Interview - Aniruddh Gupta

Monday, September 17, 2018

Safari Kid International's chief executive talks about the growth of the nursery group and its future plans.

The International nursery group operates childcare settings across Hong Kong, Kuala
Lumpur, Mumbai, Dubai and London 

You opened your first UK nursery last year – what developments have there
been since?

The first Safari Kid nursery in London, Clerkenwell was exceptionally well received. We had 60 plus families sign up within the first three months of opening. We are now adding a beautiful new dedicated baby wing in October that should open the space up even more and allow for even greater differentiated curriculum for children of all ages and developmental needs.

Off the back of our success in Clerkenwell, we've gone on to acquire one nursery in Chiswick and are opening two more in Golders Green and Windsor before the end of the year.

Internationally, our nurseries have continued to do exceptionally well giving us the confidence to add nurseries in every country to meet parent demand. We will end the year with more than 20 nurseries across our five countries and have been approached by strategic partners all over the world to enter their countries. In fact, to our pleasant surprise, most of these approaches have been from parents who want to take us back to their countries.

Will the new nurseries have any special features?

We think every nursery offers a special feature and/or unique selling point. Whether it's a beautiful garden, indoor play area, slide or proximity to exceptional gardens/parks, where we can incorporate elements of forest learning - we are always seeking out the exceptional.

But aside from that, we think Safari Kid nurseries offer a very unique and differentiated curriculum regardless of the site. We ensure that every nursery is offering languages, primarily French, Spanish and most definitely Mandarin. We offer an integrated art and drama programme, and through play and the latest and greatest resources, we make sure our kids are being exposed to early foundations of robotics and coding. We've also rolled out project-based learning through our Friday 'Explorer' Days, where children take on a project-based topic and learn through creating.

What challenges has the group experienced since launching in the UK?

We are looking to deliver an EYFS aligned, Montessori and Reggio-inspired forward-looking curriculum that will prepare our children for the challenges of the 21st century. We want to build and maintain truly exceptional, beautiful, purposeful nurseries that in five years still have a Day 1 look and feel to them.

We want to use the latest technology to ensure we communicate with parents more frequently than is typical at other nurseries.

And we want to do all this while ensuring that the children are always safe, secure and happy. It's a lot to ask of nursery managers and their teams. Our people often have long commutes, children tend to stay all day and lots of paperwork is to generate and maintain. It’s tiring work and that's before you factor in whatever juggling of life's challenges is happening outside the workplace.

One year in, we realised that we needed to invest more into our people and platforms to ensure we were positioning them to succeed all the while allowing for us to deliver on our promise to parents. We introduced Parent Relationship Managers who are solely dedicated to delivering a great parent experience. This should also free up nursery managers to spend more time in the classroom.

We've rolled out free childcare for all staff so that they can bring their children to work and take advantage of the Safari Kid offering. We've rolled out employee benefits like perkbox, cycle-to-work programme and public transportation financing schemes. Anything that makes life a bit easier and more enjoyable for our teachers should allow us to retain the best and ask the very best of them in a sustainable fashion.

We've been trialling various ERP [enterprise resource planning] systems at our nurseries to discover which offers the best parent experience, all while reducing the administrative burden on our managers. And we've stepped up our induction and training programmes by rolling out our own learning management system so that our staff can be continuously trained and skilled up.

What spurred the recent acquisitions in the UK?

We've always sought out some size in Greater London because with size we can attract, invest in and retain the best teachers. We can create our own pool of substitute teachers trained in our curriculum so that when teachers are sick or go on holiday, there is no drop-off in quality of teaching or levels of safeguarding. It's not a coincidence that Golders Green and Clerkenwell are only 20 minutes from each other on the Northern Line, or that Windsor and Chiswick are only a 25 minute taxi ride. With scale, we can invest in the best technology platforms to reduce the administrative burden on nursery managers and free them up to spend ever more time with teachers and children.

Because we are family- and friend-owned we don't feel compelled to grow for its own sake. We are doing it from a position of strength and with the sole aim to use the growth to judiciously better the nurseries to the benefit of children and parents.

We will continue to grow where we find exceptional buildings and where the incremental nursery can contribute not only to providing a best-in-class educational experience for the local community but to add some value to the broader network of nurseries.

What are your future plans?

We will continue to invest heavily in technology and people to make nursery operations ever smoother, our teachers better trained and with more time to impart high-quality early childhood education.

We continue to add to our curriculum with project-based learning for 2018-2019. Next year, we will be rolling out our enhanced integrated technology programme, which incorporates the latest techniques on teaching your children robotics and coding, use of technology and software.

We are looking to create our own in-house fully accredited creche certification programmes so that by working at Safari Kid, our people can attain greater qualifications to the benefit of both our children and society at large, by creating a larger pool of qualified staff.

And perhaps most excitingly, we are in the process of launching a new childcare product for the UK in 2019 – an integrated platform to provide quality childcare at the 30-hour free funding rates for wraparound care. Effectively we are looking to 'bottle up' the Safari Kid experience and deliver as much of it as possible through childminders and smaller nurseries that are interested in providing high-quality but low-cost childcare. By leveraging our scale and know-how, independent providers should be able to deliver affordable, high-quality child care to everyone in a sustainable fashion.

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