An air-conditioned guest room with upholstered sofas. An almirah filled with neatly bound files. Nattily dressed young women, both Indian and foreigners, working on laptops in the adjoining room.
Welcome to Domesteq Services in Chanakyapuri, a first of its kind company that provides ‘household solutions’, including domestic helps to harried Delhiites struggling to strike the right balance between demanding schedules and the usual household chores.
The firm started by 46-year-old Shawn Runacres, a UC Berkeley graduate, defies the stereotypical idea of domestic help agencies in the city that are usually located in dingy areas and run by people who are hard to trust.
Runacres came to India eight years ago with her husband, who worked with the British High Commission, and decided to stay on.
“Until I started the company, the only way expat families could find domestic staff in the city was through a reference within the community or through neighbours, which did not always work,” she says. “So, I set up this company (in 2007) to provide household solutions to the expat community in Delhi, but now we have more Indian clients than expats.”
Unlike a regular maid agency, Domesteq boasts of a vice-president (operations), a manager (training and placements), an assistant director (special projects), a number of executive assistants, trainers and consultants.
It has 2,500 registered domestic workers to offer to Delhi homes. A large number of them can also speak fluent English.
“Unlike in the West, I was shocked to realise most agencies in Delhi are run by unscrupulous people. One of the ideas behind the company was to create awareness about a reliable, professional model of a domestic staff provider.
“Many feel I’m crazy to be running a domestic help firm in Delhi,” she laughs.
So, how does Domesteq really work?
After you have registered yourself with the company , a consultant calls you to find about your lifestyle, the size and age of your family members, etc. “The idea is to understand who will fit in your family and meet its requirements,” she says.
Domesteq not only helps you find a domestic staff, it also offers advice on how to run a household more efficiently and trains domestic helps.
“We train the helps in keeping children engaged. We also train them to assess dangers for the child and respond to emergencies," says Anjani Rawat, manager, training and placement.
“There’s no reason why a person sweeping and dusting your home cannot learn new skills and become a cook, or a cook work as a chef,” Runacres says. Enhancing the skills of domestic staff to help them move up the ladder is also one of her desires.
Domesteq's unique model has caught the attention of National Skill Development Corporation (NSDC), a private-public partnership, under the Union Ministry of Finance. It has roped in Domesteq to create a curriculum for skill development of domestic staff.
"Runacres has created a unique model in the domestic work sector, which is totally unorganised in the country and requires skill development. We want to replicate Domesteq's model, which has the potential to change all this, at the national level," says M V Subbiah, chairman, NSDC.