Sharing treasured stories

Akruti Babaria with some of the children's books her company sells.

Photos: Brenda Feldstein

Once upon a time, a mother traveled halfway across the globe searching for books for her young son. What she found was a new passion—and a bold direction for her career.

Akruti Babaria, BS ’05, MBA ’12, grew up in India and immigrated to the United States at 16. Years later when she had her son, Ayaan, she and her husband, fellow alumnus Umesh Babaria, MBA ’03, knew they wanted to pass their Indian heritage down to him.

So, she scoured for books that authentically depicted the customs and stories she was raised on—but found few options, even online. Finally, Babaria decided to go straight to the source and began building her son’s library during a trip to India.

“I looked, with a mother’s lens, for materials that reflected our culture, showed men and women as equal, and did not depict violence in certain ways,” she says. “I looked at hundreds of books and thought, ‘I’m so passionate about this—this is my calling.’”

Thus, in February 2018, Babaria founded Kulture Khazana, which curates books, content and workshops on Indian culture for families, schools and libraries across the country. Kulture Khazana is the exclusive U.S. distributor for dozens of Indian titles for children, from babies to young adults. Bestsellers include an illustrated collection of folk tales, a board book series on Hindu gods and goddesses, and a picture book about an Indian girl gaining self-confidence.

“Children are born open-minded,” Babaria says. “If we teach them about culture and engage them in these conversations from a young age, by the time they’re adults they won’t need diversity and inclusion training because they’ll already accept and include the diversity around them.”

Babaria initially targeted Indian parents and families, but quickly realized she could tap into a wider audience of people interested in exploring other cultures. She regularly provides professional development for educators looking to infuse Indian culture into their classrooms, as well as multisensory workshops for kids that incorporate stories, music, dance, art and cooking.

To run her startup, Babaria brings together all of her experiences as a classically trained dance instructor, a project manager in the health care industry and a School of Management graduate.

At UB, Babaria says she developed leadership skills, first as an undergraduate, serving as president of the Indian Student Association and a senator in the UB Student Association, and later as an MBA student in LeaderCORE™, a two-year personal and professional development certification program for UB MBAs.

“To be an entrepreneur, I have to be extremely self-aware—the stakes are too high,” Babaria says. “LeaderCORE taught me to self-reflect and learn from failure, to seek feedback and continuously improve myself, and to have the global and diversity mindset I need for my business.”

Looking ahead, Babaria is writing her own children’s book and creating new products, including an Indian culture kit for teachers with artifacts, books, music and activities. Someday, she hopes to develop products for other cultures and mount a South Asian literary festival in Buffalo.

“After one workshop, a friend told me her son came home and said, ‘My teacher read us a book about Diwali!’” Babaria says. “It’s great to know this is working and children are so excited to see what they do at home represented in books and at school.”

Written by Matthew Biddle