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Meenal Arora, who co-founded the Shemford Futuristic Schools with her husband Amol in 2009, says kids are generally kinesthetic learners, and they can learn more by practice than textual education
Meenal and her husband Amol Arora who started Shemford Futuristic School as a natural diversification venture from Shemrock Pre-Schools in Hajipur, Bihar during 2009. They are now in the process of taking it to 90 schools across India, out of which 51 are already operational. This remarkable achievement has been recorded in the 'Limca Book of Records 2013' in the category of 'Most Schools launched in the shortest amount of time". Shemford Futuristic School, with a 14-pillar program like the ShemEduMax, and facilities like science park, history and geography museums, is certainly changing the face of education in India. Meenal believes that a school is successful when a child looks forward to learning, and this has certainly proved true in her case.
Excerpts from an interview by Konica Bhatt of Moneylife (ML)
Konica Bhatt (ML): What inspired you to become an entrepreneur? And what is the thought behind the name 'Shemford' and your brand of futuristic learning?
Meenal Arora (MA): Born in a business family, I grew up listening to talk of business and factories. Inspired and fascinated by this talk, I went on to study in business administration from Shriram College of Commerce, where I learnt a lot about developing and sustaining your own business. After my post graduation, I got married to Amol Arora who was an engineer. His family owned Shemrock Pre-Schools in Delhi. Although they had 20 schools in Delhi, it was an in-house business; my husband was involved with the technical aspects and website designing, my mother-in-law looked into education aspect and my father-in-law looked after franchising. When I decided to get involved with the business, I first studied education leadership and management from Nottingham University in UK and then joined Shemrock in 2002. In 2009, as a natural diversification, we launched our own venture of senior schools. They were branded 'Shemford', where 'ford' means 'Path'. After children receive a rock solid foundation in Shemrock Pre-School, they find their path here at Shemford. Hence, the name was only appropriate. We started with two schools and as Shemrock had already established goodwill in the market, we didn't have to struggle for franchising. This led to establishing the chain of schools.
ML: Tell us something about your experience of being the founder of a school?
MA: During the first year, I didn't have the feeling of being a founder. I was more worried about giving the best to the children who had enrolled. It was exhilarating, as we had personally created everything, right from the curriculum 'ShemEduMax', to the in-house software 'ShemFast'. I was excited to see the result as to how children were developing and growing using ShemEduMax. I used to spend the whole day working, never going home before 11pm in the first year. It was excitement coupled with hard work, which was a very rewarding experience.
ML: How different was the experience setting up schools in different parts of India?
MA: Most of our branches are in North India, which is geographically and linguistically convenient. In South India, as they allow only state board schools, so we could not start Shemford, which is a CBSE board school in Kerala. Opening branches in Tamil Nadu was not much different than that in North India, except the language barrier. We had to hire some business development managers to overcome these barriers.
Anantnag in Jammu Kashmir was completely different. Though we did not face any safety issues or threats, although, we read in the newspapers that it was a little disturbed area. We still have to take precautions during traveling. The real challenge we faced was cultural. People in Jammu and Kashmir are conservative, especially with women. The girls have to wear stockings and scarves to school. We had to design different uniforms, where the skirts were below the knees. We had to respect the culture and their decisions, but we managed it and the school is running successfully.
ML: How did you come up with the concept of the science park and history and geography museums, something that most schools don't have? Can you throw some light on the concept?
MA: We have different labs for different subjects like biology, chemistry and physics, where students can conduct the experiments related to the studies. Here at Shemford, we believe that knowledge develops better in an open environment. Acting on this belief, we formed the science park. In this park, we installed developed instruments made out of metals where students can study experiments like colours of light or convergence of energy or sound travel through actual metal objects and do it yourself model. Kids are generally kinesthetic learners, and they can learn by practical more than textual education. We encourage the kids to enjoy the learning here.
ML: Are parents generally open to new concepts or ideas in the educational system? Did you ever face any criticism regarding any concept in your schools?
MA: All parents want their children to understand and observe the concepts very well. They should grow up to be confident, self assured and expressive. It is not all about marks anymore. Parents want all round development of the child. They like it when the school is thinking out of box, spending for the children and investing for their child's future. Here they get the value for money. They like it when their child gets more practical knowledge instead of just theoretical. Also, thanks to our programs, the kids get more exposure and develop connect with the parents. The curriculum and activities at Shemford are child-centered. Also, due to ShemFast, we bridge the gap with our parents and branches. Everything about the child's progress to the functioning of the school is uploaded on this software. This is why we never had any criticism or complaints. Instead, parents praise us for our effort and commitment.
