality apps, 3D technology, digital classrooms, design labs, chatbots, gamification and maker spaces are a few requirements that will be deemed necessary for smart schools. They will also need to fortify themselves with the best-in-class cybersecurity networks for the future.
Schools will have to break out from the traditional ways of testing and assessing students. Flexibility in time and the place of taking exams will be the need of the hour.
Physical libraries will need to be brought to a cloud platform and e-reading will become more accessible to students. Digital libraries will also help preserve our precious books for many generations to come.
The current crisis has made online learning and homeschooling more pertinent than ever
and schools will mainly be used as an engagement activity by the students. Helped by the introduction of new TV channels, high quality and curated content will be easily available.
In the market where content is free, edtech companies must evolve to facilitate the actual learning process through value-added services, such as the presence of a mentor, dedicated time slots, testing, career counselling, certifications etc. Industry players also need to enable social learning through technology and not just content, curriculum, and availability.
What piece of advice would you give to emerging woman edu-preneurs
It is not an easy road to the top, especially for a woman. But be strong and face every situation with grace and dignity so people look up to you for your work, vision and passion, irrespective of gender.
Become more technology friendly, establish your reputation and develop the ability to manage people. While starting your business, select a good location, get the right training, get Government support, develop access to capital, work on marketing, sales promotion and great customer service.
Above all have the right attitude. Learn to ride the wave and do not be afraid of failure. Trust your intuition since nothing is in one’s control. Remember to enjoy the journey no matter what the destination.