Off hours: Dubai International Academy founder Poonam Bhojani

Poonam Bhojani is an entrepreneur, educator and the founder of Dubai International Academy – an international school based in Emirates Hills. She is also the chief executive of Innoventures Education and is responsible for leading some of Dubai’s best-known educational institutions – including Dubai International Academy, Raffles Schools and Nurseries, Collegiate American School and Burj Daycare Nursery. A long-standing Dubai resident with her husband, Avi Bhojani, the couple have two grown sons; while the eldest is a Yale graduate working in strategy consulting with Bain & Co, the younger son is in his final year at Cambridge University.

How do you spend your weekend?

With family and friends. When my children are at home with us, they look forward to a traditional, home-cooked meal so I like to get innovative in the kitchen and whip up something extra special for the whole family. I use my weekend to catch-up on my fitness regime by spending more time at the gym and going for long walks in good weather. I also play catch-up with work matters that come up during the week. My weekends are often more hectic than the working week, as there is so much to get done.


How did you become a chief executive?

My career as an education professional started when I decided to take a sabbatical from corporate life because I felt that my children needed more attention at home. Being more involved in their education made me realise there was a huge gap in K12 international schools in Dubai at that time, especially for families seeking education that was holistic, rigorous and truly international. I became obsessed with the idea of creating a school that would provide the best possible education. My husband and I worked on this project from the grassroots level and our combined vision became a reality.

We were fortunate to receive the support of a few friends who are also investors in Innoventures Education. Mohamed Alabbar, the chairman of Emaar Properties, took the bold decision to build a school in Dubai’s premium expatriate community – Emirates Hills – giving us the opportunity to create Dubai International Academy (DIA). DIA opened its doors in September 2005 with more than 500 pupils – including both my children. I dared to dream and this dream is now a reality with four schools and nine nurseries. Nothing can be more rewarding than being surrounded by the bright eyes and sparkling smiles of so many children each day.

What is your go-to gadget?

Undoubtedly my iPhone 6S Plus. It keeps me connected with people on the go – friends, family and business associates – and is a great work tool. Using OneNote is very handy to jot down ideas in business meetings. Also, my iPhone helps me multitask better and respond to my work emails, WhatsApp and other social media and helps me maintain a calendar, to-do lists and read books when time permits. Being a bit of a fitness freak, I also use my phone to monitor the physical exercise that I get each day.

What was the lowest point of your career?

I am, and have always been a “glass-half-full person”. Even in adversity, I see opportunity and work towards doing the best that I possibly can.

What advice would you offer others starting out in your business?

Dare to dream big. Have lofty goals for yourself and for the young minds that you are responsible for. Dubai has an environment that nurtures world-class education. The education sector in the UAE is going through an exciting period where technology is transforming learning in the classroom and outside. Work hard and value the people who work with you. Most of all, stay focused on your vision.

What is your most indulgent habit?

Spending time at home with my family doing nothing. Actually, responding to more than 100 emails per day in the evening while watching the TV intermittently.

What do you have on your desk at work?

My laptop and my iPhone. And a picture of my two gorgeous boys.

What can’t you live without?

I need to keep doing something new and exciting. It is important for me to keep reinventing whatever can be done better. I need to feel a sense of achievement – no matter what I do.

How do you achieve a work-life balance?

For any working professional, it is important to strike a balance between work and leisure. When time permits, I make sure I take breaks with my family and friends. We love travelling together. I try hard to do my 60 minutes in the gym each day. In good weather, I also like going for long walks.

If you could swap jobs with anyone, who would it be and why?

I love my job and would not like to swap it with anyone else other than myself.

lbarnard@thenational.ae

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