x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

Passing on savings ethic to the next generation

It is not just a matter of telling children about the need to budget and save. They need to see parents doing it.

Anu Agarwal, the chief executive of the Green EcoStore, learnt fiscal discipline from her parents.
Anu Agarwal, the chief executive of the Green EcoStore, learnt fiscal discipline from her parents.

Anu Agarwal

Living green and financial responsibility are learnt at home

I think it's very important to save regularly throughout life.

The more you want, the more you should look at the need to save. You have to be disciplined about following a budget. It's a lesson that should be instilled in children early, but it's not just a matter of telling them about the need to budget and save. They need to see you doing it.

I'm from India. My husband, Sharad, and I moved to Dubai in 1989. Our children were born here and we consider this our home.

I have a background in computer science. In 1996, my husband and I gave up our jobs to launch Cyber Gear, an e-marketing company that provides internet services to businesses. The internet had just come to the UAE back then and there was not a lot of awareness of how it worked or how pervasive it would become. There were a couple of tough years. We had two young children and a lot of outgoings, so we kept dipping into our savings.

I had doubts, but my husband is very optimistic and determined and after 2000 things really took off. We started with just the two of us and now we have a staff of 17.

Two years ago, I wanted to do something different, something on my own. I looked around and zeroed in on the emerging eco-industry. In January 2009, I launched Ekotribe (www.ekotribe.com), a wholesaler and distributor of eco-related products for the Middle East. I have always been conscious of looking after the planet and, as well as wanting to start something for myself, I wanted to give something back.

This took care of both sides. The business was started from scratch. I invested about Dh500,000, most of which was used to buy products.

Our clients are a mix of private businesses and government agencies. The first year of business was much better than expected and everything we earned was put back into the company.

We're a three-person team. It's a small set-up, but I'm willing to work hard. It's a long-term vision. When you're an entrepreneur, you have to have passion and a vision.

In November, spurred on by the success of Ekotribe, I launched the Green Ecostore (www.greenecostore.com), an online retail store for eco-friendly products.

The Green Ecostore has a different range of products to Ekotribe, so again it took a substantial investment of Dh500,000.

It's a lot, but being an online retailer does keep the costs down and minimises the carbon footprint.

As a family, we've always been careful about our impact on the environment. I've always been willing to spend a bit more to get eco-friendly products. As well as doing the right thing, it makes you feel good to know you're doing something. We live in an area with the largest (carbon) footprint per person in the world. With climate change being such a big issue now, people are starting to become more environmentally aware.

The response to the Green Ecostore has been terrific.

I'm getting a lot of hits on a daily basis and people are spending seven to eight minutes browsing, compared with an average one or two minutes a hit on most sites.

But it's going to take a while before people realise our site has useful and practical products and is not a hippie gimmick.

I have experience with online marketing from Cyber Gear, but the Green Ecostore is a different audience. We're targeting women and school kids. I believe that living a green life, like savings, is something that is learnt at home.

I'm an army officer's daughter, so I travelled quite a bit growing up.

My father was on a government salary, which was not a lot and I watched my parents always being very careful with their money and sacrificing things for my brother's and my education. I would see them saving, budgeting and being very disciplined.

I was taught if you wanted something big you had to budget and save and work towards it. I try to instil the same ethic in my children. But it's not so easy with this generation. They see things and want everything. I try to be strict, but it's a struggle, especially with my son.

I finished high school in Washington in the US, then went on to study computer science at George Mason University in Virginia. I followed that with a master's degree in computer science .

After completing my master's degree, I returned to New Delhi. I was 23 and started work at International Data Management (the former IBM), where I met my husband.

We were married and left India soon after to move to Saudi Arabia in 1989, where my husband had been offered a job in sales.

There were no opportunities for women in Saudi back then. I got a job in an American school teaching computer science and a year later we moved to Dubai.

During our first couple of years, there was a lot of spending. We were young and on our own for the first time. But after our first child was born, we started an education savings plan. I'm very glad we did because it has made it very easy to pay for all their schooling, including college fees for my 20-year-old daughter, who is studying accounting in Boston.

I think you have to save regularly.

I've tried to instil this in my children. I tell them not to go over the top, that there's a time for everything. Life doesn't come all at once.

* As told to Jane Williams