Dr Sunayna Iqbal, Co-founder of Dubai-based NGO Destination Success UAE, believes that every child can and should be motivated to reach the zenith of his/her potential by providing a conducive learning environment, the right combination of skills, and a dollop of motivation. She has been working actively with the schools in UAE for the last 13 years. She has trained and coached over 5,000 students as part of her mission to inspire every child who comes her way.
A certified trainer and public speaker, Sunayna along with her husband, Dr Sangeeth Ibrahim, host a show on parenting called My Teacher on NTV, a popular TV channel in UAE. Sunayna has published articles on related topics in reputed international journals. Sangeeth, who is the co-founder of Destination Success UAE, is the Vice President of a leading bank in the region and is also a motivational speaker and leading development specialist who shares Sunayna’s passion of helping students. The husband and wife duo is very much in tandem in terms of their values and goals, and their children, Amaan and Jehan, are following in their footsteps and are brand ambassadors of reputed charity organisations.
Education is everything
Sunayna, named after the classic song sung by singer Yesudas, was born into a business family in Cochin. Sunayna says, “The motto of my school Bhavans Vidya Mandir ‘Let noble thoughts come to us from every side’, a quote from the Rigveda, touched a chord with me.” Her family had to face the tragic demise of her father when she was just 15. But her mother took over as the sole parent with courage and faith, and ensured her children got the best of education. Sunayna’s brother is an orthopaedic surgeon and her younger sister is an electronic engineer working in California.
Sunayna was just 20 years old when she was introduced to Sangeeth through common family friends and their families got them married. She was very sure she would continue her studies after her marriage. Since Sangeeth’s father was principal of a college and is an author and his mother is a retired Indian Navy captain and leading gynaecologist, she found support and inspiration from both sides. Sunayna received an award for the highest marks in B.Com by a Muslim student in the state of Kerala, and joined post-graduation a few years later once her son started school. Her daughter’s school admission marked her enrollment for PhD, along with Sangeeth. They were the first couple to pass the final viva on the same day in the history of Banasthali Vidyapith University, Rajasthan.
The move to Dubai
After moving to UAE in 2002, Sunayna joined an Indian not-for-profit social organisation, which provided free personality development training and learning interventions to students. There she discovered her passion for student training. In three years, she was heading the NGO’s Youth Leadership Project. She got introduced to psychoanalytical tools like Transactional Analysis, Neuro Linguistic Programming, and Brian Tracy’s Accelerated Learning Techniques.
Destination Success UAE
Having worked with students, parents, and teachers for eight years, Sunayna realised that very few students excelled in terms of academic performance, though most students had similar capabilities and family backgrounds. She felt the need for a platform that could facilitate meaningful conversations between students, teachers, and parents. This channel of communication was often clogged by complaints about each other’s inefficiency to meet expectations. Thus, Destination Success UAE was born in February 2013. Initially, they maintained an online presence with posts on topics like parenting and communication within the family. An overwhelming response led to a formal inauguration by former President late Dr A.P.J. Abdul Kalam in November 2013.
Sunayna and Sangeeth, with the help of like-minded people from various walks of life and nationalities, organise training sessions named SOAR (social harmony familial development) for batches of parents, teachers, or children. The sessions are offered free of cost. They have found sponsors in reputed organisations like Aster Group, Buimerc, WestFord Group, among others.
What about too much pressure on children?
I strongly believe that children should not be treated with kid gloves and kept away from pressure and competitions. If the world they face in future is devoid of such situations, it would have been fine. But when they have to face intense stress, pressure, and competition in colleges, universities, interviews, workplaces, and even in their marital life, it is highly essential that we equip them with the skill to handle stress and pressure at a young age. We are speaking about useful stress (Eustress) here. Stress in small doses which kids should be taught to channelise productively.
She concedes that not every child can score 100 per cent and neither should they be pressurised to do so. What she is striving for is to help each child reach her fullest potential and also enjoy learning instead of just focussing on exams and marks.
The parenting formula
According to Sunayna, by connecting superlative academic performance to success in later life and poor performance to challenges and struggles in adult life, parents can motivate their child from a young age. Even if children fail, feedback must be given in ways that doesn’t hurt the self-confidence of the child. And it goes without saying that the free time of the children must be utilised well. They must be allowed to pursue their hobbies and must also be given unstructured play time with children of their age group.
Sunayna’s TV show, which she co-hosted with Sangeeth, was on parenting and soft skill development. The channel approached them following the success of Destination Success UAE and the show enjoyed a huge viewership.
Sunayna ensures that her training sessions and assignments do not eat into the time she sets aside for her family. She used to take her children along while she was working since they were both toddlers. This exposure has instilled in them a love for public speaking and they are very involved in Sunayna’s work.
#MissionInspire1Million and #GiveExpectingNothing
Sunayna says, “I strongly believe that the purpose of life is to use the blessings that God has given us to make a difference in the lives of others.” #MissionInspire1Million reflects the life mission of this family – in their lifetimes, they want to positively impact at least one million people.
#GiveExpectingNothing is the next important cause in their life. Fourteen-year-old Amaan is a brand ambassador of ‘Protect your Mom’ campaign for breast cancer awareness. He organises food donation at labour camps during Ramadan and Indian festivals. Eight-year-old Jehan has donated her hair for cancer survivors. She conducts regular sales of paper quilled earrings made by her with the sale proceeds going to CRY – Child Rights and You.
Monetary success and selfless service need not be a paradox
Sunayna has no qualms in accepting that money and status makes people happy. Pursuit of passions and talents is equally important. She says that however as people get older, what gives them a sense of gratification is making a positive difference in other people’s lives. So she encourages her children as well as all the children she mentors to actively pursue money, status, talents, passion and purpose. She signs off with, “If you miss out on one, life is incomplete.”