The UAE's Educational Influencers 2018

If you want to know who has made the biggest impact on education in the UAE over the last year, read on for's Most Influential People within education in 2018.
The UAE's Educational Influencers 2018
By C Hoppe
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The 'green-revolution' isn't going to grow roots and gather momentum in the UAE without the help of committed and inspiring people to continually drive the cause forward.

That's why this year, we salute the work of the UAE's Eco-Influencers, those individuals who work tirelessly to ensure their facilities reach the highest environmental standards and remain to nurturing a love of the environment and sustainable-living in the children they teach.


Lucy Bruce: Home Grown Nursery

Lucy is the co-founder of two thriving ‘eco’ nurseries in Umm Suqiem and Al Safa, the first branch having opened to much fanfare in 2012.  Home Grown has proved itself a brand beyond the buzz, however, with two consistently busy branches and an excellent reputation, built mostly on word of mouth.  Home Grown have won several awards for their integration of green and sustainable principles with the EYFS curriculum. 

Not content with being an educator in Dubai alone, Lucy is the founder of Harmony House, a day shelter and education centre for street children living in Delhi.  Struck by the poverty she witnessed on a visit to her Indian husband’s family, Lucy resolved to do something to help.  Harmony House has been in operation since 2009, and provides education, nutrition, vocational training and medical facilities to slum dwelling children aged between 6-months and 18-years.


How long have you worked in the UAE? 

I moved to the UAE at the tender age of 21 in 1999 after completing my BA in Primary Education.  Began working as  teacher in Abu Dhabi and very quickly became the Head of Primary at the age of 23. I moved to Dubai when I was 25 and have been here ever since. 

What made you choose the Early Years sector?

Working in the Primary department in a British School was a wonderful experience and I was always  very passionate about primary education. When I became a mother my interest shifted to Early Years. I was fascinated to observe how my own children grew and developed. I sent my children to nursery a couple of days a week from age 1 and I quickly recognised the importance of trying to make a child's early years experience as holistic as possible. My good friend, and now business partner, Beverly Jatwani, and I were both committed to our vision of opening the first Green Thinking and Socially Responsible Nursery in the Middle East.

How do you see the Early Years industry evolving over the next three years?

There finally seems to be a 'back to basics' global movement in Education as a whole which in my opinion is more required than ever. The Early Years industry in Dubai however has to continue to evolve through nursery owners becoming more involved in the experiences and environment they offer. Sadly nurseries have been perceived by investors as 'cash cows' and in some cases there has been overwhelming focus on profit rather than purpose. There can be conflict between the owners and the managers who's missions are not aligned. Of course parents can quickly gauge if the nursery provides a setting where their little ones are the main priority which inevitably leads to many families changing nurseries frequently. I do believe that there will be a shift as more and more nurseries begin to listen to the wants, needs and requirements of their families and focus more on human values rather than corporate values.  

What do you think are the greatest challenges facing the industry in the UAE?

Running a nursery in the UAE is becoming increasingly more difficult. The recent shift of nursery governance from MOSA to MOE has presented challenges for all of us in the nursery industry and although the new rules and regulations are welcome as they will help to ensure that standards and regulations are adhered to, there are a few grey areas that still need to be clarified and conveyed. 

What are the key milestones in your career so far?

My career has been colourful to say the least. Leaving teaching at 26 to open an advertising agency really threw me in at the deep end. It taught me how to run a business within the UAE market and made me resourceful and innovative. I learnt that hard work is the only way to achieve true success and gave me the ability to be able to see potential problems as challenges that have solutions. I learnt that mistakes can be our most valuable lessons and that nothing can substitute determination and perseverance.

In 2010 I Founded and opened Harmony House, a children's charity in Delhi that provides education, nutrition, vocational training, medical  facilities and love and care to slum children aged between 6 months and 18 years. This will always be one of the key moments in my career. Being able to witness the opening of our first Home Grown Nursery in 2011 was a huge milestone for myself and my business partner, Beverly Jatwani. To be able to witness your ideas that were an initial scribble on a piece of paper flourish into a successful and well established early years provider has given us both a sense of achievement.

