Dalia Abdulrahman is passionate about what she does. She loves children and likes to watch them learn new things as they grow. This is why she believes she is extremely blessed to be a Kumon Learning Center owner and instructor. She spends her weekday evenings coaching students and transforming them to focused, independent young people. It’s a vocation she didn’t know she could bank on. She spoke to Denver Digest on her journey to Kumon and her desire for women in her community.
Please introduce yourself.
I was born in northern Sudan, but I consider myself a global citizen. I spent my early childhood in Sudan until age 4, from where we relocated to Yemen where I spent the rest of my childhood. When I turned 15, my family and I were forced to move out of Yemen, so we moved to the Netherlands, where I went to high school and college. I came to the United States ten years ago.
What is Kumon and how do you operate the center?
Kumon is a Japanese franchise company that has been around for more than sixty years. The model is one and the same at all learning locations and depends on the Kumon method which was developed by the company’s founder. The center has three main sections- the early learner’s corner for young students who work one-on-one with an assistant. There is also a section for older students who need limited assistance and then the main classroom where students are expected to work 100% independently of course, and when they need help, I jump in. The main goal is to cultivate independence, where the students start with support and then transition to 100% independence. Our role is to encourage and guide them to develop skills to become lifelong learners.
Kumon is specifically for both Math and Reading. Are there certain students you cannot accept?
Kumon accepts all students. Students can start at any level and with any ability. A main strength of the program is the fact that lesson plans are individualized and tailored to every student’s needs. Therefore, we are able to serve any student with any level of ability. The stages mentioned above are left to the instructor’s own discretion. How fast a student moves from one stage to the other depends on the instructor’s observation of the student. It’s been amazing watching students transform very quickly.
How affordable is the program and how can members of the community who wish to enroll reach you?
Kumon is a great learning program. Besides becoming proficient in Math and Reading, our students learn a lot of discipline and the increased attention span they need as they grow up. I believe the program is quite affordable, but I understand that there are children in our community whose parents desire to enroll them in this program but cannot do so due to funds. So, I encourage kind-hearted people or organizations who have the means to sponsor these children. Our children need Kumon to compete well today like no other time. They need focus training to shield them from negative distractions. Our monthly tuition is $130 per subject. Kumon is open year-round. We do not close for summer; our hours are the same. If you are interested in the program, please walk into our center in Havana during our business hours or call us at 720.763.1159. My email address is email@example.com. Our business hours vary by the day of the week, but we are open Mon- day to Friday between 3:30 – 7 pm.
Can you walk us through your journey so far with Kumon?
My journey with Kumon started with parenting. My business partner saw a Kumon Center in our neighborhood and convinced me to enroll our son who was three years at that time. I was skeptical at the beginning as to what a three-year-old could learn. I went on to enroll him anyway, and today I am happy I did. I did not imagine then that one day, I would own and run a Kumon Center. I was convinced that I was a 9 to 5 kind of person and would always hold a steady, salaried job. However, at a point, my work-life balance became too messy to cope with, and I felt that I needed to take a break to recalibrate and reprioritize. It was at this point that I decided that this was a better alternative for me.
Covid19 threw a stop sign in the way of many businesses. How did you navigate the obstacles of the pandemic?
Mine would have been one of such businesses but we scaled the challenge somehow. When the pandemic hit, I was only six months in business. I was disoriented for a week or two and felt overwhelmed by the thought of failure. I kept asking myself, what was I going to do? Was I going to close this business? The pandemic hit mid-March and by early April I knew I had to be creative to remain open. I had to pivot, and that saved my business. I changed the model to 100% virtual, closed the center completely, and kept working one-on-one with all of my students. Though I lost more than 70% of my student body at that time, I could not give up. I kept going with the number of students that were left. Virtual learning is not part of the Kumon method at all, but it served perfectly. It was a huge learning curve for me and the families that I work with, but we all came out on the other side wiser and more fulfilled.
Would you tell us the specific factors or decisions that contributed to your becoming an entrepreneur?
The deciding factor was the imbalance in my life at the time. My work was rewarding yet demanding. I have two young children and I could not be available for them whenever they needed me. I was beginning to feel unfulfilled as a parent, yet I was not doing a great job at my work either because of the guilt I felt as a mother.
What has been your key driving force in business?
My driving force has been my children. I want to be around as they grow up. I do not want to go back to a nine-to-five job and work for a boss. The flexibility, the freedom in decision-making, and the ability to prioritize my needs and the need of my family are the forces that have kept me pushing forward. I do not want to work for a boss ever again. I want to remain fully engaged in my work, be productive and keep digging for new ideas.
What can you say has helped you to be successful so far?
I have an amazingly supportive environment. My spouse, my parents, and my siblings are a great support for me. My spouse has been the great est support; he is greatly involved in the day-to-day struggles.
Do you have people who doubted your business decisions?
Indeed, I doubted my own business decisions as I did not have any business background. However, being in business and being hit with the pandemic so early in the process, shifted my mindset. It taught me not to doubt myself, as it is a recipe for failure. It is better to make decisions quickly and fail early if it must than to doubt oneself and not do anything.
What advice can you give to women who aspire to be like you?
Any woman can do what I am doing. I did not believe that I could run a business on my own. I had to start believing in myself and my abilities. We are taught to doubt ourselves and to think that others have better ideas, but that is not true. My advice would be to trust yourself. If your bases are covered, I mean in terms of food and shelter, then figure out what is important to you and get to work on it.
What would a good business advise be?
A good piece of advice that I can give anyone is to look for a mentor in their industry of preference. Find that someone who you look up to, and who does what you love, then figure out a way to do what they are doing well.
What do you love doing when you’re not working?
When I am not working, I am taking a walk outside, reading a good book, or meeting a friend somewhere to share a drink and exchange ideas. I also love to travel, meet people, see new environments, and experience new things. My parents and siblings live in the Netherlands and we visit each other at least once a year.