Shailaja Adhikary, Managing Director of IEC Group Nepal, has been involved in the educational sector since 1997. In her exclusive tête-à-tête with ceotab.com, she says her institutions are committed to offering better quality education for students with well-trained teachers, an international level curriculum, and good infrastructures. Excerpts:
How did you get the idea of introducing franchise educational institutions in Nepal?
I wanted to do something different in the education sector of Nepal. It was not possible for me to do it alone. I was looking to provide an international curriculum here in Nepal. Yes, I knew that I needed to invest a good amount of money to start and will have to share the profit as well. In the end, I realized that I should go with the franchise education system so that I can offer a new way of the education system in Nepal.
Why did you choose the education sector when there were other potential sectors in the country?
My father had a carpet business and I found that the product business in Nepal was not flourishing at that time besides a few handfuls of industries. During the insurgency period, many industries were closed. I did research and found that the service sector and education, in particular, was the potential sector to invest in. The government was not being able to enhance the country’s education system despite having a huge amount of investment. And I believed that any country can flourish with only proper education. I was privileged to get a better education, thanks to my parents. But I felt if I would provide a good education environment to a new generation, I can give a good platform to those students who have been deprived of getting a better education. After my higher education, I started teaching in a school. But I did not find that quality in education which I got when I was a student. I found a huge gap and had in mind that I have to do something for the country’s education sector.
I found a huge gap and had in mind that I have to do something for the country’s education sector.
At a time when everyone was looking for a lucrative banking career in Nepal, you opted to shift your career to become an entrepreneur. Was that a difficult transition?
I worked in Grindlays (now Standard Chartered) Bank for a few months but I quickly realized it was not my cup of tea. I didn’t enjoy my work as there was no creativity. Both of my parents were bankers. But we never used to discuss the working environment earlier. Later I had a long discussion with my father who recommended that I should start my own business, although my mother was against it. I approached many banks and shared my business ideas to start computer and fashion designing (which was totally new for Nepali society). I wanted to start my business for which I needed Rs 4.5 to Rs 5 million which was a huge investment at that time. None of the banks took me seriously and rejected my proposal. Finally, one financial institution accepted my proposal and agreed to provide a loan against collateral (which my father provided). My father also helped me financially. But, I always had a fear that if I could not pay back the loan then the bank would seize my father’s property. So I realized that I had to make my business successful and had to pay back the loan in three years. By the time, when I started IEC, I had not quit my banking job. I used to work from early morning till late at night. Later, I realized that I was not giving enough time for IEC. So, I decided to quit my banking job and started focusing on my institution. And I was successful to pay back the loan before the due period and return my father’s money at the earliest.
What were the challenges you faced during opening up the institution?
I faced so many challenges while establishing the institution. Like the course, I was about to offer in Nepal was unheard of before, it was not that easy for me to convince people regarding my business. Likewise, registration and financial handling were another level of a tough job for me. When I look back now, I proudly say I have achieved a lot in my life. I did not get anything that easily and had gone through many ups and downs. I had to fight and put on my extra efforts in my professional life.
You established institutions for fashion and interior designing careers in Nepal. How difficult was it to break the stereotypical career concept of people when these careers were not easily accepted in the country?
When I started IEC back in 1997, people were not really acquainted with fashion and interior designing, though they were fashion-conscious. Personally, I was very fashion-conscious and used to dress well. But people, even during the late 90s did not have an idea that fashion and interior designing could be better alternative careers. It was totally unheard of in Nepal. Although I used to get a lot of inquiries, it was very difficult for me to convince students who hesitated to go with fashion and interior designing as their careers. However, as time has changed, students are now competing to enroll their names for the course all because of the better platform and opportunity that we offer them to expose themselves at the international level through our quality education.
How do you see the fashion and interior careers in Nepal at the moment?
Fashion and interior careers are growing day by not only in Nepal but globally too. There is a good demand for fashion and interior designers in the global market. It is a very lucrative career as people in this field are earning a very handsome amount of money. I feel very proud that students who have passed out from IEC are doing very well in their professional life and earning a good amount of salary. The one mantra I have given my students from the very beginning is that they are not doing any work without pay. If they are using their skills and knowledge for even a small project, they should be paid. I think this has also helped them a lot in their career.
However, as time has changed, students are now competing to enroll their names for the course all because of the better platform and opportunity that we offer them to expose themselves at the international level through our quality education.
To add on, you took pre-school education system to next level and also introduced a progressive education system at the school level. How did you come up with these ideas?
As I have already mentioned earlier also, the education sector in Nepal was largely an untapped sector. And at the time when I started Euro Kids, there were only a handful of pre-schools. I realized that something was missing and I came up with Euro Kids with a very big investment and of course, a pre-school education system of international level. I was not sure if I would be starting a school-level education institution though. Parents were so satisfied with the quality that we provided at Euro Kids, I was obliged to think of starting Euro School. We did not compromise in offering better quality education for students with well-trained teachers an international level curriculum and good infrastructures.
How have you been managing to maintain education quality? How do you find Nepal’s education system at the moment?
Under IEC Group of Nepal, there are three institution brands currently in operation. But the very important thing that we have been always considering as the top priority is the quality of education that we have been providing. And I am very happy to say that all parents and students till the date are very satisfied with what we have been offering to them. We have valued their investment in their child’s education and have paid them back with our quality education service. We have built up trust through our service. We have been maintaining our quality with frequent teachers’ training and are upgrading their skills and knowledge every year. If I visit somewhere abroad and see something new in the education system there, I try to introduce it in my institutions back in Nepal. Investment is not that important; maintaining quality and hold the same position makes much difference.
Support from the team that you are working with is also very important. If we make them feel ownership of the institution, then they give their 100%. If your team member thinks that s/he is working for the organization and thinks of being an equally important part of it then only it is possible to maintain quality. It is, in fact, a collective effort.
Regarding the education system of Nepal, I have found drastic change and I believe and hope, Nepal will become an education hub one day for global students. However, it is not possible only from the private sector, the government should be very serious about the issue and should come up with strong policies and programs to act on it.
Being a woman entrepreneur, what could be your role for society, in particular for women? How IEC Group of Nepal is carrying out CSR?
Being a woman entrepreneur, I always try to empower women. I always tell my students and teachers (most of them are female) and put my mind on their head saying that they need to be the boss of their own individual company and should prove as a successful entrepreneur only then a country like Nepal will be developed. I even have tried to include a biography of successful Nepali entrepreneurs in the curriculum to motivate children to give shape to their careers.
Since the beginning, we have been providing donations to different non-profit organizations for their social works. Now, we have a plan to establish an IEC Foundation, a non-profit body of the group as a part of CSR. We even encourage our students to come forward to help in case of need so that when they grow up, they will continue to make a contribution whenever there is a need. Being a responsible citizen, it is the duty of everyone to give a contribution to the country. However, CSR does not only refer to financial support, if one can contribute from their own individual part then it makes a lot of differences. A school, for instance, can contribute as a part of CSR by providing free education to the needy ones. If we work in such a manner, then it works for society.
Do you have any future plans to expand your business to other sectors? Where do you see the IEC group in ten years?
I have a dream of working in the tourism sector. But as of now, I am not sure if it will be fulfilled or not. Regarding education, I want to make the IEC group an international hub of the education sector. I have a plan of extending IEC Group to the university level. And to add to this, I want to create and establish my own brand and see people using products of my brand.