She’s the mother of two, who on deciding she needed a better and different form of education for her children, not only took on the entire education sector, but in the process is starting to create something of an education empire. From a single, and the first IB curriculum school in the UAE, Dubai International Academy, the Innoventures group has now expanded to include three all through schools (Raffles World Academy, Raffles International School and Collegiate American School) as well as a range of nurseries.
In partnering with Emaar Education to open Ranches Primary School in 2015, Poonam has ensured that there will be a steady stream of new families to attract to local community-based schools. In 2016 Innoventures achieved the first Outstanding KHDA inspection rating for any ‘all-through’ IB school in Dubai with the school that started her journey just over 10 years ago in 2006, Dubai International Academy.
How long have you been in the UAE?
I have been in the UAE for over 25 years now. I came here from the Silicon Valley and was unsure of the future ahead of me when I followed my husband here to Dubai. However, Dubai has proven to be a place where dreams can come true with hard-work, strategy and focus, regardless of the field in which one may be.
What made you choose the education sector?
Around 2005 and earlier, Dubai had experienced a growth spurt in many sectors of the economy and the opening of the real estate sector had fueled this growth with the creation of the free zones like the Dubai Internet City and Dubai Media City. At the same time, largely due to my personal experiences as a parent, I developed a real passion for education.
I wanted an education that went beyond the acquisition of knowledge for my young children at that time. I wanted their education to be challenging and holistic while developing in them values of global citizenship aimed at creating a better world.
At that time, I had recently resigned from a prestigious position in a leading international bank to spend time with my young children and so had a lot of time on my hands. I became a highly involved mother and kept changing the school of my younger son in search of the ideal school, finally concluding that setting up a new school was the only option that existed for me. This led to the creation of Dubai International Academy, the first fully authorized all IB school of UAE in 2005. The rest is history.
What do you think are the greatest challenges facing the industry in the UAE?
One of the challenges the K-12 schools and nurseries face is the multiplicity of regulatory bodies that schools are required to interface with. Another challenge is rising costs that are not in our control while the fees are tightly regulated. Regardless of the fees or the economic growth each year, there are many inflationary pressures for this industry including the continually rising staff costs, rents, resources, ancillary services, water and electricity. Availability of quality teachers can an issue but as Dubai is a desirable city, international teachers can be attracted but at salary levels that competes globally.
What are the key milestones in your career so far?
I have had a very fulfilling career in education as well as in my previous life as an information technology professional in the banking industry. The greatest feeling of success comes from the success of the student body in achieving their dreams. It is delightful to see our young minds achieving.
What are the key milestones in your career so far?
A key milestone was when Emaar Education placed in us the trust of their education portfolio with them handing over the management of The Raffles schools and nurseries to Innoventures Education.
The successful and smooth transition of these schools and nurseries have been a key milestone as well as a significant achievement. Our portfolio of the Raffles schools includes Raffles World Academy, Raffles International School and nine Raffles Nurseries. These schools offer a cross-section of the UK and IB curricula and are accredited by the BSO and CIS respectively.
Our nurseries offer the best of EYFS and Montessori in a delightful purpose-built setting and are fully accredited by the Pre-school Alliance from UK.
Another key milestone has been the establishment of Collegiate American School. It offers the best of Common-Core standards and the International Baccalaureate and is accredited by NEASC and CIS. It is unique in Dubai when combined with the STEM and technology enabled environment. We also have two Burj Day Care Nurseries, one in Burj Khalifa and another in Arabian Ranches 2.
What do you think is your greatest achievement, in education, to date - and why?
The recognition of Dubai International Academy as an Outstanding school has been a key achievement for not just me but for our whole team. In addition, for me it is a huge achievement to see that students across our schools and nurseries are provided with access to an education that is truly holistic, rigorous and international. All our schools and nurseries are on a similar growth trajectory.
While I have had my fair share of success in education, my greatest personal achievement comes from seeing that my own children have gone through our first school, Dubai International Academy to the universities of their dreams, namely Yale and Cambridge. Over and beyond that, the values that they have inculcated allow them to contribute to those less fortunate than themselves to create a better world.
Name three things which get you up and motivate you each day?
There are many things that motivate me each day so it will be difficult to keep to three only.
First and foremost, being with children is truly exciting as the possibilities of extending young minds are limitless. It is joyful and inspirational to be surrounded by their creativity. There is no greater feeling of success than to see the success of our children across all areas – academic, athletics, arts and global citizenship.
Secondly, the school community is a very well knit one. Teachers are highly dedicated professionals who enter this profession as they are truly passionate about it. Their greatest joy comes from the success of their student. We are also blessed with outstanding support from a talented and diverse parent community. It is wonderful to be in such an environment where all are relentless in pursuit of excellence in learning.
Thirdly this is a very exciting time to be in education. Quality is key to the success of any institution and the advent of technology has created limitless possibilities for innovation and creativity.
I love my work and the people I am surrounded by and feel truly responsible for their success.
What would you still like to achieve in your professional life?
I have had a very satisfying career however, there is no end to what can be achieved in this field as it is all about stretching the human mind. In future I would like to continue to build on what has been achieved so far in providing an education where all children exceed their potential. I would like to see each and every staff member to be able to achieve their dream as well. It is always possible to do better. In the words of H.H Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, “In the race for excellence, there is no finish line”.
I would also like to give back to this wonderful country that we all call home by being able to contribute to the public education sector that has not so far enjoyed the same growth as the private sector has in recent years.
What is your advice for others hoping to emulate your success?
Dare to dream and be prepared to do what it takes to achieve those dreams. Having a vision for the future is very important. It is also very important to have the grit and resilience needed to overcome any obstacles that may come up. In the end, working hard always pays off.
What is the most enjoyable aspect of working in education?
Experiencing the growth and achievement of young minds. It is all about life-long learning.