Dubai school for entrepreneurs as young as six

The Arcadia Preparatory School is the first created and owned by Al Shirawi Group, a multi-vertical Dubai company

Navin Valrani, school CEO. Photo Courtesy: The Arcadia Preparatory School

The schoolyard can be a crucible for not only lifelong friendships but bright ideas.

One Dubai school is hoping to cultivate the latter by introducing pupils as young as six to the world of entrepreneurship through a revolutionary enrichment learning course.

The Arcadia Preparatory School, Jumeirah Village Triangle, believes it is the first in the GCC and maybe the world to offer a Junior MBA.

The catalyst for this is Navin Valrani, school chief executive and a graduate of leading business schools The Wharton School, where he is now on the executive board, and at the London Business School, of which he is an International Alumni Council member.

Mr Valrani, 45, has designed and is teaching the curriculum, based on the first-year adult MBA course, from September.

“I’ve always believed leading by example is one of the best management styles,” says the Indian-born, Dubai-raised entrepreneur.

“When it comes to teaching children as young as six … we believe the idea of entrepreneurship originates in children; the idea of wanting to do something much bigger.

“An initiative of this nature will plant the early seeds of entrepreneurship in the minds of young children and teach them how businesses can positively impact society. Someday these ideas may even turn out to be real businesses.”

The school is the first created and owned by Al Shirawi Group, a multi-vertical Dubai company of which Mr Valrani’s father Mohan is senior vice chairman. He is also Arcadia’s founder.

The Junior MBA follows earlier school entrepreneurship activities involving the UK-based initiative 7billionideas, a globally connective ideas generation platform.

The principal at Arcadia, Graham Beale, says the school, opened a year ago, created a lot of attention with entrepreneur-in-residence workshops.

“The next logical step seemed to be that it becomes part of our curriculum,” he says. “And this is where Navin comes in with his skill set.”


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Twenty students will do the course each term, learning about accounting, finance, marketing, management and social entrepreneurship.

Mr Valrani, part of the 5,000-plus employee Al Shirawi Group for 24 years, says the programme is a first for the region and possibly globally.

“We start with really basic stuff; lesson number one will be what is entrepreneurship, from how you spell it to what it is, to the kind of ideas that children want to create when they grow older.

“At the end of term the children will be presenting a full blown business plan - a child version of it, of course; how to set up their business and take it all the way through.

“We’re going to have field trips to real businesses, entrepreneurs and CEOs visiting during class and have an impactful experience for our children.

“There’s no pressure, no year-end exam; each plan will be a team project. It’ll be a load of fun and that’s the best way to learn.”

Arcadia operates an extended school day to 4pm, so extracurricular activities - such as enrichment choices - fall within normal school hours.

Mr Valrani, currently pursing another Masters degree, says learning is a lifelong process and entrepreneurship “part of the DNA of Dubai for decades”, not least with its vibrant SME culture.

“The Junior MBA fits with the culture of this vibrant city and the innovation that will take the city forward.”

Mr Beale, a New Zealander, says the course seemed “a natural fit for where we are in the world” and the nature of entrepreneurship was important to parents.

“The key thing for me as an educationalist is the idea of it being about ideas generation. We look for opportunities to broaden learning and enrich it, rather than narrow it down.

“One of the other benefits is it pulls together all those skills they learn on a daily basis - mathematics, reading, writing, communicating, speaking, listening, science - and gives a practical outlet. It’s very powerful because children see real meaning in that.”

An international school with 47 nationalities, Mr Beale describes Arcadia as a “microcosm of how the world could or should be”.

He adds: “The idea that you can take ideas and work on things and discuss and develop and have the ability to make things real and push things forward … the nature of children understanding that in their learning is very powerful.”

Sarah Hales, a resident of Dubailand, has put her children, Mathilda aged nine and six-year-old Beatrix, forward for the Junior MBA.

“In this day and age, business and commercial skills are required in all aspects of life, not just the workplace,” says the Briton, a regional marketing manager for a UK university.

“I studied for my MBA as an adult graduate and really appreciated cross-functional discussions with other professionals from a wide variety of backgrounds – I hope the Junior MBA also exposes my kids to working cross functionally and appreciating the strengths of others in a team.

“I also hope it provides them with skills they can use in their day to day academic and personal lives, things such as time management, organisational skills, financial understanding, and commercial awareness at levels that are appropriate for them.”

Mr Valrani is anticipating even more.

“We are expecting viable business ideas,” he says. “The day the first six year old presents an idea which goes on to become reality will be one of the proudest moments of my life.”