Priya Prakash is a healthcare entrepreneur and the Founder and CEO of HealthSetGo. Under her leadership, the organization, in a span of 4 years, has become India’s largest healthcare organization for schools that currently operates in over 77+ cities across the country, impacting 250,000 students and parents. She has been recognized as Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia & India – Healthcare & Sciences. Priya received the Global Citizen Prize, Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards, and Unilever Young Entrepreneur Award. Priya is the Founding Curator of the Gurgaon Hub of the World Economic Forum and a Member of the Future Generations Commission on Health and Climate Change. Additionally, she’s a State Level Olympic Weightlifting Champion, avid health blogger, and has been featured in various national and international publications for her work. Priya holds a degree in Mathematics from Lady Shri Ram College and education in Social Entrepreneurship from INSEAD.
[Below is the transcript of the interview that is slightly edited for clarity.]
Sotheary (0:09): Welcome to Next Women Generation. Today we have Priya Prakash, the founder and CEO of HealthSetGo, which is the India’s largest healthcare organization for schools. The HealthSetGo currently operates in the schools of over 77 cities, impacting more than 500,000 students and parents. Hi, Priya! Thank you so much for joining me today.
Priya (0:35): I think the pleasure is all mine. I think it’s amazing that you highlight the stories of young women in leadership positions because I think that is the most important thing.
Sotheary (0:48): Thank you so much for your kind words; it is so encouraging. You are the founder and CEO of HealthSetGo, and you established it in 2016. How did you realize that the HealthSetGo or healthcare sector is something that you want to dedicate your time and your resources to do it?
Priya (1:10): From a very young age, I’ve lived a very unhealthy lifestyle. And as I was growing up, my health was really bad. I used to be very overweight when I was a child in school. Because of that, I got to eat a lot. More importantly, I think my confidence and self-esteem were very low because I thought I was not good enough; I didn’t look good enough. And I didn’t know what to do about my weight, because it just kept on increasing. I didn’t know what to do about my mental health because I felt very insecure and unconfident. There was nobody around me to help me and guide me on my journey to become better.
When I was in college, when I was in my 20s, I realized that I need to change myself because I was not happy with whoever was in the body I was in. I knew that I could become a much better person and achieve my goals if I changed myself and focused on my health. From that point onwards, it took me like years and years to change myself. I mean, now on 29, I think I probably started this journey around 21 or 22. And then, I try it and struggle through it. I feel like I’m still a work in progress regarding my health because it’s something that you are committed to fair life. That’s when I realized that there is no education for young people, and there is no availability of health education and health services and making sure that from a young age, the health is kept in check, then there is nobody doing that. And not even parents, but you know, schools where it’s important for us to talk about health. But still, we don’t talk about it. We talk about physics, chemistry, mathematics, but what about the basic thing of our life, which is health, and which is why I see like, you know, I wanted to start something that would help young people with their health. And that’s how I found it.
Sotheary (3:27): Interesting! This is a very encouraging story. You just mentioned that when you were young, you feel insecure about yourself and your body. When did you start gaining your confidence in who you are or telling yourself, I am good enough?
Priya (3:48): Well, to be very honest, I struggle with that. I’m still struggling with that sometimes. Once you’re so insecure since a very young age, it’s very fast to come out of that, even after many years. I didn’t think that there was a point, and I said, I’m good enough. I think there is a point I said I want to change. That’s the point where I decided to take my life into my hands. I mean that that’s how I would describe it. Now I feel like I’m proud of my journey. I’m proud of who I am. But it takes a lot of work on yourselves to be comfortable with yourself.
Sotheary (4:36): That is very interesting. Because the thing is that many young people or teenagers feel insecure about themselves. This is not just your case, but I want to learn about your case of why you feel insecure and how you get out of that?
Priya (4:55): I think we have our inner demons; it’s the idea about ourselves. I think, overall, I’m much better than I used to be. But sometimes a lot of pressure on myself, I feel like I can be better, or I can take care of myself better, do my business better, or compare myself to others, sometimes a lot of these unhealthy habits. But, we all have to sign right when we look at someone else, or it’s like either peer pressure that you put on yourself. I mean, now nobody’s bullying me; nobody is telling me that I don’t look good. But there was a time when I was there.
I’ve made huge progress in loving myself and being proud of what I do, and what gave me a lot of confidence. That is my health and fitness. Because if you feel put in yourself and feel good in your body, you feel like you have everything under control. A lot of people, I think, feel insecure because they either feel like there’s something about themselves that they don’t like. Many young girls probably feel like they don’t like their bodies, or many young girls probably feel like they are not doing enough. Many of my friends were entrepreneurs; they also sometimes feel under a lot of pressure when they see news of people doing so well and winning awards and getting funding and everything. You might feel insecure. Many things around us honestly make us feel insecure. I would never say that I have stopped feeling insecure; I think I still do. But I do so many things to make sure that I feel good about myself, such as exercise, eating well, putting myself into constructive things that I enjoy; these things are things that we need to do to keep that confidence within ourselves. Because the world around us always tries to make us feel small.
