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Crowdsourced parenting

With over 23,000 members, GurgaonMoms functions as a platform where young mothers can trade parenting tips and educational advice

Core team members and volunteers of GurgaonMoms at The Mom Achievers Summit 2017. Photo: Gurgaonmoms
Core team members and volunteers of GurgaonMoms at The Mom Achievers Summit 2017. Photo: Gurgaonmoms

On an overcast January weekday morning, at the far end of Gurugram’s spiffy Galleria market, I spot the women I am there to meet: the core “GurgaonMoms" team. GurgaonMoms is a Facebook group with close to 24,000 members that allows young mothers, most of whom live in Gurugram, to share insights on parenting, tips on where to buy essentials, find the best educational resources—quite simply, to talk to one another, and crowdsource the best Gurugram has to offer a child. The group aims to help women network, socially and professionally. It started as a space for mothers, but now extends to all women. Men are not accepted in the Facebook group but can attend offline events.

The group’s 39-year-old founder, Neela Kaushik, holds the fort with two core team members, Upasana Mahtani Luthra, who is a natural at event organization and public relations, and Subhashini Ramasubramanian, who handles brand associations. Ramasubramanian helps pitch members’ businesses and evaluates brands that approach the group. Half-a-dozen other mothers also volunteer their time, giving GurgaonMoms the appearance of a well-oiled company.

It’s easy to warm up to this spirited group. Kaushik, Luthra and Anshu Bhatia (who looks after the website, are meeting this morning to discuss their website content strategy. The website serves as a resource centre of helpline numbers and updates on specialized activities for children in the neighbourhood, health and education trend stories, as well as poetry, fiction and artwork by mothers.

Scrolling through the posts on the Facebook group, you come across diverse topics—from children’s health and parenting styles to gender politics, education and current affairs-

Their calendar is packed: In February, for instance, there were back-to-back events, a winter picnic for children and their parents at a farm near Gurugram, followed by a parenting workshop and panel discussion on the dangers of bullying, and how to counter it. Most of March and April will be spent working out the details of The Mom Achievers Summit 2018, to be held on 5 May. Members pay a modest fee to attend events (Rs300-500).

On a Saturday morning last month, I found myself at the parenting workshop organized by GurgaonMoms at the Heritage Xperiential Learning School’s auditorium in Gurugram. The panel discussion on “Parenting: Are We Missing The Obvious?" featured Nazia Erum, fashion entrepreneur and author of the memoir Mothering A Muslim, and well-known child psychologist and author Shelja Sen, among others. The discussion, which focused on bullying and ways to create safe spaces for children, is the kind of event GurgaonMoms likes to be associated with. “The publishers of Nazia Erum and Dr Shelja Sen’s books reached out to us around the same time," says Kaushik. “So we decided to bring them together in one event."

Both online and offline, GurgaonMoms represents the kind of frenetic energy that drives the city. Gurugram is a zone of enterprise, where new businesses are carving a new world. For a parent new to Gurugram, the group functions as a friendly, easy place to connect, as I learnt first-hand when I moved there a year ago. All manner of queries are answered within minutes, from “Which are the best schools?" to “Where can I find fresh fish?" or “A reliable paediatrician?" The group gets over 300 requests every day to join. Those interested have to fill a questionnaire that has to be approved by the core group.

There is also a clear social purpose. “In 2010, I was new to the city and wanted to connect with other moms for information and recommendations," says Kaushik, who had moved from Chennai. Having worked in digital media, she set up a Facebook group. When she could not get a suitable corporate job, she was motivated to take GurgaonMoms to the next level.

“Every time I failed an interview, I would come back and create an online activity or an offline event," she says. “I organized coffee meets to meet like-minded parents and saw good participation. Then I slowly moved to creating workshops. Local brands began expressing interest. We soon realized that we could support social causes, and we encouraged moms to participate."

Around this time, Luthra, a former hotelier and also from Chennai, moved to Gurugram and read an article about the group in the newspaper. She helped Kaushik with an event and then joined GurgaonMoms full-time, taking care of GurgaonMoms Book Club events and marketing campaigns, while monitoring the community online. Ramasubramanian, who joined the group as an entrepreneur and later became part of the core team, loved the group’s “cosmopolitan mix of members and healthy discussions". She felt so deeply connected that she stayed with it even when she moved to Bengaluru. The team works out of home or cafés, with several meetings a week, some on Google Hangout.

