Dubai: At 27, Nyla Khan is a successful entrepreneur.
You might recognise her business, Kids World Nurseries, which is currently valued at a couple of million dollars. That's not all, however. Plans are in full swing to see these numbers rise to a whopping Dh100 million in the next five to eight years.
The story doesn't end there. Khan is also at the helm of building an education empire with another company she established in 2018 along with her mentor and business partner, Christine Nasserghodsi. The company is called Mirai Partners.
“My passion lies in education for change and gender policy. These two are close to my heart and I am really excited about the journey I have undertaken,” said Khan, co-founder and partner for two UAE-based entities – Kids World Nurseries and Mirai Partners.
So young and yet so successful
Khan began her entrepreneurial journey at just 24 when she became an active partner to a chain of children’s nurseries, originally started by her mother. Ever since she took over, Khan has turned the company around in a massive way and today, nearly 400 students attend these nurseries.
Kids World Nurseries is a growing network of Montessories in the U.A.E focused on empathy, creativity and community.
“Over the past 10 years I have worked and consulted with schools, refugee camps, think tanks, incubators, non-profits and policy makers across four continents, and five countries - the U.S, Brazil, Greece, India and the U.A.E,” she said.
“Indeed I am a millennial and grateful for the achievements in my life so far. But just to let you know - I have had my fair share of challenges and it has not been an easy ride. It is not that I was given everything on a silver platter. I have had to work hard to prove myself,” she added.
The pros of being a millennial
Khan, who previously worked in Greece in early education programmes and later in Brazil where she spent time educating men on sexual violence, the millennial-emphasised education is key to changing lives. “You cannot demand someone to change for the better, it has to be done through discussion and education,” Khan said.
So when did it all start for Khan?
“My mother is Catholic and father, Muslim. They ran away and got married. My younger sibling and I grew up in an environment where we did not quite focus on any religion or we did not have a set way of looking at the world. I remember when I was just 12 years old, I was telling my parents something was incredibly wrong with the world,” Khan reminisced.
Talking about influences, she said, “During this phase of my life, my mother would pick up a lot of CDs of Oprah Winfrey for me to watch. I was 12 years old and totally mesmerised by Oprah’s oratory skills and her vision for the world. Young girls have role models – they are mostly models or actors. Nothing wrong with that. They are beautiful people and are great at what they do. My role models were and are Oprah Winfrey and Christiane Amanpour.”
Khan said their influence was so strong that she began to think of a new world just like they did. And it is one of the reasons she convinced her parents to send her to Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, New York. She graduated in child development and gender studies from the university.
“The reason why I picked this college was because I wanted to arm myself with skills needed to act on my dreams. Being a woman’s college primarily, I had a sisterhood of girls whose main focus was on how to upskill and educate ourselves. End of the day, that is our true identity – not how you look. This was important to me,” said Khan completely sure of what she wanted out of life.
“Through my college years spent at this university, I wrote about 22 research papers – all in gender policy and research development. They were long research papers running in 20 pages. I enjoyed every bit of it as this is who I am as a person,” she said.
Khan admitted while growing up like most teenagers, adolescents and young adults - she too had her moments of insecurity. “I was insecure about the way I looked but I knew that for me personally, it was about gaining so much knowledge that I would not have to bother about the way I looked. And I am so grateful that my college in New York gave me just that.”
Khan is a firm believer that education is a tool to create positive social change.
“After completing my graduation – when I moved back to Dubai – I started working in public relations. You cannot expect people to just save the world. The problem is that educational values are not always simplified and that is why it does not reach the masses. What I want to do is bridge this gap,” said Khan with as much confidence as possible.”
During this time, Khan’s mother wanted her to take over the nurseries she was running. Her mother was struggling with the operations of the nurseries – and she wanted Khan to help her run the Montessori chain. But this was not Khan's goal.
“All I wanted in life was be a teacher, an educator and here she was asking me to take over her business. Naturally it was big step for me,” she said.
Starting with no experience
Khan admitted that it was not an easy ride to success. She said, “It is not that I was given something on a silver platter and had to just run it for my family. I had no experience whatsoever, I did not know what a balance sheet was. All I knew was that there was a passion, a burning desire to make a difference to the world and change it.”
The millennial entrepreneur has been credited for revamping Kids World Nurseries. She set up a third branch in 2016 and there has been no looking back since. There are three nurseries presently in the UAE, with plans to expand this number to 20 in the next eight years.
“The idea is to replicate the models we have here in the UAE to India. We will soon start a nursery in Goa. The new nurseries that will open in India and the rest of the world will be work on a franchise model,” explained Khan.
“Through the last couple of years since I have taken charge of running the nurseries, we have established a set pattern of education and so we will have them as franchise models in all the countries we enter,” said Khan.
A new venture
Khan said a leader is not one who is in complete control. “Then you always have to be on the job running it. My idea of a leader is one who starts something which could run itself. So my challenge is always to create systems that operate without having me to be present,” she said.
“So that was my job for a year and a half, after which I started doing consultancies with people. During one of those times, I came into contact with my mentor and business partner Christine. For the record, she is the former head of innovation at Gems Education. She was also vice president there. Christine is 20 years my senior and she has become my mentor. Remember you don’t achieve everything in life just on your own. A lot of millennials think this way. But really, we all need a guide, a mentor, someone who understands our dreams and helps us build it into a vision,” she said.
“Last November Christine and I decided to start Mirai Partners. It is a learning innovations organisation working with schools, corporates and Governments on next generation learning systems for future workforce challenges," Khan added.
Advice for millennials
“Dare to dream and don’t ever stop at that. All I did was dream. Dreams are the most powerful tool we have as human beings. Whether you want to start a business or have a career. For me I have always believed that my dreams are real. I have been a day dreamer growing up. Whenever I talk to people – whether it is my younger sister – or people I work with – they tell me this is my dream but I don’t know how to get there. I say, put your dreams out into the world and remind yourself about it.”
Become the next unicorn, become the next millionaire, but don’t forget to solve problems for people and always respond to their needs.
Being young and a woman
Khan said her age and the fact that she is a woman is one of her biggest challenges. “As much as people think I have achieved so much in such little time, I would like to tell them it has not been an easy ride at all.”
“Every morning I wake up and my mother taught me this – she said look at yourself in the mirror and say you can do it,” she said.
She admitted to making mistakes initially when she took over. Khan said, “I have made many mistakes but the one thing that keeps coming back to me is my need to help people. When I say help I don’t mean it an idealistic way. My ultimate aim is to create systems and institutions that create a positive impact for people.”
“I cannot control children’s home lives. But what I can do is provide a safe environment for them in their schools,” she added.
Numbers and business
Khan said, as an entrepreneur, the challenge is balancing numbers on the balance sheet. But budding enthusiasts, do not worry yourself with short-term failures as the millennial entrepreneur says - don’t compromise on your values at the end of the day.
“Quick wins will be your biggest fall back. It can really harm your business.”