United by Ink – For the love of writing

Sapna Shivani Kekre, Founder, United by Ink

Meet Sapna Shivani Kekre, a multi-faceted entrepreneur. She is the Founder of United by Ink and a social worker at heart, an event manager, Tarot card reader, just to name a few. 

After completing her MBA from Goa University, Sapna worked as a marketing professional for 20 years. Eventually, she joined FMB & OMP programs as a Coordinator in Mumbai’s prestigious business management institute, S. P. Jain Institute of Management and Research (SPJIMR). She has served as a faculty in Pune’s well-known Symbiosis University at their BBA and Executive MBA Programs as well.  

Today at 47, Sapna, a renowned bilingual author; writes in Hindi and English and has been successfully guiding and promoting creative minds from across the world through United by Ink since February 2018. 

The Lifestyle Portal sharing snippets of our conversation with Sapna about her journey from the corporate world to launching a global literary platform – UBI. 

How did it all begin?

It was the year 2018, for the launch of her first book “Oas ki Boondein”, as she stood at the Book Fair in Pragati Maidan in New Delhi, Sapna observed the sea of humanity go by. It was then an idea came to her mind when she quickly picked up her phone to call her husband to have a heart-to-heart conversation. She shared with him about the lack of an accessible platform where people from the literary world could benefit.

Sapna shares, “I was telling him about writers, be it students or homemakers, book reviewers, book distributors, translators, even writers who just write for themselves and authors. They may not be aware of the process of promoting their work or even connecting with the right people to publish their work!” This planted the seeds of United By Ink (UBI), which went on to be one of the most sought after platforms for aspiring writers and poets across the globe.

“So yes, I am and always have been a people connector! Writing too has been a part of my life since childhood. When I finally got the courage to publish my first book, ‘Oas ki boondein‘ in 2017 and saw the gap in the writing community, I decided to build something that would connect people. Here I would be using my experience and love for connecting with people, it all clicked; and that’s how UBI was born,” smiles Sapna.

Sapna at the launch of her book – ‘Oas ki Boondein’

Bestselling book – ‘Oas ki Boondein’ & Anthologies at UBI

The concept of UBI took shape while marketing her bestselling book ‘Oas ki Boondein’ which is available in both Devanagari and English scripts. “During the last two years of my journey as the Founder of UBI, I have compiled four poetry anthologies for my UBI Group. The first two were “Anjuli Rang Bhari” (HINDI), “Colours of Life” (English), and the next two anthologies that released this month are “Aabhasi Duniya ke Anokhe Rishte” (Hindi) and “Lost and Found in Digital Era” (English),” adds Sapna with a twinkle in her eye.

With over 120 authors contributing to these anthologies, many whose work was being published for the first time. Sapna loves the art of writing and wants to help people feel the emotion of seeing their book being published. In fact, Sapna a little privy sharing how through the sale of her books, she’s also actively able to support underprivileged children.

Sapna’s role as a social worker

Being a social worker at heart, Sapna is also actively involved in a host of charitable event management projects. She explains, “The importance of charity, especially the power of women is something very close to my heart. I have been organizing events especially NGO fairs and various cultural events with a footfall of more than 1000 people. I have also been a tarot card reader and an active social worker for the past 10 years.”

Beyond writing and social work, Sapna has had a lifelong passion for dance, choreography, gardening and cooking, which she has also taught previously. “I always loved connecting with people. Over the years, I have organised events for Women’s Day with a purpose to build women around me, and even choreographed and organised events with hundreds of participants to connect through the joy of dancing,” smiles Sapna.

Even now, Sapna supports the writer community remotely all the way from Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, where she is settled with her family. She continues hosting Women’s Day fairs and even events such as ‘Saree Speak’ to connect women with a passion for sarees! All these activities are also an integral part of UBI as it garners all the goodwill to bring book lovers, writers, authors and poets connect on a common platform.

Sapna at one of the events by UBI

Initial investments & growth of UBI over time

When discussing the investment part of launching UBI, Sapna admits, it was time, money and unending amounts of energy. She adds, “My monetary investment has been of around 2.5 Lac INR in the first year to start with when I went ahead with the registrations and web presence. When UBI started off just as a group to mingle and share, and we built a community where one author brought five more because of how supportive and passionate our group was! Gradually, UBI grew because I believe that if you give a creator a space to be seen and heard, other people will relate and want to join the community.”

The writing fraternity is all about being passionate and celebrating each other’s passion, language and writing. When you celebrate each person by giving them a platform to be heard, the community will grow. That is how UBI grew with time. It is all about that effort to ensure people feel good about themselves and their writing and are heard, so the relentless effort and time over these years show in the growth. It is this effort that has helped UBI grow from a small group of 400-500 members to today, wherein our platform has members and an audience of more than 7,000 people.

UBI’s latest virtual book launch with writers across the globe

The Power behind the UBI Team

The Team of UBI comprises a bunch of passionate enthusiasts, who also love to motivate others and share a passion for language and creativity. The entire moderation and management of the Facebook group are done voluntarily. At present the working committee for UBI has onboard:

  • Dr. Ekta Sachdeva, the Content Creator, mainly coordinates regular writing contests and manages communications in the Facebook Group.
  • Mrs Pratima Srivastava and Mrs Meera Khanna, manage the ‘Creative Corner’ and coordinate regular artwork and photography contests at UBI.
  • Sapna’s mother Kiran Langer and Mr. Digamber Naswa, mentor her and the team at UBI.
  • Sapna’s daughter Anoushka Kekre UBI’s branding, marketing, startup consulting and Instagram handle. She also manages the Internship Program at UBI.
  • Disha Kumar, working as a Content Creating intern and Aksheya Gupta is the Marketing intern. They also help with deadly administration work!

