x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Money & Me: Home Grown to teach value of hard work

Lucy Bruce says operating an eco-nursery and an advertising agency has helped her learn the value of money.

Lucy Bruce at the construction of the new nursery 'Home Grown' a sister project to 'Harmony House'. Jumeriah, Dubai. June 20th 2011. Duncan Chard for the National
Lucy Bruce at the construction of the new nursery 'Home Grown' a sister project to 'Harmony House'. Jumeriah, Dubai. June 20th 2011. Duncan Chard for the National

Lucy Bruce is the director of Home Grown, an eco- nursery in Dubai that will open in September. Mrs Bruce, who is originally from the UK, is also the founding partner of the advertising agency Insignia, which she launched with her husband, Gaurav Sinha, in 2003, and twhe founder of Harmony House - a children's shelter in New Delhi, India, that she set up in 2008.

Describe your financial journey so far.

I grew up in a middle- to working-class family in the UK, went to a comprehensive school and had parents who worked full-time. My father was in the promotions industry and my mother was a bank clerk and nothing was given to us on a plate growing up. If I wanted pocket money, I had to do chores to get it and I was very aware that money had to be spent carefully - whether it was sticking to a budget to buy food or whether there was enough money for me to go on a school trip. I felt my parents gave me everything they could and I never went without, but I think our demands as children were completely different to the demands that children have today.

Are you a spender or a saver?

I'm a saver. My mother was big on saving and taught me if you don't have it, don't spend it. My husband is completely different, so that's where we have a balance. He'll be the one who says, "Let's buy a new car" and I'll say, "What are the finances like? Is it an important purchase and is it going to make a big impact on our life?" If the answer is no, I'm inclined to leave it.

Why did you decide to set up a business?

Before setting up my first business, Insignia, I was a primary school teacher in Abu Dhabi, but I had this drive inside me to experience something different. My father runs his own business and it was through talking to him and seeing how he became successful since I've become an adult that inspired me to set up the advertising agency with my husband, Gaurav. After we had a family, I focused on bringing up our two children and it was during that time I decided to set up Harmony House. I've always been focused on charity and being married to an Indian and visiting India on a regular basis, I saw the immense poverty over there.

How did you go from launching an advertising agency and a charity to setting up a nursery?

A few months ago, I reached a place in Harmony House where it was running very nicely. I had itchy feet and wanted to run a business that focused on giving children here the opportunity to become aware of global issues and learn more about how the other half of the world live. Living in Dubai, most of our kids don't know how good they've got it, so how do you teach children to realise there are people in this world who struggle for the basics in life: water, shelter, and sanitation? The concept for Home Grown is to make the children responsible little people.

Have you made any financial mistakes along the way?

We've been really lucky with the decisions we've made, whether purchasing our house in Dubai at the right time or being extremely careful when we started Insignia. In the beginning, we shared one computer, didn't have flashy cars, lived in an apartment in the Gardens and didn't pay ourselves large salaries. We did buy our office, though, which has gone down in value. But if you look at it from a business point of view, the mortgage that we pay in comparison to paying rent is good, so we are not making any losses there.

Is money important to you?

While I can live without fancy handbags or diamond rings, there was a point in my life in my 20s when I really aspired to have those things because I never had them when I was growing up. Now that I'm in a position where we can afford those luxuries, I've realised it means nothing whether you have that diamond or not. My husband, on the other hand, likes the luxuries; he was brought up in India, where everyone aspires to that lifestyle and his attitude is, "I went without it, so it is my children's destiny to have it".

But money is also important in terms of giving me financial freedom to do what I want. Harmony House would not have happened if we weren't in a financial position for me to take time out of work, focus on that project and bring it to fruition.

Why is giving back so important to you?

The more you give back, the more you get given - not just financially, but also in terms of your life quality. In the grand scheme of things, Harmony House has a very small impact, but I feel I am doing what I can and that makes me feel good. And Home Grown will have a lot of tie-ups with Harmony House. Every child enrolled in the nursery will be paired with one of Harmony House's children and their fees will help pay for the education of the child in India.


Read more personal stories about money and business at Money & Me.