When Akshay Sethi and Anjana Menon returned to India after working abroad for several years, they found it very surprising that India didn’t offer any good environment or a play place for children other than parks and the zoo, which too have limited facilities. All the other play destinations were having a good game zone but not something simpler, basic, fun with learning at the centre of it.
Anjana Menon, also a mother of twin boys, saw a gap between playing and learning side-by-side for kids in India. Her effort is visible through the country’s first edu-recreational museum named “Stellar Children’s Museum,” which focuses on interactive exhibits, integrating fun-filled activities with experiential-based learning. Packed with 10,000 square feet of interactive exhibits and play areas, the museum offers a safe, imaginative, child-centered learning environment to children in the age group of 2-8 years. Having a Chemical Engineering degree and experience in IT sector for 4 years, Anjana put business acumen to her novel idea and set it up with her husband.
Noida-based Menon would travel every day to the Gurgaon Museum just to engage with children in arts & crafts, science & experiments, design & construction, geography & culture and much more. Ria Das caught up with Anjana Menon on starting it up.
Share your story Anjana. This is a novel idea. How did you choose to go with it?
I am a mom with 8 year old twin boys and I am also the Director of Stellar Children’s Museum, India’s first edu-recreational play space for young kids.
I grew up in Mysore and Bangalore from where I have a degree in Chemical Engineering. However, after graduation, I moved to the growing IT sector and worked in that space for 4 years. I moved to the US with my husband in 2003. We lived in DC, Chicago and New York, but I didn’t get an opportunity to work there. We moved back to India in 2008 and I was raring to get back to work. Having young children, made me realize an opportunity for a concept like the Children’s Museum which offers interactive educational play.
So, how does Stellar Children’s Museum help children learn while playing?
At SCM, we believe in the intrinsic value of play and provide opportunities for experiential learning and multi sensory, object based exploration. Through our educational play-based exhibits and programs, we focus on key developments areas like gross and fine motor skills, sensory awareness, social & emotional learning, problem solving and language & literacy.
The Museum was started with a passion to introduce new method play based learning for children in the age group of 2-10 years. The concept came from my own experience during our stay in the US, where most major cities have Children’s Museums. For example, both Chicago and New York, where I lived, have large Children’s Museums that we used to love visiting.
When we relocated back to India, I found a paucity of recreational facilities for children other than parks and the Zoo, which are weather dependent and provide only restricted hours of access during summer and monsoons months, or play areas in shopping malls which typically focus on video games and/or swings and slides and have no educational value.
What were your early challenges like?
None to be honest. Any difficulty that I have faced to set up the Museum has no relevance to my gender. These have been difficulties faced due to improper processes and inefficiencies in various sectors.
I believe if you let yourself become dictated by your gender, then it can handicap you at work. I always believe that I am a professional first and therefore don’t let my gender affect my work.
Who is your inspiration?
My kids and the will to create something that would help them and other young kids with their learning and development. There is also the encouragement and support of my husband that helps me move ahead and take risks and dream big.
What do you think the particular strengths women can bring in work place that perhaps men lack?
At a workplace, I think there is very little difference between the sexes; however I feel that women are more empathetic with a better insight into how decisions play out in the wider organization. Women are also more invested in improving communication and effective collaboration.
For example, there are mainly women as staff at the Museum from the Admissions desk to the Gallery Supervisors and the Educators and Managers. Their understanding of situations involving parents and children and their insights from observation are huge in developing and adding new facets to the existing concept and thus growing the business.
There must one ‘proud of’ moment on your way up here…
Recognizing and successfully developing a concept that is loved by children and parents and provides learning to our young minds. I am extremely proud that visitors have ranked us #1 on Trip Advisor that won us a”Certificate of Excellence”. Our work has been recognized and spoken about in various media articles and we have also bagged the Kidzooka Awards for favorite destination for kids. I am overjoyed that the Museum has had over 85 schools that have chosen to bring their kids here as part of their school field visit.
How do you define your success spirit?
Being customer centric and understanding their needs and making an effort towards assimilating and implementing many of them. We are constantly taking surveys and getting feedback. For example: on the request of parents, we have also started educational workshops and other short programs for early learners and we plan to add more concepts and subjects of interest to kids.
What are your goals like?
There is still a very long way to go. I would love to see more such Museums open across the country. We are in the process of relocation SCM from Gurgaon to Noida. We have recently designed a Children’s Museum in Bangalore and hope to replicate that in many more other cities. We would also like to bring such Museums into institutions such as schools to enhance the learning from classroom curriculum.
How would you like people to remember you and your company?
As a company invested in our children’s future.
How proud are you to know that India is growing with a million numbers of women entrepreneurs?
This is fabulous, but I do wish that there are more platforms that bring this fact to the table. Women entrepreneurs need to be spoken about and featured more.
Any piece of advice from you which helps inspiring young business women…
The only advice that I think I can offer to young women is to avoid falling into something comfortable and staying there. Challenge yourself constantly and don’t shy away from taking risks. Be passionate about what you do and keep pushing forward, even though the task at hand may seem insurmountable at first.