Meet Radha Kapoor, the woman who brought NYC’s iconic Parsons School of Design to IndiaBinjal Shah
The makings of Radha Kapoor’s professional journey are the opposite of what you’d come across while reading your average story of a woman leader’s circumstances. Born a right-brained person, Radha was all set to smother it and go down a more assured corporate career path before her parents intervened. Single-handedly rubbishing every clichéd Indian parent joke ever circulated, her father, who also happens to be the founder and chairperson of YES Bank Ltd., made sure his daughter never had to compromise on her passion in exchange for security. Considering that he had also changed tracks from a corporate career to becoming a businessman at a ripe stage in his career, he knew that his daughter’s happiness would also lie in following her heart.
Born with an eye for aesthetics and a knack for appreciating the design aspect in the most unconventional spaces, Radha received just the right amount of nudging from her parents, and went on to pursue a formal degree in fine arts at Parsons – The New School of Design, New York. “Never having lived outside Mumbai, I owe it to my parents for taking charge and pushing me out of my comfort zone. They always felt I should take a bold plunge.”
Having spent five years at an institution that was flooded with different perspectives on design and its all-encompassing applications, Radha returned to India armed with a plan to do something more meaningful with her aptitude for design.
Along with a partner, Alok Nanda, she established her first venture, Brandcanvas, one year later, at a raw young age. “I applied everything I learned at Parsons. My first venture had to be about combining art and a brand to beautify and add meaning to commercial spaces, such that their decor embodies their ideology and core principles.” This is achieved with art imbued with meaning–graphic wall art, wall murals, decorative paintings, panel designs, framed art video installations, as well as super installations.
But soon, her itch to expand her horizons returned. “I wanted to explore something different in design. In our generation, while exploring careers, there’s been a paradigm shift in choices they make – with quirky career options becoming the norm. We wanted to bolster that. We wanted to catalyse entrepreneurship, innovation, while keeping design thinking at its heart,” she recalls.
To do so, the obvious partner seemed to be her alma mater thathad given her so much. Serendipitously enough, Parsons was also looking to expand outside USA, and Radha stepped up to spearhead their Indian operations.
Today, the swanky Indian School of Design and Innovation (ISDI) at Lower Parel’s Indiabulls Centre, the building itself being an aspirational corridor for most dreamers, was set up from scratch by Radha. With creativity, innovation, and sustainability at the core of ISDI’s philosophy, the school is at the forefront of Indian design, creating new career opportunities in design and other creative industries. With this unique programme, Radha felt strongly about creating a curriculum that teaches students how to commercialise design by helping them tap into their creativity and at the same time showing them how to convert it into a feasible business model.
“Our course is an intersection of design, business, and technology. The employment rate after design school was 16.2 per cent, so there was clearly a break in the pipeline. So we endeavour to provide a talent pool where people are also industry-ready.”
Starting out with merely 40 students in 2013, the institute now produces 450 artists yearly. And true to her word, Radha has been using design to revolutionise the Indian ecosystem, starting first with her immediate surroundings. With a vision to create an innovation ecosystem, she set up The Lower Parel Innovation District, a model replicated from various such innovation districts internationally. This is being done in India for the very first time. ISDI also recently tied up with Microsoft Ventures to set up a Creative Accelerator to promote innovation and technology start ups in design.
Radha also works with disadvantaged women to empower them, as a social initiative, supported by ISDI Parsons – helping them create jewellery and accessory designs and also helps them market the accessories. Separately, ISDI sets aside a minimum of Rs 1 Crore each year for scholarships for the underprivileged students interested in studying at ISDI.
But Radha’s dynamism doesn’t end here. Having launched “DOIT Creations” as a holding umbrella company to conceptualise and promote new creative and innovative concepts in 2009, the company successfully played its part in bolstering “game-changing, breakthrough ideas”.
Her more recent and diverse interests have seen Radha take a stake in the Pro Kabaddi League,as the owner of the Delhi franchise, and the India Hockey League as the Mumbai franchise.
“Kabaddi has TRPs only second to cricket. It needed just the right packaging and augmentation to hit the mainstream and our company truly believes in the cause,” Radha explains.
With all this on her plate and a whole lot more brewing, one wouldn’t be wrong to wonder how Radha really does it all. “God is in the details. Explore every inch of your passion and bring it to consequence,” she reveals.