What do you think is your greatest achievement, in education, to date - and why?

Being able to combine my love for children with my passion for giving back more than you take. Although I try and apply this in my everyday life it is a huge achievement for Beverly and I to have been able to build a successful nursery that emulates and projects our 'purpose beyond profit' mandate. Our partnership with Harmony House has allowed us to provide holistic early years education for children in Dubai and education for our 500 children in Delhi. It is a model that both Bevery and I are very proud of. 

Name three things which get you up and motivate you each day?

My children

Knowing that I can make a difference to those around me, near and far

I want to fully live the journey of life

What would you still like to achieve in your professional life?

My partnership with Beverly is more than a working relationship. Our vision for Home Grown has always been aligned and we share our ambitions and achievements together. To be able to provide and develop an educational platform  that works in harmony with human values, individual children's needs and our planet, to as many children as possible would be our greatest achievement. 

What is your advice for others hoping to emulate your success?

There have been so many lessons along the way but the best piece of advice I was ever given was; “talk less and do more”. It is important to start taking steps towards your goals and even if you have to take a step back, know that you will continue to move forward. When you do something you love with good intentions you will always succeed in some shape or form. By giving others a helping hand along the way will ensure that your efforts will always  be rewarded.

What is the most enjoyable aspect of working in education?

Working with the incredible people in our ecosystem and being able to witness the positive impact that you have been able to help generate will always remain the most enjoyable aspect of working in education for me.


Steve Ritz: Urban Gardener & Revolutionary

Where do we start with Steve Ritz? The man who established vertical edible-gardens in his Bronx-based school in the US, and in the process started nothing less than a global-school-gardening-revolution!

The gardens not only assisted in his lessons, but spawned a district-wide healthy eating campaign, launched a job creation scheme for school-leavers, launched multi-generational school-based cookery classes and generated enough 'buzz' he was even invited to the White House to meet with President at the time- Barack Obama.

Back in 2016, the KHDA invited Ritz to talk at the 'What Works' conference, on his experiences and passion for gardening, this then catapulted school gardens into the mainstream. Today there are well over 50 schools gardens across the city.

Today he lives between the US and Dubai and is advising on the launch of new IB curriculum and sustainable school- Fairgreen International School in Sustainable City.

How long have you worked in the UAE? 

I started my work in UAE in 2015 as a Top Ten Finalist in the Global Teacher Prize and had the incredible fortune of meeting Fida Slayman, Dr. Abdulla al Karam and the whole team at KHDA - who even came to NYC to visit me in the South Bronx to learn about our model.

From there, I started doing some consulting work and was asked to present at 'What Works' where I met the team from Esol Education. I've been blessed to work with both KHDA and Esol Education since in a variety of capacities since - across UAE and beyond; to inspire healthy living and healthy learning with an emphasis on quality of teaching and quality of learning rooted in health, wellness, nutrition, urban farming and innovation.

I am beyond excited to assume the role of Director of Health, Wellness and Innovation for Esol Education this fall and to be working at Fairgreen International School in The Sustainable City; just think of the potential impact. We will be growing something GREAT!

What made you choose the education sector? 

Simply put, teachers change lives! Behind every successful individual there is a teacher, a mentor; one, kind, caring adult who nurtured that person. My goal is to be that kind, caring, compassionate person - to serve as a real model/role model - for as many students and teachers as possible. At my core, I am an equity warrior and the greatest pathway to equity and opportunity for all is via education! This is the fiber of my DNA. 

What do you think are the greatest challenges facing the industry in the UAE?

Inherently, I do not see challenges but rather opportunities. UAE is ripe with innovation, disruption, entreprenuership and HH is determined to be the global leader in transformational education - it is the perfect storm.

The commitment and vision of Dr. Abdulla to look at the whole child; happiness, positivity, empathy, compassion and wellness aligned to performance based standards, certifications and rigorous and recursive evaluations makes UAE and great place to teach and to learn - together, we will overcome and address any and all challenges.

