Board Member and Country Manager, Amelio Early Education
Nisheel Poddar: I started my career in 1997 in Supply chain, after which I navigated my way through positions in IT, Strategy, M&A, and Consulting before taking up my current role as the country lead for Amelio, which is Babilou-Family’s brand and childcare business in India. I was always lucky to work with amazing leaders and companies that were in multiple lines of business, and this allowed me to explore projects outside my fixed role. This gave me both a global perspective and exposure to different business verticals and workstreams. For example, while at the Piramal Group, I learned how efficient they were in M&A and how a conglomerate operated. At Sodexo, where I spent 11 years, I learned the importance of company values in bringing teams together to achieve outstanding results. Over here, I also learned so much about other industries and working in a global setup because we had corporate clients who were in manufacturing, IT, and Pharma, plus schools, hospitals, and universities. Lastly while running my own consulting business, I honed my entrepreneurship and finance skills.
I strongly believe having this diverse and multi-faceted career helped me land the top job in India when Amelio’s current CEO was moving to a group role. And gave me the tools to succeed in what would prove to be a very challenging period.
Nisheel Poddar: Babilou-Family invested in India in Amelio during 2018 as it saw a country with 200 million children in the 0-6 age group and a local company and founder who shared similar values. As I mentioned earlier, I took on my Country Lead role in March 2020 when the founder exited the local business to move to a group role. The pandemic was very hard on the childcare and preschool industry, which was literally the first to shut down and the last to reopen. Part of it was cultural, given our need to protect our youngest, but it also highlighted the lack of oversight and regulation in our sector as all players were struggling with where to reach out to within the system for support.
Our business was shut for almost 2 years before it could reopen, and it taught me valuable leadership lessons. Going into a once-in-a-lifetime event like COVID within weeks of my new job was my greatest challenge, and no degree or training can ever prepare you for this. I had to learn to pivot, be nimble, be innovative, and keep our team motivated. We developed new business lines like home service, a box for home play & activities, plus a virtual preschool, and many others. Once we gradually started reopening our childcare centres, we focused exclusively on higher standards of safety than before. I am proud of the fact that, despite remaining open throughout the 3rd and 4th waves, we never once had to shut a centre or classroom due to our robust health and safety protocols. Being part of the Babilou Family really helped us. We had access to best practises and insights from the other 11 countries where we operate. Being part of a group where there are strong values of teamwork, sharing across borders, and an entrepreneurial mindset was amazing!
We reopened only towards the end of 2021. We restarted with zero children and one centre, and within this short period of 18 months, we are almost back to where we were. Today, we continue to grow the business in southern India with robust wins, opening childcare spaces at some of the largest corporate factories and office campuses.
Nisheel Poddar: I see the future as very bright for Early Childhood Care and education, both in India and worldwide. As more research emerges via neuroscience, the role of nature, etc. in the early years, the more we realise the important role parents, carers, teachers, society, and the environment play in shaping our young children. Today, we are beginning to understand the importance of the first 1000 days in the life of a child and how it sets them up as adults in a rapidly changing and dynamic world.
Topics like sustainable education and a pedagogy for the future are extremely important, and at Babilou-Family, we are working with experts and thought leaders to bring this vision to life at our centres across the world.
In India specifically, the importance of the early years cannot be underestimated. We have almost 25 million new births a year, and how we invest in these children during the crucial 0–6 years will have a bearing on our future continued success. There will emerge a need for private-public partnerships to make it impactful and sustainable. On the childcare front, the maternity bill amendment of 2017 was a step in the right direction, which, with rigorous implementation, will help improve gender diversity in the workplace. At Amelio we have seen with our oldest corporate clients that have supported childcare for more than 10 years now, there is a strong correlation between the service provided, and their ability to attract and retain talent. Today, our service is an indispensable part of their Employee Value Proposition. With time, this will only grow and make not only the gender landscape more balanced but also the work-life balance.
Teacher training is in Bangalore at Softzone Centre
Nisheel Poddar: I’ve spent 15 of my 25 years in the corporate world working at French companies. There has been a great synergy between France and India over many years, and many people don’t realise how strong and deep the business links are. For example, Sodexo, my first French employer, has been in India for over 25 years. Both their business verticals have achieved market leadership in the Indian market. Cap Gemini, Saint-Gobain, Renault, Schnider, and many others have all built strong brands and business models in India, capturing the growth that the Indian market affords. On the other side, you have Indian companies like TCS and others that have done very well providing solutions in the French market. And most recently, you have the mega deals: over 1000+ aircraft orders for Airbus from Indigo and Air India! A testament to the growth potential of the Indian market and the strong synergies between India and France.
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