Creating a Holistic Learning Environment – Saloni Verma: Enabling the Best Future for Your Kids at Sunshine Preschool & Corporate Creche

Saloni Verma
Saloni Verma

Raising a family in today’s world, particularly for ambitious professionals in nuclear families with both parents working, is a major hurdle in achieving a fulfilling life. This challenge has fueled the rise of corporate childcare options like on-site creches and daycare centres. These initiatives were envisioned by women who shattered traditional gender roles and ascended to leadership positions in business, all while advocating for a shift in workplace norms.

Women leaders like Saloni Verma, the Co-founder and Chairperson of Sunshine Preschool & Corporate Creche (SatNav Preschools Pvt. Ltd.), exemplify transformative leadership in business. As a dynamic entrepreneur and visionary leader, Saloni has significantly impacted early childhood education in India. Her innovative approach and dedication to quality education have set new benchmarks in the industry.

By fostering an environment that emphasizes holistic development, Saloni breaks barriers and redefines what it means to lead with compassion, innovation, and an unwavering commitment to excellence. Her journey is a testament to the power of visionary leadership and its impact on shaping future generations.

In an exclusive talk with Women World India, Saloni discussed her transformational entrepreneurship idea in detail, which is inspiring others and positively impacting modern society. Let’s get into that candid discussion.

Ma’am, as a trailblazer in the business world, could you take us back to the beginning of your journey? What motivated you to step into your field?

I had my first child in August 2004, after which I started looking around for a reliable daycare centre, and to my surprise, the concept of daycare was fairly unknown then. We saw an opportunity to expand a typical Preschool’s morning activities into Daycare centres in the afternoon. We acquired the first centre, hired a global consultant to help define the setup, learning and monitoring methodologies and then used the experience to scale up to other centres. The main motivation was the satisfaction of offering a much-needed service and helping young parents in their parenthood journey; we positioned ourselves as India’s first Preschool & Daycare Chain. Today, with the huge opportunity we see due to the Maternity Act, through implementing Creche requirements for all companies, we are focused on setting up in-house creches for companies across India.

Your company has emerged as one of India’s best enterprises. Could you share the guiding philosophy that has propelled your organization’s success?

We are proud to be one of the prominent players in early childhood care, and much hard work has been put into getting to this stature. Over the years, our insistence on defining processes that can standardize daily operations and then follow them diligently, not only in letter but also in spirit, has been key to our success. We also like to make the company person independent so we can easily rotate roles or handle transitions when faced with attrition. Another key aspect is to build mutual respect and trust with employees and our customers by being transparent in what we do and outlining why we are doing something every time. All this helps spread the good word around and ensure success.

The business landscape is continually evolving. How do you ensure Sunshine remains adaptable and ahead of industry trends, providing innovative solutions to your clients?

Remaining adaptable and ahead of industry trends requires a proactive approach to staying informed and flexible. What we do are the following:

Feedback: Maintain an open communication channel with clients, parents, and staff to gather feedback on current services and potential areas for improvement. Actively listen to their suggestions and concerns to identify opportunities for innovation.

Market Research: Conduct regular research to stay updated on industry trends, emerging technologies, and changing consumer preferences. This includes surveys, competitor analysis, and staying connected with industry publications and associations.

HR Initiatives: Invest in ongoing training and professional development for staff to ensure they are equipped with the latest knowledge and skills in early childhood education, childcare best practices, and innovative teaching methodologies.

Technology Integration: Embrace technology to streamline operations, enhance communication with parents, and improve the learning experience for children. This could involve implementing digital learning platforms, communication apps, and administrative software to increase efficiency and effectiveness. For example, Sunshine App and QuickFMS App take care of these parameters.

Daycare Curriculum: Develop a flexible curriculum that can adapt to changing educational standards, societal needs, and individual learning styles. Through the ‘Play Way’ education method, we incorporate elements of holistic development and promote creativity, critical thinking, and problem-solving skills.

Sunshine believes in embracing sustainability practices within the organization, such as eco-friendly facilities, recycling programs, and nature-based learning experiences. Educate children about environmental stewardship and instil conservation values and respect for the planet.

