Ms. Vandana Gandhi, Founder and CEO of British Orchard Nursery, the UAE’s largest ISO Quality, Environment, and Health and Safety certified chain of early childcare and learning centres, quit a high-profile job in a world famous multinational bank for Wealth Management in Dubai, to chase a business idea she stumbled upon. Nearly a decade later, the much-lauded educationist and entrepreneur has grown the business to 16 nurseries providing an invaluable service to the country’s young working mothers and has plans to take her brand of innovative top quality childcare into GCC states and Asia. Whether in her career as a high profile corporate banker or in her current avatar as a path-breaking educationist and intrepid entrepreneur – Abu Dhabi-born, second generation Indian has made a qualitative difference to people’s lives, earning admiration, trust and laurels from all around.
Ms. Gandhi turned entrepreneur in 2007, opening the first British Orchard Nursery (BON) in Dubai’s Mankhool locality. She has earned a Mathematics Honours Degree and Post Graduate Diploma in International Business. She has also earned a distinction for her Master’s Degree in Education from the UK and is currently perusing a Doctorate in Education from the University of Birmingham, UK. When the opportunity came about, her “entrepreneurial streak, family’s business background and destiny” combined to convince Ms. Gandhi to launch the pre-school childcare facility. Being a working mother herself, she also wanted to contribute meaningfully to society by helping working mothers with safe and quality childcare. And so, applying her expertise from the bank job and with ample guidance and encouragement from her late father, Ms. Gandhi forayed into the honourable field of education, building and managing the nursery from bottom to top.
Today, BON operates in 16 locations across Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Sharjah, including prestigious government partnerships with Dubai Electricity and Water Authority, Dubai Central Laboratories, Dubai Municipality, and the Abu Dhabi Company for Onshore Petroleum Operations. With a staff strength of more than 300 mostly women employees, BON is currently educating more than 1500 children aged 6 months to 4 years.
BON teaches the UK National curriculum based on the EYFS framework and provides holistic education with additional curricular features such as innovate in-depth child assessments covering 680 Early Years Milestones over a 3-year rolling curriculum, Arabic and French language programs, music and art lessons, specialized children’s gym classes with GymJuniorz, and utilization of ICT (Information and Communications Technology) in classrooms, as well as extracurricular activities such as football, cricket, yoga, and karate.
Ms. Gandhi not only wanted to provide standardized international quality education in all her nurseries, she wanted to continue to support women in the community and expand the scope of her business by opening the British Orchard Centre for Teachers Training and Development. BOC provides nationally approved and internationally recognized (CACHE, UK) gold-standard teacher training courses as well as certified Continuing Professional Development (CPD) courses for teachers and other Early Years professionals.
The program offers to help learners, free of charge, with the mandatory volunteer hours that the courses stipulates, placing them in BON locations across UAE. Additionally, BOC learners are given the opportunity to seamlessly transition from learner to practitioner, becoming fully employed at BON as spaces are available. BOC also provides training courses for parents and nannies, covering a variety of topics including parenting classes and first aid courses among others.
Ms. Gandhi notes that she is blessed to be successful and always looks for opportunities to give to those who are less fortunate than she is. With this in mind she has set up The BON Foundation, a charity organization to which BON donates 1% of its yearly revenue, supporting orphanages, old age homes, animal shelters, and other organizations, in addition to SEN (Special Education Needs) sponsorship, teacher training sponsorship, and Emirati volunteer training in government branches.
Ms. Gandhi’s efforts toward quality, excellence, charity and helping women have not been overlooked. Over the years, both Ms. Gandhi and the nursery chain have been assessed and accolated nationally and internationally, winning more than 25 awards in the nursery’s 10 year history. Ms. Gandhi, herself, has won esteemed awards such as the GR8 Woman Award, the Feigenbaum Leadership Award, Europe Business Assembly Manager of the Year Award, and was the first Indian woman to be awarded the Emirates Woman Award.
Under Ms. Gandhi’s leadership, BON has also been felicitated, being presented with coveted UAE government awards such as the Sheikh Khalifa Excellence Award (Gold Category), the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Business Excellence Award, the Dubai Quality Appreciation Award, and the Dubai Human Development Award to name a few. BON has received acclaim abroad, being awarded the WIL Economic Forum’s Most Woman Friendly Employer Award, US-based BIZZ Award for Business Excellence, the Gulf Customer Experience Award, the Gulf Capital SME Award for People and Culture of the Year, and Europe Assembly Award for Best Enterprise, to name a few.
Despite much renown, Ms. Gandhi, believes strongly that one should never rest on her laurels. She made it a personal mission to drive top quality initiatives in within her organization. This has led to BON being an industry leader in preschool education in the region and setting the benchmarks with many firsts in the sector. She has been the driving force behind BON being the first nursery chain in the Middle East to have an in-house, specialized children’s gym, to be ISO Quality, Environment, and Health & Safety Certified, to adopt the EFQM (European Foundation for Quality Management) Model, and to utilize management systems such as the Balanced Scorecard, among others.
In her professional life Ms. Gandhi is a trailblazing entrepreneur with a penchant for creating positive and effective learning environments for children and supporting working women, always striving for quality and excellence. However, Ms. Gandhi is an advocate for a healthy work-life balance and enjoys spending time with her own children and engaging in hobbies such as calligraphy, yoga, squash, and spiritual studies.
Never being one to rest in one place, Ms. Gandhi always strives towards moving forward and moving herself and her company into the most successful future possible. To accomplish this, she has set a clear Vision, Mission, and Values to create a culture of excellence. Under her leadership, BON’s Vision is “to be a leader in nursery education, providing high quality international early years provision through best practice,” to achieve BON’s mission of “sowing seeds of success. “Bon’s Vision and Mission is supported by a strong system of Values: Respect and Integrity, Equality and Diversity, Rights and Responsibilities, and Improvement and Innovation. These, in combination, provide the framework and the lifeblood of
Ms. Gandhi, and through her leadership, the success of BON.
Ms. Gandhi’s vision is to continue to leave her legacy of distinction and quality across the Middle East and Asia, expanding into other GCC countries, India and the UK with both BON and BOC to support and facilitate high-quality learning for children and to help working women internationally.
Ms. Gandhi strongly believes it is her duty and conviction to support women and children and is adamant that with grit and determination, a person can reach great heights. Her advice to anyone is “Trust your instincts. Be confident and passionate. Lead the way and make learning a necessity. Be socially responsible, and always strive to innovate.”