"Today’s competitive environment dictates that profit is viable over the long-term only if quality in education is being delivered,” says Poonam Bhojani, when discussing the line educators need to toe between focusing on profits versus looking after aims that serve the greater good. As the founder and CEO of Innoventures Education, Bhojani has played a pivotal role in the inception and leadership of a number of schools and nurseries in the UAE. She has her work cut out for her now more than ever, since the debate over the quality of education in the UAE is now raging across online forums, social media, and in the daily newspapers.
One of the hotter points of contention has been the ever-climbing cost of putting children in quality educational institutions, and to this, Bhojani points out that amongst other factors, good quality instructors cost good money: “You need to keep in mind that private education in this part of the world gets no subsidy. We have to also manage global competition for talent, and locally we have to compete with other real estate asset classes like retail, hospitality and healthcare for getting real estate for schools. Besides, we are unique as an industry in Dubai, where our main cost of inputs (teachers) are subject to inflation in global markets, whereas our selling price is controlled by local regulation.”
Despite the fact that Bhojani’s business is in education, she says that like any other industry the money will come only after you deliver on your marketed value add. “In any business, if the focus is on quality, the financial outcomes come on their own,” adds Bhojani. And her focus is on quality- she says that her day-to-day challenge is the positive growth of their substantial student body, and by this she doesn’t mean numbers, she means prioritizing every student’s individual wellbeing. “We will start the new academic year 2015-2016 with approximately 8000 students across our nine nurseries and four schools. The challenge is in ensuring that for each student, each and every school day is as meaningful and full of learning as it possibly can be.”
Bhojani’s work in this sector saw her become the President of the Middle East International Baccalaureate Association of schools in 2008, and she continues to serve on its executive committee today. Prior to her career as an educationalist, Bhojani worked in the technology sector for over 16 years, with her work taking her to several countries across three continents. over the course of her career, Bhojani has seen a number of corporate and entrepreneurial leaders come and go, and she says that there are discernible qualities that set the good leaders apart from the great ones. “this can be summarized in a few ‘Cs’: commitment, collaboration, communication, clarity, and compassion. A great leader is one who is respected and followed; this can be commanded but not demanded. A great leader is one who has a vision for what the business should be as well as the ability to achieve the same. A great leader is one who can lead by example from the front and one who cares for all stakeholders.”
A hands-on CEO, Bhojani says her chief priority rests with ensuring high quality experiences for the children enrolled at the many Innoventures institutions. “My focus has always been on ensuring that all decisions we make are student-centric. I am completely involved each day in ensuring that all staff members are able to maximize their potential in delivering the best possible quality of education to each and every child. I am fortunate to have a wonderful and dedicated team that ensures that Innoventures education is able to deliver our promise on education. After all, each day we are engaged in building the future of our most valuable assets: our 8000-odd students.”
And on retaining her best and brightest team members? It’s simple, says the CEO; awarding respect and appreciation is “paramount to retaining quality managers,” and ensuring proper division of labor paired with instilling every member of staff with a sense of ownership over the business can go a long way. “Appropriate delegation through a model of distributed leadership is essential so that people can develop ownership and experience the success of their initiatives. I am truly fortunate to be working with a dedicated team that will do what it takes in delivering the best for their students.”