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Top 50 Educators in India | Founder at ACE | Fatema Agarkar

Fatema Agarkar

Fatema Agarkar

"I have always looked at pressure as a process, one that can teach, break, mold and define you." Fatema Agarkar

As they say, “With great power comes great responsibility.” Keeping your professional and personal roles as well as your accolades in mind, how do you keep up with these expectations and pressure:

When one makes choices in life- be it as a homemaker or a professional working in an organisation, or one that leads a team as an entrepreneur (and I believe this is true for men and women and has to be gender-neutral), you have to be mindful of what you are getting into. Read the journey of any of the entrepreneurs in the making- be it at Google, Make My Trip, Book my Show or even those micro, small, or medium enterprises who continue to be bootstrapped.

You will find out that there are moments of extreme pressure, and the trick here really is to set some realistic and achievable goals, building in contingencies. There is a tear behind that smile for everyone-It is as simple as this. It truly depends on how you handle that disappointment for yourself and not the people around you. Does it consume you so much so that you limit your creativity or does it act as a catalyst to fuel new ideas and find alternatives? This is the main question that should be the focus here!

While being ambitious is clearly a driving force, one has to be equally prepared for the ‘lows’ that eventually lead to the graph showing those ‘highs’! My journey over the years has taught me, ‘ditching’ the ego, acceptance of ‘not having all the answers’ and reaching out to experts is the way to be. A measure of success and failure cannot be determined by expectations that people have of you, but what you can realistically achieve maintaining your sense of sanity.

I honestly believe that ‘pressure’ is a man-made anxiety plug that is ‘built-up’ to a large extent by insecurities of ‘not achieving’. I have always looked at it as a process, one that can teach you, break you, or mould you, and one that defines you too. The approach has been one with appreciation for every opportunity, and finding ways to sustain, focus on the solution and ‘learning’ that can be translated into opportunities later rather than sulking about ‘something that went wrong'.

I also believe I am a combination of passion but also of all the mistakes that I have made. I am about determination and about freaking out at times, I am about ideation and also driving people crazy with this desire – in short, I am a human, and I make no excuses for it. I think that acceptance will not allow you to think about what the world thinks of you, but what you think of yourself. And this comes with experience and allowing yourself some flexibility. 

I love the nerves before a client pitch, and I feel the pressure when my team ‘expects’ me to bail them out, and this ‘expectation’ keeps me thinking and that’s when the most effective strategies emerge. I am not saying that I love the expectations or the pressure, but I do embrace it as one more opportunity to improve. It all boils down to the mind-set that you choose to nurture.                                                                                                                              

As one of the top 50 educators in India, what is your opinion about the evolution in education that young India wants and is yet to witness and how does Agarkar Centre of Excellence aim to modify education standards in the country:

Education must be about creating opportunities- equal ones for students with different abilities. The immediate disruption that we have all been speaking about is customising and personalising learning for students with the relevant content, which will impact their thought process for future creation and also that allows them to ‘apply’ logics to domains outside the box. The shift from knowledge-based to ‘real-life’ application will help us as a country to ‘catch-up’ because we clearly have lost a lot of time when we only fixated on ‘performance’. Teachers must be the best in the industry who nurture and inspire young minds, and these are catalysts for change in their own way. 

Creative assessments for understanding how to help the child learn better and not ‘what the child knows’, engaging with them through projects and case studies, providing for learning to happen outside the classrooms, and exposure to different forms of art – creative, performing, or sports as a means of cognitive development is the way forward. We need to create citizens with an ability to make decisions, lead a team, appreciate teamwork, who are problem solvers and innovators, and textbook material alone will not let them develop this thought process. It will have to be about research, and interactions, it will have to be about discussions and debates, it will have to be about ‘thinking' about the future with analysis and review of the past!

Education must be a long-lasting desire to skill up, and allow children to be life-ready, not the current ‘class-ready' focus. Schools must be about recognising different abilities and working with them, it will have to be about a partnership with parents, and it will have to be more than walls. Technology is an enabler that brings superior learning experiences, and unless we skill our teachers and children, India will always play catch-up instead of leading changes that we want to see in the world. We have 1.3 billion people in this country, problems of poverty, starvation, employment will continue to plaque us, and so will the issues around climate change. Unless we create the next generation of thinkers by re-thinking the way we teach and mobilise the resources available, we will never stop ‘solving’ problems and we will never be able to set the pace as some of the developed countries in the world are doing at the moment. The truth is, with 1.3 billion, we have a wealth of ‘brains’, now it is up to us to treat this as an opportunity and not a problem and with that start the process of change for the future. 