GurgaonMoms has become known for its annual flagship event—The Mom Achievers Summit—for which Ramasubramanian travels to Gurugram every year. For this year’s event, they are planning five panels, including a men-only debate on “What Men Really Want". Other panels will discuss topics like “Are We Overcomplicating Parenting?", “Highlighting Social Warriors", and “How To Use Social Media Right". There will be a music show and a play put together by members. “The Elevator Pitch" is another highlight, and applications are currently being invited from women entrepreneurs who want to showcase their business to investors who will be present at the summit. This is in line with GurgaonMoms’ philosophy of providing a kind of digital billboard for the city’s “mompreneurs".

Their businesses range from technology-based services to food, travel and children-centred brands. One group member is Gurugram-resident Kanika Kush, mother to an eight-year-old boy, who runs Kanika Kush Design House. Over the last few years, she has teamed up with GurgaonMoms for several events. “For example, the team asked me to make art on trays on the theme of women’s empowerment to serve as gifts to be given away at an event called ‘Moms Sure Can’. Sponsoring the gifts meant I got to network and talk about my business, which got me a lot of orders. The team at GurgaonMoms is well-organized, systematic, they tag you in posts when they set up exhibitions and marketplaces—which are usually runaway successes. My business is alive thanks to the group, and this is true for dozens of other entrepreneurs," she says.

She recalls an incident a few months ago when a GurgaonMoms member posted that she was feeling lonely. About 25 members landed up at her place to make sure she was okay. Parul Bhargava Sharma, a stockbroker who works from home, finds this kind of support circle helpful. “I check the group for new posts several times a day," she says. “It’s also where I check doctors’ references. I make frequent trips to hospitals as my family members have a lot of health issues, and I often bump into fellow GurgaonMoms members. It is now a recognizable, reliable name."

Scrolling through the posts on the group, you come across diverse topics—from children’s health and parenting styles to gender politics, domestic violence, education and current affairs. Recently, the team has starting posting sensitive messages on behalf of members, such as cries for help that include personal details under a “Ms Anonymous" tag. News items that resonate with members are often taken up by the core team and offline events organized around the theme.

In September, the team put together a #NotInMyName concert at a neighbourhood park to raise awareness about atrocities on caste and religious lines. During the Chennai floods, they collected essentials and got SpiceJet to fly these out pro bono. When the air pollution situation worsened to the “severe" category late last year, the team coordinated with the group Citizens for Clean Air to get a petition signed and submitted to the authorities.

What is it like running a group this large? “Getting everyone on the same wavelength and convincing corporates about the dynamics of the group is challenging," says Luthra, who would like to see the group make it to the “national level".

“We definitely need more resources to be able to scale up and be more effective. While brands are more interested in numbers, as a community manager I give more importance to vetting the members and the quality of the conversation," Kaushik says. How does she handle volatile conversations on the group—especially on issues such as sexual harassment, religion, politics, and the ever-popular topic of domestic help, which can very quickly acquire alarmingly classist undertones? “Handling conflict and controversies in a community is a skill that I have picked up ever since GurgaonMoms came into being," she says. “Initially, we removed all conversations that sparked controversy. Today, we understand that it’s these conversations that help members come out and discuss their viewpoints and even bond. We follow a zero-tolerance policy when it comes to personal comments, trolls and anything that spreads negativity."

As the community focuses on scaling up, how will it strike a balance, and refrain from becoming an all-out commercial vehicle? “We pick up brands where we can tell stories and add value to the community," says Kaushik. “We then create avenues for interaction—from content to activities at our events." The team recently started publishing restaurant and movie reviews (not paid) on the website.

“Every six months, I talk to the core team to see what keeps them motivated, because I know if they were to be working for a corporate, they would be making much more money," Kaushik says. If there is money left over from events, that is distributed among core team members every quarter. The challenge is, of course, to create new revenue streams to be monetarily self-sufficient, to reach out to more participants through social media, and, as Luthra puts it, to have some “corporate recognition". At the end of every year, the team takes a month-long break for a “digital detox", only to return in January, ready for a busy year.

It isn’t easy trying to be a “one-stop-place for moms in Gurgaon", but it sure looks like a lot of fun.

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