ML: Has your school life reflected your career choice in any way?
MA: When you start your own venture, you want to fill in the gap of what you didn't get. I wanted to do what I liked in my school and fill the gap of what I lacked then. My convent school had a lot of different activities and it groomed me very well in academics and cultural activities. But we were lacking in sports. They didn't have infrastructure, and we didn't have a lot of sports activities or competitions. Here I wanted it to be different. I wanted to create a school where children can participate in activities for physical growth as well, which I lacked in my school. This is why we have a lot of outdoor activities, sports competitions along with studies.
ML: What were the biggest challenges, generally as an entrepreneur and specifically as a woman entrepreneur?
MA: Every franchise has a working model school which they can look up to, but the land we planned to build the model school on was under litigation. We had to manage the franchise without a working model school. This was certainly the biggest challenge we faced. Another challenge I faced as a woman entrepreneur was a lot of planning is required for traveling. There are constraints and safety issues. Also, sometimes getting people to listen to you, follow the system and getting them on track becomes a challenge. There are minute branch level challenges as well.
ML: You have gained entry in the Limca Book of Records 2013. Would you like to share a few insights regarding the experience?
MA: It was a very unique experience. There was this category under we had applied -- so many branches in a short span of time. To get the entry, you have to fill an application form and provide the evidence of actual physical existence of your school. After a few months, we got a call from the 'Limca Book of Records' saying we were eligible for the award and the entry. Interestingly, it was also their 100th year of cinema. They had invited many celebrities and we got to meet them and gain some good exposure.
ML: How would you encourage other women entrepreneurs who want to start their own business?
MA: Entrepreneurs should always do extraordinary things. They should ask questions and do unusual things as people don't expect regular work from them. They should be able to handle stress and do many jobs at once. This is where women have an upper-hand over men. As women we are blessed with the ability of multi-tasking. Women are also very innovative. Even when they are not working, they are very creative. They like to do things differently. You will never find two houses decorated in the same way. If they use the same innovation and creativity at work, they will get great rewards. We have good communication and negotiation skills, and high Emotional Quotient, which makes us good leaders. Remember to always have a clear vision. The most important thing is to establish your target audience, research and planning. You need to use all that in the business to be a successful entrepreneur.
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“Love what you do,” says Sharmila Bhide of Calsoft
The feeling and joy of motherhood and holding the most precious gift of life in your hands, can never be expressed in words, says Dr Rita Bakshi of International Fertility Centre
Dr Bakshi did her MBBS from Lady Harding Medical College at New Delhi in 1983, and her MD from Safdarjung Hospital in 1990. She also has a Diploma in Gynecology and Obstetrics and is trained in ART and in vitro fertilisation (IVF) from the Institute of Reproductive Medicine, Kolkata. She has a Diploma in ART from KKIVF Hospital, Singapore, and a Diploma in Endoscopy from Kiel, Germany.
She is also vice president of the Indian Association of Occupational Health dealing with industrial workers and industrial hazard exposure for the last five years and Vice President of Medical Fitness Society, India since past two years. She is an active advocate against cervical cancer and has addressed numerous seminars across the country on fertility issues. The IFC now has 25 employees, but Dr Bakshi does not want to comment on the financials.
Below is the excerpt of her interview to Hitisha Jain of Moneylife:-
Hitisha Jain (ML): Tell us about the International Fertility Centre and what prompted you to start it?
Dr Rita Bakshi (RB): The International Fertility Centre is a super specialised centre with state-of-the-art IVF lab, operating theatre equipment, highly skilled medical personnel and provides treatments related to women's health, especially infertility and endoscopy.
Every parent, who desires a child, is special for me. Their positive experience is my main and only aim. IFC is passionately dedicated to the vision of creating life and giving equal opportunity to all family types, regardless of marital status or sexual orientation. Our mission is very simple; we want to build families of choice for communities around the globe by providing affordable treatments. Each day, I feel joyous in knowing that we are helping people to realise their dream of parenthood.
ML: What motivated you to set IFC?
RB: I was practising in this field of gynecology and obstetrics for the last 25 years. I have seen the pain and suffering of childless parents due to infertility. I then decided to help them by devoting all my energies to solve their problems. Infertility has always been a subject close to my heart and I have always felt an immense joy in providing a child to couples, who have been trying for years. To feel the joy of motherhood and hold the most precious gift of life in your hands, that feeling can never be expressed in words. I have seen that bliss on the faces of parents and I would do anything to give that same happiness to all the parents. The fact that I am transforming lives by giving children to infertile couples motivates me immensely.