Along with the volunteers, there is a team of technical experts who have been hired for creating and managing the online portal and other technical aspects.

Felicitating Mr Subramanian, a renowned photographer & a well known financial planner in KL, Malaysia

Overcoming Challenges

Sapna shares in detail how she and her team at UBI have overcome challenges.

Sustainable continuation of Volunteers: The UBI team works 24/7 on weekdays and weekends. “If it were about the money, my team and I would have given up long ago! I’ve overcome this by again, connecting with people who share my passion and who have dedicated their efforts out of love for creativity.”

Marketing and reach in these hard times: Sapna admits running a group requires funds, so that is a big challenge. “As I mentioned before, it is about finding those who have a passion for writing and creativity. Targeting your audience and helping them grow is a key way to solve this challenge. It then doesn’t seem like a challenge when you can do what your audience needs and you do it well; then the marketing and reach is all about your organisation growing with you.

On Facebook group: Keeping the Facebook group interactive is also a challenge that can be solved by having a dedicated team. “Dr Ekta Sachdeva is our communications expert in the group and plays a pivotal role at UBI. It’s impossible without the support of all other members who keep the energy flowing through their interactions and participation,” adds Sapna.

To get quality posts regularly: “UBI’saim is not just to connect, but to facilitate growth within our members once they connect. For this reason, we overcome this challenge by constantly making connections (can you tell this is my favourite thing?!) and invite senior or experienced authors to share their knowledge with our group to help each member of the community grow,” smiles Sapna.

Copyright issues and people trying to replicate UBI’s branding & work: Sapna is appalled by the fact of how people have been attempting to replicate UBI’s branding and concepts. She shares, “People even pass my personal work, such as UBI as their own! I overcome this by simply remembering that if someone is copying the work we do, then it is going in the right direction! A big part of this is also trademarking and legally making sure nobody can copy your work, especially as members of the writing fraternity.”

Events organized by UBI

Sapna recounts some memorable events organized by UBI. There is a total of four anthologies published by UBI with more than 120 authors, including 70 first time authors. Making their dreams come true through the UBI anthologies were the most exhilarating experiences, for Sapna and the community.

“We even held two on-ground events in Malaysia, where we had more than 15 speakers in each event with a house full of audiences that loved the event thoroughly. One of our events, the Srijan Sangam, was a first of its kind event in Malaysia, where Hindi authors were felicitated for the first time in Kuala Lumpur. In fact, UBI’s latest event Inked Marathon saw participation from hundreds of creative writers worldwide!” beams Sapna with enthusiasm.

International Women’s Day celebrations organised by Sapna at KL, Malaysia

Join the UBI Membership Program

Sapna explains, “Our entire platform is to help members of the writing fraternity to be seen and heard and to connect. This in itself, is a huge promotional opportunity. Other than this, we have promotional plans which we provide for authors, bloggers or more. One can simply get in touch to ask about these via email.”

UBI members are anyone who joins the Facebook group, which is 100% free. But there are other ways to be a part of the community. You may follow UBI’s social media handles, especially Instagram, where they host regular online activities.

The UBI Blogging space is also completely free. You can go to our website and click ‘Login / Register’ to start!

One can become a member of the UBI group on Facebook for completely free. If you’d like to promote your work as an author or a service provider, then one needs to register with UBI. “We have customised plans for different categories for writers, authors, book reviewers or it can also be a service provider for the writing fraternity,” adds Sapna.

What makes UBI unique?

UBI is all about being a tight-knit community, with personal contact, that helps each and every member grow in their writing journey. “We won’t just publish an anthology and forget about it. Our dedicated team works round the clock to come up with marketing plans and the best ways to build the community, so this is only the beginning. Our sheer dedication and passion separate us from the rest by a great margin,” smiles Sapna.

“Our global nature is unique; nowhere else will you find poems in Serbian, Vietnamese, Filipino being translated and enjoyed in Hindi, Guajarati or English. We have writers from so many different countries, from the UK and all the way to Nigeria! If I sat down to name all the countries, I would take a lot more space on your website than I already have!” laughs Shivani.

UBI hosting their latest book launch in August 2020

How the pandemic affected UBI

Being an online global platform has proved to be a saving grace for UBI as they did not have too many issues in their day-to-day running. However, their BIGGEST challenge was, of course, printing their books. “We have worked with the help of friends and connections, to get copies in print. We plan to market e-books as the better alternative in the future,” shares Shivani.

UBI’s latest challenge admittedly has been book launches; and as a result, they have now shifted towards an online book launch for the latest anthologies held on 9th August 2020. The event was broadcasted live on YouTube in the presence of nationally acclaimed poet Dr Kunwar Bechain, Bollywood actor Mr Shishir Sharma and multitalented filmmaker Mr Vineet Panchii. Needless to say, this online event was a huge success.

Sapna adds, “We have also come up with more exciting ideas to make the digital world a fun playground for writers, authors and other creative minds. So here again, we will be revamping our model to focus on revenue generation to make the experience better for our community.”

UBI felicitating Authors and Speakers at the first ever open mic program held in Malaysia for Hindi writers.

The response so far…

The global members at United By Ink is a close-knit family; which is why the pandemic has not harmed them much, because of their strong digital bond. They respond with love for our activities and enthusiastic participation. They are more than happy to invite their friends to join the group and grow the community, which speaks volumes about how the members feel about UBI.

Future plans

Signing off Sapna adds, “We are planning to offer more opportunities for writers to digitally advertise and market their work. The best way anybody can be up to date is by following our Facebook, Instagram or other social media handles.”

Get in touch with United By Ink (UBI) click here!

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