At ACE we are all about these disruptions and re-think about research and best practices, about skilling teachers, and working closely to understand children, we are about creating multiple opportunities to succeed, and about wellness and fitness that we are bringing in changes to help empower the next generation. We constantly ask ourselves what can we do to improve and inspire young minds, and that is really what drives this company and its innovations – always looking for ways to improvise and innovate.

What is your personal secret key to keep a perfect work-life balance with your wonder-mom position in the family:

Like any parent, you just keep it real. Also, I love all the roles that I take on – being a parent and a professional, I know the pain that families go through, unable to conceive and I think, we were blessed to have the opportunity to love our child, and I hold that as a privilege. So, it is not a ‘task’ but a sense of joy to be able to watch my little one from his walking days before he was one year to when he spoke his first words to his political views at 15, I take a lot of pride in the role I have and over the years it has changed from providing direction and ideas, and now watching him ‘work-it-out’. Like any parent, I have my days when the decibels are ‘uncomfortable’ and discussions at times have led to anger, but I also recognise that children need to know that the world cannot always be perfect and that parents aren’t perfect. An apology that follows helps strengthen that relationship, and for my son, ma is a mum he can turn to, and share his mistakes or his achievements, and know that she will still say, proud that you made the effort, and also knowing his mum is not a superhero, but just someone older and more experienced that is there to help him in any way possible.

Balancing work and personal life, I consciously work at it – from creating weekly plans, my to-do lists, using my calendars to factor in important dates, to prioritising my family commitments are very important to me. I tend to start the day earlier than my family members, so it helps to get some exercises, my time – reading, etc, and I also focus on ‘check-lists and reflection times’ on Sundays, to plan ahead. You know what, because I love what I do at work, and I love what happens at home, I think the balance comes in easily. It’s when you start thinking of it as a chore that it becomes tricky. I also read about what others adopt as a strategy, and try and incorporate what would work for me, so that I am constantly ‘working’ on maintaining that balance. Love to pick up on tips and articles and social media does have its advantages in that sense!

Who would you consider to be the mentor that helped you overcome difficulties and pushed you into becoming a successful leader/ person:

I have always said this openly, my passion for entrepreneurship has been my father, who close to 50 years ago decided to make ‘Made in India’ a force to reckon with in his line of business. I watched him closely whilst he travelled extensively, build relationships with clients, lead business development strategies, plan his investments and cash flows factoring in contingencies and balancing risks, extend product lines after careful pilots and research, take calculative risks, focus on customer service – his advice to me was always, “Never burrow, grow organically, take risks but do not create stress, under the commit but over-deliver and that every problem always has a solution – may not always be an ideal one, but there is a way out. And lastly, there is no substitute for hard work, and the shortcuts are for the lazy!” 


With that kind of influence, I think the foundation was pretty much cemented in the principles of business. My brother Mazhar has been my biggest supporter and while as siblings, we are different in terms of our personality and people skills, his compassion, self-confidence, and faith has often influenced me to emerge stronger out of a crisis. It’s nice to have an elder sibling who has your back- I guess that’s one sheer advantage of being the younger one! 

Your husband, the iconic Indian cricketer Ajit Agarkar is one of the finest legends of the country. Known for his amiable attitude and resolute determination, what role has he played in your overall journey:

Known him for 25 years, and married to him for 20, there’s no doubt that Raj and he are my whole world. Ajit’s strength lies in his quiet dedication, professionalism, his passion for sports, and his open-mindedness. He’s a true sportsman who treats success and failure, as learning opportunities, and dwells on ‘what can be improved’ instead of mulling over something that did not work out. His sense of humour is a wonderful trait, and his support for my passion, always chipping in to make sure it can be there to make it happen.

His patience and the manner in which he forgives and moves on, is something that always inspires me. I also love that our relationship is about being friends first, and the fact that both of us love helping others. His work ethics, honest ways, never pretending to be someone that he isn’t, being confident and content, and always prioritising family are traits that are easy to fall in love with. He’s just a super person, and I am glad we partner well at work as we do in life.

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