Parent Engagement: Foster strong relationships with parents through regular communication, parent workshops, and involvement in their child’s learning journey. Solicit their input on program development and encourage active participation in school activities and events.

Your transformational leadership style is often recognized as an inspirational force behind your company’s achievements. Could you shed light on your approach to leadership and team building within the organization?

Leaders should provide a broad direction, motivate their team, and watch them flourish. Only then can a leader effectively achieve results and find time to focus on strategic initiatives. Any leader who needs to be hands-on with their team daily has surely failed to empower them, and it would, in turn, stifle the company’s growth too. So, I test my organization’s success by periodic reviews of my team, during which I measure their independence and how my next-in-line leaders can manage their areas of responsibility without needing too much monitoring or follow-up. This gives them the much-needed space, which leads to better satisfaction.

The essence of business lies in bringing innovation and advancements to one’s niche. How does Sunshine strike a balance between customer expectations and user experience?

Sunshine conducts regular feedback checks to understand what parents expect from a daycare service. This includes safety, education quality, cleanliness, and convenience. Our four pillars of operations are Safety, Hygiene, Infrastructure and Training.

We differentiate ourselves from others by offering an innovative and comprehensive curriculum that incorporates the latest educational trends and research in early childhood development. We collaborate with the UK’s CfBT and Old Station Nursery to monitor and provide guidance guidelines.

We embrace technology to enhance the user experience for both parents and children. We have a user-friendly mobile app for parents to communicate with teachers easily, receive updates on their children’s activities, and track their progress. It is also an app for internal monitoring purposes.

We implement state-of-the-art safety measures to reassure parents that their children are in a secure environment. This involves installing security cameras, employing qualified staff trained in first aid and emergency procedures, and maintaining strict health and hygiene standards.

We recognize that each child is unique and adapt the learning experience to cater to their individual needs and interests. Providing personalised attention significantly enhances the user experience and sets Sunshine apart from competitors.

We have established a feedback mechanism where parents can provide suggestions and express concerns. Actively listening to customer feedback and addressing their concerns demonstrates a commitment to continuous improvement and customer satisfaction.

We engage the children by organizing events, workshops, and parent-teacher conferences. Building strong relationships with parents improves their experience and creates brand loyalty and positive word-of-mouth referrals.

Sustainability and environmental responsibility are crucial aspects of modern business. How does Sunshine integrate these principles into its operations and contribute to a sustainable future?

We are a very responsible Company. Every policy or process we define keeps in mind sustainability for the long term and is environmentally responsible. We envisage what our children would need a decade from now and incorporate those into our learning processes. In all the neighbourhoods we operate or the offices we function in, we try to ensure a seamless integration with the community and the people around us, whether it’s waste disposal, noise emission, traffic management, etc.

As part of our curriculum, we instil a love for nature in small kids from the very beginning. We conduct Vanmahotsav events, during which we plant trees with them. We also occasionally have campaigns to distribute potted plants to nearby offices. Our children participate in these events with a lot of excitement and enthusiasm.

Sunshine has achieved remarkable success. Could you highlight a transformative project or initiative that showcases your company’s commitment to excellence and innovation?

Our insistence on offering full-fledged Preschool Education at every creche of ours across the country is a game changer in this industry. This ensures that the critical and formative years of a child’s growth are well utilised to give them the maximum learning advisable at that age. This also relieves the parents of having to go to multiple locations for daycare and education separately. Our commitment to excellence and innovation helps our little ones emerge out of our Sunshine centres with 100% readiness to face the school life they are embarking upon.

In the realm of business, technology plays a pivotal role in enhancing efficiency. How does Sunshine leverage technology to optimize its services and stay ahead in a digital age?