To think my work, rooted in both human and planetary ecology - a greater global good - which took root in the poorest Congressional District in America has sprouted in UAE speaks to the universal needs of collateral positivity, sustenance, water conservation, the obesity crisis, food security and health crises related with the potential to impact the entirety of the world. Not only is UAE a global center; diverse, inclusive and philanthropic BUT folks look to Dubai to as the center of innovation and disruption for the world - very exciting!

What are the key milestones in your career so far?

To date, my work has been replicated in over 6,000 classrooms across the United States, multiple countries and been celebrated globally by the likes of Presidents Clinton and Obama, Pope Francis, Dr. Adbualla al Karam, Walid Abushakra, Deepak Chopra, Daniel Lubetzky and Oprah Winfrey. To have a model of my classroom installed at the Obama White House and US Botanic Garden has been humbling.

To think my book, The Power Of A Plant: A Teacher's Odyssey to Grow Healthy Minds and Schools, became a number one best seller across all categories of education, with over 45 five star reviews is proof positive that my work resonates with the sector and people I want to impact most. I've just been awarded an honorary PhD. from the State University of New York for my work with teachers and students - and our curriculum is being used to train educators across the country and beyond.

To be asked to speak at Emirates Literature Festival and named as a Top Ten Finalist in the Global Teacher Prize are accolades I never imagined. Losing over 100 pounds simply by eating the food I grew with my students in school en route to outstanding academic perfromance and health outcomes serves as model for anyone and everyone. Looking forward, to be working in Dubai, at The Sustainable City, with Esol Education at Fairgreen International School on a campus designed for minimal environmental impact and maximal well being means I will be participating in the leading movement to create a sustainable, restorative, regenerative future for our world!

What do you think is your greatest achievement, in education, to date - and why?

Beyond a shadow of a doubt, my greatest achievement has been the trajectory of my students and the sum of their careers!

As I often say, 60,000 pounds of vegetables later, my favorite crop is organically grown citizens, graduates, members of the middle class. I grow vegetables, but my vegetables grow students, schools, communities and opportunities. Scaling my work around the world and inspiring healthy living and learning for all - using 90% less water and space - speaks to a universal application that benefits all. I am humbled to be known as "America's Favorite Teacher - The Pied Piper of Peas!" That said, my greatest achievement is yet to happen!

Name three things which get you up and motivate you each day?

Every day is an opportunity to do something great, to make epic happen and to touch additional lives - that motivates me inherently. I am driven by three things: passion, purpose and hope! I will not rest until I achieve the results I want to see everywhere and I am relentlessly fearless about failure so I've got plenty of work to do and much to accomplish. I am driven to leave the world better than I found it. 

What would you still like to achieve in your professional life?

My goal is to insure that every child has access to healthy, fresh nutritous food and that every child has access to education; that children around the world - in cities and remote locations - are empowered to be who they want to be; not who they have to be. I have been blessed to be a messenger. I dream of world peace; of a world with no hunger, no war and opportunity for all - I intend to work towards that until it happens or until I draw my last breath - hopefully the former will happen first! I've got plenty to do!

What is your advice for others hoping to emulate your success? 

Remember the GOLDEN RULES: please, thank you, have a nice day, come early, stay late, thank you for correcting me go a long, long, long way.

If anyone can learn something from me, it is to be fearless, relentless, never give up and always work to get to yes - the solutions are often in front of us. Always give credit to others and celebrate often. I am the world's most accidental success, I keep falling up the ladder of success and when I fail, I am grateful, brush myself off and start over again, one incident smarter. Remember this, NO CHILD RISES TO LOW EXPECTATIONS! I'd rather fail at a high bar than succeed at a lower one. 

What is the most enjoyable aspect of working in education?

Children! Teaching children what counts is as important as teaching them to count. As Dr. Abdulla says: "we are preparing children for the test of life, not for a life of tests!" Along the way, they bring days to my life and life to my days. Every day I hear "Good morning Mr. Ritz," I know it indeed is and will be. Wearing a cheese hat with children is lots of fun too!



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