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Anissa Bouderraoui (SKEMA 2005), founder of Bilingual Bébé in New York

13 April 2021

Anissa Bouderraoui, an alumna of the SKEMA Class of 2005, arrived in New York from the outskirts of Paris a little over ten years ago. Frustrated by how slowly her career was progressing in France, the young woman crossed the Atlantic in search of a more intense and stimulating professional adventure. One where the accent was on merit and not the glass ceiling. Becoming a mother is what drove her to entrepreneurship. In the land of possibilities and with the pandemic in full swing, Anissa opened Bilingual Bébé, a bilingual online preschool, in New York. Here is a portrait of this bright SKEMA Business School graduate.

Anissa has strong memories of her years at SKEMA, particularly ”the collaborative work, the team spirit, and the project presentations that prepare you for the working world”. To her, the strength of her school is its international outlook, evident through the lectures and classes conducted in English, the opportunities to study overseas, and the diversity of the students from all different backgrounds. “I chose to attend a business school because I’ve always been curious by nature and drawn to entrepreneurship; starting my own business is something I had dreamed about from a very young age. SKEMA helped me because it is a very high-quality school that gives you a leg up in the business world and culture.” 

Anissa began her career in management control. First with Habitat, the chic and famous French retailer of designer furniture, then with Orangina Schweppes. Those five years of work experience made her realise how slow her career advancement would be in France. Being a woman in the corporate world is not easy either. The proverbial glass ceiling. As a passionate and driven woman with a sense of adventure, she decided to choose a professional environment that seemed better to her.

I wanted something dynamic and I also really wanted to come to the United States. I wanted to come and do great things here,” she explains. “I arrived in New York in 2010, with a J1 visa and an internship.” Although she had been in a management-level position in France, she accepted a lower position and salary. In the land of the American dream, you have to be ok with starting at the bottom. “I gave myself six months to find something else,” Anissa explains. The gamble paid off!

I was fascinated by the culture and the dynamism of American startups. Differences are valued and thinking outside the box is encouraged.”  

Anissa took like a duck to water; she was granted an H1B visa and she stepped into a financial controller position for a record label. “It was a very exciting time in my career”. The music industry was undergoing massive changes and Anissa found herself in a frenzy of new projects. Then she was appointed CFO of a subsidiary of the company that employed her. In her element working with figures, she began working on strategy, on mergers and acquisitions. She quickly rose to a position it would have taken her years to reach in France, to a job encompassing a very large scope of responsibilities. She was fulfilled working for a company in the arts. Anissa had one foot in figures and the other on Broadway. “My company sold merchandising for Broadway shows.

In 2017, she gave birth to her first child. She became fascinated with early childhood education. “I developed an interest in education and started to read a lot on the subject. I realised that the first five years are crucial for a child’s development and I wanted to really support my child through those first years,” she explains. Education, the Montessori method, positive parenting... Anissa was interested in all of it and sought the best techniques to allow her child to learn and thrive. As a mum in New York, her major issue was how to give her child time. In parallel, as a French-speaking person living in a foreign country, Anissa was faced with another dilemma: how to speak French to a child immersed in an English-speaking environment?

In addition, she noted “a lack of quality daycare in Brooklyn. This is frustrating.” In a city with mediocre and overpriced preschools and daycare centres, Anissa decided to start her own bilingual preschool. “The most important thing in education is the quality of the teachers.” Consequently, she decided to only recruit French-speaking teachers with a French Education Nationale qualification and significant teaching experience.

A few days before COVID paralysed New York in March last year, Anissa signed the lease agreement for her future preschool in Brooklyn. The project was stopped dead in its tracks by the pandemic, but this only made Anissa more determined. With the lockdown and distance learning, her bilingual preschool project changed. It morphed to adapt to a new era. Over the last few months people have become a lot more open to doing everything online, for both young and old. As the weeks passed, Anissa transformed her project and adapted it to the new normal online. And contrary to what many believe, this works really well for very young children.

Teacher selection is more drastic. Given the challenge of teaching online, it takes a certain talent to interact with the children,” explains the founder of Bilingual Bébé.

She admits that some teachers can be very good in the classroom but terrible behind a screen.

You have to constantly hold the children’s attention. You have to be able to teach while having fun, for 45 minutes straight.” 45 minutes is the duration of a Bilingual Bébé session. Bilingual Bébé is more than a school; it is an innovative concept that helps parents. Enrolments are accepted at any time of the year. The school offers a choice between full immersion in the French language and a bilingual French-English programme, with times to suit the schedules of children and parents. Anissa has simply created what she was looking for as an active, French-speaking mother with high standards.

I don’t think we are going to go back to the way of life and pace we had prior to COVID,” Anissa explains. “We’ve now all been working at home for nearly a year; this has changed us and we need flexibility.” We’ve been working from home, learning from our bedrooms, but also doing extracurricular activities from our apartments. Of course, children will still need to go to a football field, a basketball court or a baseball diamond to let off steam, to socialise, to grow, but a language can absolutely be learned from behind a screen while interacting with a teacher. As long as the teacher is talented and passionate about their work. It is clear to see that Anissa has once again brilliantly executed what she set out to accomplish.

After ten years of living in New York, Anissa is as ready as ever to take up challenges in a city that never gives up. “I’m less naive about New York than I was when I first arrived. But despite the pandemic, New York remains a beautiful city full of energy, where creativity is visible.” Anissa does admit, however, that “when you become a parent, you realise what is available in France and not here.”

A final word for the alumni community?

The hardest part is making the leap and starting with no guarantee of success. When you have a well-established career it’s harder, but I like being outside of my comfort zone. I think that is how the greatest adventures start. We have lots of ideas for expansion and will very soon be offering English as a second language for French people living in France who want to offer their kids bilingualism at the best age. 

 

ContactAnissa Bouderraoui, Founder and CEO of Bilingual Bébé in New York

Interview by lepetitjournal.com for SKEMA Alumni

 

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