Our Founder, Amit Prasad, is a techie and has always ensured that technology is leveraged in all our activities. We use a mobile app to monitor staff attendance and communication. It also helps us connect with parents to keep them updated about what their child has done and has eaten during their time with us. We use another App called QuickFMS from another group entity for branch monitoring, so daily morning reports are received in the Corporate office and reviewed for proper implementation of our Safety, Hygiene, Infrastructure and Learning processes. In addition, all our training programs are online, delivered to every nook and corner of the country through our efficient staff. We have also recorded our earlier online classes and made them available for a nominal fee for those parents who want their children to attend preschool education independently.

The workforce is the cornerstone of any successful organization. How does Sunshine foster a culture of growth, skill development, and empowerment among its employees?

Sunshine prioritizes its employees’ growth, development, and empowerment, thus creating a positive and enriching environment that benefits both our staff and the children in our care.

Sunshine encourages its employees to contribute their creativity and innovative ideas. Whether designing new educational activities or finding novel ways to engage children, employees can experiment and explore new approaches within the curriculum framework.

Sunshine values employee feedback and provides regular opportunities for them to share their thoughts, concerns, and suggestions. Constructive feedback helps identify areas for improvement and fosters a culture of open communication. Additionally, Sunshine recognizes and rewards its employees’ hard work and dedication through various recognition programs, fostering a sense of appreciation and motivation. Sunshine offers clear pathways for career advancement within the organization. Whether through promotions to higher positions, specialized roles in curriculum development or administration, or opportunities for further education and certification, employees are supported in their professional growth and development.

Sunshine cultivates a supportive work environment where teamwork, collaboration, and mutual respect are emphasized. Managers and colleagues support and mentor each other. Recognizing the demands of childcare work, Sunshine strives to promote work-life balance among its employees. Flexible scheduling options, generous leave policies, and supportive management practices contribute to a healthy balance between work responsibilities and personal life.

As a leader in India’s corporate sector, your company has likely faced its share of challenges. Could you share an instance where your team’s resilience and ingenuity triumphed over adversity?

Since its inception, we have discussed business continuity plans and backup strategies for the company’s survival. However, the real test of that came when the pandemic hit, and overnight, we were shut down from 40 centres to Nil in March 2020. During the subsequent two years, we have weathered every storm and cut every aspect of costs, and when we started reopening existing and new centres from 2023 onwards, we ensured that we emerged stronger than before.

The industries globally are in constant flux. How does your company navigate these unprecedented times and adapt its strategies to ensure business continuity?

Today, we have a collaborative approach with our customers; jointly with them, our strategies are aligned with their goals, and business continuity is easily ensured. Customer requirements today centre around Regulatory compliance with the Maternity Act to offer creches for their employees, an HR Welfare measure to help reduce attrition and improve employee satisfaction, etc. Since our service provides all these common goals, it is easier to strengthen our business model and tide over uncertain times. If someone needs a tweak in our service offering to meet their changing goals, we are always open to hearing out the idea, and we try to find a win-win way ahead.

Today, every business goes beyond the physical realm, touching on aspects like digital transformation, constant consumer engagement, and virtual user experience. How does your company address these critical factors in its service offerings?

All our parent interactions are digital; this is even more important in Corporate Creches because one parent might be bringing the child, but if another parent wants to be actively involved in the upbringing of the children, we empower them with adequate information to do so. During the pandemic, we showed that we could run a 100% online program without compromising any child’s development roadmap. Today, we continue those best practices with our employees, customers, and parents.

Looking to the future, what is your vision for your company? How do you aspire to continue making a significant impact on India’s business landscape?

It has been close to two decades since we started Sunshine. We have watched with dismay how India’s Preschool and Daycare Industry has never evolved, and those who run these centres can never make it big. We are also observing a few international players who come into the country; they are not helping in growing the industry segment, and the loss is of the parents and their children who are deprived of good quality learning and development. Our Vision is to use the Corporate Creche business opportunity to strengthen the learning process in India for Early Childhood Education by reverse-integrating our world-class curriculum into the Daily Learning Program we call DLP. This single-minded focus should help us retrieve the lost years of our segment and hopefully grow the entire industry’s size, leading to better quality providers coming in and growing profitably. We see ourselves as India’s Leading Corporate In-house Creche (CIH) provider.