This former journalist is setting new benchmarks in online education with her institute
Shreyasi Singh is the co-founder of Harappa Education, an online learning institute that offers 25 courses on cognitive, social, and behavioural skills that employers crave.
For over a decade, Shreyasi Singh worked in the media across news agencies, broadcast, and speciality print media, and even became a published author before she switched to higher education, driven by the opportunity to help build a women’s only management programme.
Her journalistic career was marked by huge successes, especially as the editor of Inc, the iconic American magazine on entrepreneurship. It is here she found her passion for entrepreneurship and tech-enabled businesses, a huge draw at the time.
At present, Shreyasi is based out of Delhi, and hails from Bihar. As a child, she had travelled all over the country as her father had a bank job. His work also took the family to Japan, where she spent almost six years in a school in Tokyo. Later she attended the Lady Shri Ram College of Women and the Indian Institute of Mass Communication in New Delhi.
Shreyasi says, Inc gave her what she calls a “PhD in entrepreneurship”.
“It was very interesting to meet so many entrepreneurs, hear their stories and things they have fought for. All the amazing ideas, culture, and productivity that I was seeing made me think that If I were a CEO, I would do this. I think that immersion into entrepreneurship was the beginning of my own journey,” she recalls.
From journalism to higher education
In 2015, when Shreyasi was working on her book The Wealth Wallahs and writing a column for Mint, she was very clear that she would not go back to being a full-time journalist, and was looking for newer opportunities. Around the same time, she started working with Pramath Raj Sinha, her co-founder now, on The Vedica Scholars Programme for Women, an 18-month full-time post-graduate management programme.
“As the director of careers at Vedica, I was responsible for ensuring that the programme was accepted by recruiters. Here again, my journalism experience around entrepreneurship was very useful because you do have a sense of what contemporary businesses are and what they are looking for. We helped students by adding onto their curriculum and it went really well. In the first year, we were able to get companies like Google, KPMG, and Tata to recruit our students,” she says.
After serving as the Director of Careers at Vedica for two years, Shreyasi realised that higher education was her calling. This experience also helped her understand that this would be something that she would want to build her career in.
“After Vedica, I wanted to work on something from the ground up and drive the direction of my ambition. By this time, Pramath and I had been working with each other for around nine years, and there was a certain level of understanding between us. We both wanted to work on something online. Pramath has also not done anything online before. Both of us started having these conversations and the idea of Harappa came in,” Shreyasi recalls.
The duo spent six months doing extensive research on online education and understanding the edtech industry.
An extensive curriculum
One of the decisions the duo made was to create a curriculum and not just become a marketplace.
“We felt that the crisis in India in education, and certainly in higher education, is around the curriculum. It is not updated enough, not practical enough, not contemporary enough, and it does not respond to the changing industries. The second big decision we took was that we would not do technical and domain skills as there are already many players who are doing very good work in giving people these skills,” she adds.
Harappa Education was incorporated in March 2018 as a company, and from it started launching its courses in May 2019. So far, more than one lakh learners have enrolled on the platform.
Essentially, Harappa is an online learning institution that offers 25 courses on cognitive, social, and behavioural skills that employers crave at the workplace. The courses are around five hours long, and are self-paced and asynchronous.
Cognitive skills for life learning
According to Shreyasi, the faculty is one of its biggest USPs. It has a 60-member team, who are at the convergence of the world of work and academics, delivering rich and contextualised content, tailored to 21st century learners.
She explains, “For each of our 25 courses, we have five faculty members, three of whom are senior professionals, and two are academics. For learners to really understand how to make use of what we are teaching them, they have to learn it from people who have actually applied this in their everyday life.”
Harappa works on a B2B model, with campuses and corporates and acquiring learners from the company. It has not launched a B2C model yet.
In the campus space, it works with IIT Gandhinagar, Punjab Engineering college, and Lovely Professional University.
It also works with 12 corporates, including leading brands across IT services, FMCG, and financial services. In January 2020, James Murdoch-led Lupa Systems invested in Harappa in a seed funding round.
The COVID-19 pandemic brought a new focus to online education but Shreyasi says Harappa is different from other players in the market.
She explains, “Most of the MOOCs convert an offline course into online, and sell it at a lower price. On the other hand, we are offering a different curriculum, which does not even exist in the offline world. Harappa’s unique curriculum of ‘5 Habits and 25 Skills’ is delivered through an engaging online-first approach. It addresses a core gap in education: the cognitive (how to think, reason, and problem-solve), social (how to communicate, influence, and build relationships) and behavioural (how to grow, act, and lead) — skills that employers crave at the workplace.”
Harappa’s course Embracing Change talks about skills and habits of the workplace, and comes free of cost, helping people build the right tools to overcome setbacks with powerful concepts and frameworks.
“One thing is clear — the new normal is going to require everyone to build different skills and certainly practise some new behaviours. There is going to be a lot of change and having a positive mindset and being able to navigate and manage this change is going to be required. Change will be a big skill that each one of us is going to need and I think that our courses can help,” adds Shreyasi.
(Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta)