They say it takes a village to raise a child – Neela Kaushik, founder of GurgaonMoms, a robust online community with a membership of more than 30k decided in 2010 that she would just create that village for herself and her son in their new town – Gurgaon.
Twelve years ago, Neela moved to Gurugram, then Gurgaon, from the United States of America. With no family or friends to help her out, and having basic questions that she wanted answers for, she turned to the virtual world and sought help. Her strong feelings of a sense of frustration triggered her decision to form GurgaonMoms – which in a sense becomes the first port of call for any new entrant to Gurgaon.
In this free-wheeling conversation with The Better India, Neela speaks of how the community came into being, the impact that it has created, and shares with us various little tid-bits and anecdotes that help us understand this community a little better.
How it all started?
“Some of the initial questions I wanted to find answers to revolved around which play school I could enrol my son in, which doctor would be available on weekends etc. I realised that these were questions that parents usually discussed with their peers and friends over their evening park strolls and social circles. Since I did not have those, I sought answers online,” begins Neela.
Neela started an online Facebook community in 2010, at a time when Facebook groups were not so common. “It was an experiment, that in hindsight has done and fared extremely well,” she says and added that her background in digital marketing helped. Initially though she started the community anonymously. “I started the community anonymously, secretly wishing that someone will suggest joining it to me.” She felt that it would give her the ultimate satisfaction of having created something.
Imagine her happiness when that actually happened. Recollecting it like it happened just yesterday, Neela says, “While I don’t remember who steered me towards the online community, I remember feeling elated when it actually happened. It was like getting something that I was ardently hoping for.”
“Mothers,” she says as a tribe are always looking for more information and in a community like GurgaonMoms one is able to get any and all information at one place. “It is also a community that allows women to speak their mind without any fear of being judged.” While in the early years conversation flowed on its own easily, it was only later with the community growing to a larger number that moderating conversations started to take place.
Initial year and a half the number of members in the community grew at a slow pace and once it started picking up, by word of mouth, the numbers reached 300. Over the last decade the community has seen an exponential growth – from a community of a few like-minded women, it has grown to accommodate more than 30,000 women, and continues to grow.
Online to Offline
“I think it was around 2012, when we were about 350 or so strong when one of the members suggested that we all meet, in person,” recollects Neela. While the very first meeting saw only about 12 members showing up, seeing the people you interacted with online in flesh and blood, Neela felt, made a huge difference and everyone started to feel so much more connected.
We then started doing evening outs. Neela says, “Many of the members, who also happened to be mothers, missed stepping out at night because of having the home and children to tend to. I still remember the amount of fun we all had.” It was a group of mothers having similar interests, similar constraints, just stepping out and having fun.
We also created micro-communities within the GurgaonMoms umbrella – Book Clubs, Regional Moms Groups, which could meet and have events on their own. The regional groups were a big hit, especially as many people have migrated from multiple other regions into Gurgaon. For example, Madras Moms – a smaller community of members from Tamil Nadu, would meet and celebrate their festivals, like a family would. All these strengthened the bonds of fellowship.
Neela realised that to scale her platform well, she needed help. A core team was formed tasked with the group’s administration. “It was an important coming together and it’s that team that now handles various things for the community. We have a book club, we conduct regular events – both online and offline, and the more hands on deck, the smoother the ship will sail.”
Having stepped back from a corporate career post motherhood, Neela intuitively understood that there is more to moms than just being mothers. In 2013 Neela launched what she called Mom Achiever’s Summit – a day long event which brings together industry experts, fitness enthusiasts, moms who have made a success of their lives to encourage many others.
GurgaonMoms can also credit itself with having helped many women become first time entrepreneurs. “Slurp Farm, a made-in-India organic food brand offering health and yummy treats for babies and kids, as an idea was first floated within the community. Infact they also did a lot of their initial sampling in the community,” she says.
The platform has scale significantly and Neela’s pride comes through as she says, “We even have a mentorship programme wherein we help women entrepreneurs scale up, and even have various life coaches on-board who hand hold these entrepreneurs.”
The community that was originally started as an information sharing platform has come alive and evolved into a powerful network of women supporting, encouraging, and mentoring women.
GurgaonMom – a Google case-study!
Personally for Neela, being chosen as one of Google’s case study to Help Women Get Online was a milestone. She says, “Having always wanting to work for Google, here I was being chosen as one of their case-studies. It was a huge deal for me to be acknowledged by an organisation that I have a great deal of admiration for.”
“Being one of the chosen groups made me feel accomplished,” she shares. Besides all this the group also extends help by connecting women in distress to self-help groups, finding them lawyers, and ensuring that they are able to share within the community without fear.
When asked where she sees this community going, Neela says, “I want to take this to other cities, I see great potential in that and see how these meaningful conversations can make a difference.”
Just as we end our conversation, Neela says, “it all boils down to just one thing – A happy mom builds a happy home.”
(Edited by Shruti Singhal)