ML: Did you face any hurdles while setting up your business? How did you overcome them?
RB: I believe every business is a roller coaster ride. There will be ups and downs. As an entrepreneur you should be ready to face all challenges. I believe that each hurdle and obstacle is a learning experience and you should take each one of them in your stride. The key to deal with all the glitches is to be confident in your own ability and skills. I always have faith in God and that helps me to overcome all obstacles. I also believe that you should have a great support system in friends and colleagues whom you can trust and confide in. I have good discussions with people, who matter in this field and that helps me overcome obstacles. Every morning when I wake up, I have faces of my patients in front of my eyes and the desire to help them puts an infinite energy in my step. My dreams and my goals motivate me to achieve and become successful in life. They motivate me to be the best person I can be.
ML: What is IFC’s goal? What is the main source of finance for your organisation?
RB: To achieve a success rate of 100% and not leave a single parent childless is my goal. I believe in doing quality work and in helping childless couples across the world. I want to solve the problem of infertility for all couples or all single parents. We are self-funded. Whatever we earn, we put it back in our business to grow ourselves. We have four centres across India and Nepal. In India, we have centers at Delhi and Srinagar and two in Kathmandu.
ML: Why is it important to encourage entrepreneurship in India, especially among women?
RB: Women have been suppressed and subjugated for a very long time. Economic independence brings great confidence and uplifts the entire women community. I formally believe and have great confidence in women doing multi-tasking and having entrepreneurial abilities.
ML: What were the biggest challenges you faced as a woman entrepreneur?
RB: Balancing my time between family and profession and sometimes not being available in critical family affairs. Sometimes, being taken for granted as a pretty face, with no substance has also been a challenge in a man’s world, and to deal with male egos has also not been easy.
ML: Do you feel the need for networking to grow your business? What works for you?
RB: There are various organisations such Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), FICCI Ladies Organisation- Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI), Assocham etc. I strongly believe that if you do great and quality work, you will get connected to good people in due time. Besides that, holding my own Conference i.e. International Conference on Reproduction, Fertility and Surrogacy and inviting National & International faculty has been of immense help.
ML: What would you say are the business tools that have helped your centre? What are your growth plans?
RB: Good communication skills, having a smiling personality, razor sharp intellect and loads of hard work. Always updating and acquiring new skills in this field have always been a priority for me. Being active on social media sites like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter are also a big help. I really want to expand my business by opening up infertility centers in all the cities, so that I can serve lots of childless couples.
ML: Any tips for our women readers?
RB: Ask yourself what I can do best without too much of money. You should focus on career building and setting aggressive career goals, learning from others. Always ask for help, advice, and suggestion. Don’t get bogged down, put loads of hard work, perseverance, enthusiasm and constant focus on work.
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The ADA group company hits its 52-week high on the BSE at Rs57.50 on Thursday. Two of its promoter group entities are buying additional 26.7% stake and offered to delist the RMW
Reliance Land Pvt Ltd and Reliance Capital, the two promoter group entities of Reliance MediaWorks Ltd (RMW) have offered to buy additional 26.7% stake and then delist the entertainment company from BSE and National Stock Exchange (NSE). On Thursday, the Anil Dhirubhai Ambani (ADA) group company recorded its 52-week high at Rs57.50 on the BSE.
In a regulatory filing, both Reliance Land and Reliance Capital, which together hold 73.3% stake in RMW said, it would buy additional 26.7% shares in the company.
“The company will seek to voluntarily delist the equity shares from BSE and NSE in accordance with the delisting regulations consequent to the delisting offer. As the combined shareholding of the promoter group of the company, including that of the acquirers, reaching a minimum of 90% of the equity capital and fulfilment of other conditions stipulated under the delisting regulations,” the regulatory filing said.
Dispatch of bid forms to public shareholders will start on 8th March, and bids will be open from 20th to 26th March and the promoter group entities would make further public announcement of discovered price or exit price on 9 April 2014.
The board of directors or RMW on 20 January 2014, approved the proposal to initiate the delisting offer. The same day, RMW shares surged 20% at Rs55.65 to hit its upper circuit limit on the BSE. A special resolution has been passed by the shareholders of the company through postal ballot. On 28 February 2014, Reliance Media declared results of the resolution passed by shareholders through postal ballot and said in its regulatory filing that, voluntary delisting of the company approved by 99.11% votes cast by non-promoter group shareholders.
RMW shares closed Friday marginally up at Rs56.55 on the BSE while the 30-share Sensex ended 1.9% higher at 21,919.