Saturday May 18, 2019 By: Kismat Mokhtar
“My childhood dream to become a teacher not only lived with me through my adult life, but it also grew and evolved. Deep in my heart, I knew it was more than just becoming a teacher. I wanted to open a kindergarten, a nursery school for children,” said Co-founder and Managing Director of Esparanza Nursery School, Bouthaina Al Agizi, to WoE.
After graduating with a degree in mass communication from the AUC in Cairo, Agizi worked as a TV producer for Reuters, but her childhood dream never eluded her. When she met her future husband, Dermatologist Haytham Haikal, through a mutual friend, it was as if fate brought them together. Not only they shared a passion for children, but they also discovered they shared a common childhood dream, opening a nursery school for children.
Meeting the person who believes in your childhood dreams was like a fairytale came true. As their relationship progressed, so did their aspirations for their dream project. But with no prior experience, materializing this dream was hard, especially with the risks, challenges and hurdles such project would inherently bring them. Nonetheless, the young couple, still in their twenties then, exerted abundant time and effort to learn about this field. “We read about and researched the best structures, curricula, facilities. We wanted to bring and offer premium quality service and education for our kids in the nursery.” On their learning journey, they also conducted market research to analyze the industry in Egypt and abroad. “We looked for special features for each school and how to incorporate them in ours.”
In 2003, six months into their engagement, and while working full time jobs, the young couple utilized their knowledge and recourses, took their bold step and opened Esparanza Nursery School, which they named after the two feet tall plant that blooms into brilliant yellow and orange bell shaped flowers. “A child for us is like a flowery plant. If you water-it well, provided sun, nurtured it, it grows to a beautiful blooming flower, like the Esparanzas.”
Their families discouraged them from opening the nursery school. Going into a business partnership at this early stage in their relationship with no serious commitment yet, was “considered a crazy decision.” But in spite of their families’ disapproval, it was their unyielding faith in themselves and trust in each other that propelled them to take this major leap. “We took it as a challenge to prove to ourselves and to people around us that we can make it work.”
Opening a nursery school comes with demands and challenges on multiple levels. It also entails a lot of responsibility and risks. “When we opened our first school, we had two students, but within months more children enrolled.” Juggling fulltime jobs, operating the school and balancing between their professional and personal lives became overwhelming. They realized that for the newly born project to succeed and to achieve optimal results, it demanded their total focus and dedication. “We both quit our jobs. Esparanza was not just a private business, but a dream we carried in our hearts through childhood and into our adult lives, and we had to give it our full attention to succeed.”
Since its inception and until today, Esparanza’s journey has been a perpetual cycle of challenges, but nothing the owners can’t handle. When they first started, their lives revolved around the nursery to put it on its feet. They were adamant “to succeed no matter what the circumstances were,” to prove to their friends and families that their criticism for taking such a risk was unjust. “We postponed our marriage for two years after we opened Esperanza Dokki, to focus on and grow the business.”
The lengthy and complicated process to start a business, the legal and paper work involved, finalizing contracts and issuing license are among the challenges that dampen the spirit of many. The aspiring business owners were prepared for the unpleasant, yet inevitable long journey, until they obtained the nursery license from the Ministry of Social Solidarity.
To date, Agizi and Haikal have been partners in business and marriage for almost two decades. It has not been an easy ride, but rewarding and worthwhile, nonetheless. “Working with your spouse has its advantages and disadvantages,” says Alagizy. “On the one hand, you have a trustworthy shoulder to lean on and work with. If you need rest, support or a good and honest advice, you certainly can count on him/her. On the other hand, you are always together, at work and at home. If you are not careful, your conversations will be limited to business matters. But if you separate your professional and personal lives, it is definitely an advantage to be married to your business partner.”
Trust is the core element for the success of a partnership, whether it is professional or personal. Agizi advises young couples who are considering to start a business together to have a relation of mutual trust. She also stresses on defining the obligations and responsibilities of each partner, and for each to respect the other’s duties. Moreover, she agrees it not advisable to have two captains for the same ship. “It is important to have one person taking the final decision and the other supporting him/her whatever the results are,” she explains.
With almost two decades running their successful business, still the daily operating “on the job challenges” are endless, on top of which is finding professionally trained high caliber staff members. Also, meeting the expectations of young millennial parents and earning their trust, setting high standards and strict rules for both staff and parents, providing the best care, creating a safe environment for the children, dealing with unpredictable clients under the age of five are among some of the prominent concerns Agizi has to deal with. “We are responsible not just for the safety of the children, but also for bringing up young generations. We are their role models. We have to be present at all times and know the minutest details to assure that the system operates within the scope of work we designed for its success.”
The opening of their second nursery school in Heliopolis in 2008 was another milestone in their career, yet it added more responsibilities on their shoulders. As much as climbing to the top is hard, it’s more challenging to maintain the lead and stay there. But all along, passion has been their driving force. And as they earned the parents’ trust, word of mouth built their reputation and their hard work and dedication maintained it. “It was because of this reputation that we became the only nursery school in Egypt that is a member of both the American and German Chambers of Commerce in Egypt. Esparanza was also rated number one nursery school by Cairoscene magazine,” explains Agizi.
As they are preparing to open their third school, Alagizi admits it hasn’t been always smooth sailing and many midcourse adjustments happened along the way. “A lot had changed since 2002. No doubt, we are more experienced now, and we know how to accept challenges and failures. We made mistakes along the way, but we fixed them and learned from them.”
Despite their success, the couple are not interested to expand the school beyond the existing age group. Agizi confessed that they have toyed with the idea, but she attributed their success to focusing on one age group. And with their experience they gained, they rather focus their energy to keep improving and excelling in the services they offer. “Proceeding with education beyond this age is a different story. A larger scale operation would make it difficult for us to keep an eye on every detail, and it’s in the details where our success lies.”
Opening and operating private nursery schools has become the dream of many people. Agizi’s advise to them is think hard before taking this step and to prepare themselves for heavy and continued responsibilities on their shoulders. “I am not talking about the staff or the parents, but the responsibility towards the children. They are the seeds of our future.”
To stay on top of the game, Agizi constantly reads about child psychology and education. This not only helped her in the nursery, but also with raising up her four daughters, whichin return gave her a comprehensive first-hand experience and knowledge to deal with children ages zero to five. Her experiences in both fields complemented her roles, and as a result, her students and daughters benefited from the situation.
As a working mom with heavy responsibilities in both arenas, Agizi raised her daughters to be independent, responsible, believe in themselves, acknowledge their mistakes and learn from them, but most importantly, she raised them up to always work harder to improve themselves, to set goals, accept challenges, have dreams and to follow them to the end. “It’s actually the same advice I also tell other working mothers. Prove to yourselves and others that you deserve the success.”
“We are really proud that our dream has blossomed over the years and we will keep nurturing it to grow even more. We will keep reaching for the stars for they carry our dreams with them,” she concluded.
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