Sotheary (6:58): That’s true, I experienced that as well. The world around us sometimes makes us feel small. That’s why we need a space to talk to each other. Thank you for sharing this. I think it’s important for young girls to know that we are good enough. Now I like to go back to the HealthSetGo. What kind of services does the HealthSetGo provide to children?
Priya (7:24): What we’ve done is that we’ve figured out that schools are a very good ecosystem to provide health education and access to health services. To schools in India, we are providing access to good doctors. We do an annual medical checkup of every child in school. In case there is an issue at all, whether it’s an eyesight issue, a dental issue, or any issue, we basically help the parents understand those issues and encourage them to see a doctor about those issues.
And apart from that, we have a health education curriculum on mental health or physical health, or nutrition. We have worked a lot with India’s policy bodies, Food Safety and Standards Authority of India, and spreading the message of good food, healthy food, and good nutrition around schools. Our major focus area was getting the health education sorted out with these children through the social enterprise.
And, and also to make sure that we focus on detecting and diagnosing any health conditions at an early age on these children. Recently, what we have also done, I would like to say is that we have also started providing insurance to these children and the schools. And we also have provided a dire health room where the children can go, if they have a stomachache heavy, anything the during the school hours, you know, they can go, they can be attended to by a trained person. This has been our work in this field.
Sotheary (9:06): Now, your company operates across India, and they established it four years ago, and it is very impressive. So how do you manage to do that?
Priya (9:18): Yes, I think the way we operate from day one has provided a scalable solution. We always wanted to do something that would be applicable in any part of India, not only in the world, actually not only in where our city was right. When we put it out there and provide all these services, I think schools across the country started reaching out to us. We have figured out a model where we are able to provide access to be doctors. We have many partnerships across India with hospitals, and these hospitals helped us provide very good doctors. Our health education curriculum is obviously in a physical form. It can be sent anywhere across India. This has enabled us.
But I think the biggest thing that has made us spread across India has been our focus on technology. We have a platform and online platform for every family, where they can log on, access their child’s health records, and track their child’s health throughout the time they are in school. And because of this technology, we have had so many parents using our online platform. And of course, because of technology, you don’t have to be in the same place; you can be anywhere in India and get access to this technology. You know, during COVID, we have an app on Apple Store and on, you know, on Android, as well, where you can just simply download a few you can, you know, help to track symptoms as well. And you can also read up on a lot of parenting advice. We have live sessions by experts there that are happening. And so this does not need us to be present physically anywhere, you know, we can reach out with these live sessions with this parenting content with these phobia trackers, to anyone and everyone across the country. So I think technology plays a huge role in that.
Sotheary (11:14): That is wonderful. I am wondering, why do you focus on children’s health, why not an adult? Why not the teenager? Why not the elderly?
Priya (11:25): I focus on children’s health because I saw children died. We do work with children from the age of two to 17 years old. And the reason I focus on that is because of the problems in children and teenagers are very different than adults. We want to take a very focused approach to solve those problems. Sometimes, while resolving a child or a teenager’s problems, we also have to solve some of the adults’ problems because no child is as good as its environment. The environment that children are one in the home and one in the school. We have to deal with teachers; we have to work with parents to make sure that you know they are doing the best that they can be or the best parents and teachers that they can be so that the children grew up eating a healthy lifestyle, a mentally and physically healthy lifestyle. We do touch upon the entire community. But the focus is always on the child because that is something, as I told you, I feel passionate about, having been a child and having had no support in my head journey. And I feel like there are so many problems there that, you know, it would take us a long time just to address those problems.
Sotheary (12:36): As a female entrepreneur, have you experienced any challenges?
Priya (12:43): I think there are a few challenges when it comes to my industry. Because in my industry, I think many people are much older and who are male in nature. So initially, I thought that that would be a problem for me. But you know what, I realized that times had changed a lot. Now things are getting much better. I don’t see that discrimination. But earlier on, when I was starting and being in my entrepreneurial journey, I saw the discrimination because I’m not only a woman, but I’m also young, like a young woman. When you have a young woman, I think there’s a lot more discrimination because they feel like you cannot handle a team, you cannot deliver your promises.
They always want to talk to the male person next to you. It happened to me so often in meetings where we know if I took my male employee with me in the early days, and the person I was meeting would only talk to the male employee, not me, thinking that they are in charge automatically, right. I think those emotions aren’t there. But I would like to say that they are disappearing. And I do see that it will be a much better, much, much better environment for women in the future.
Sotheary (14:02): At the initial stage of your startup, how do you manage to overcome discrimination and those challenges?
Priya (14:12): I think you just have to believe in yourself. Because all these things are in our minds, right? That people are looking at me differently. I’m so young, how will I do this? How will I achieve this? Because I’m a woman, I think a lot of those things are in our heads. And if we can just stop listening to those voices, and if we can just be confident, you know, the other people will believe in us, I think because women are just so under-confident about themselves in business situations. You know, the other people also start getting those same doubts in their minds. Suppose you are confident about what you’re saying. And if the content of what you’ve seen is good. People will listen, and that’s what I would advise to everyone. Just be confident in yourself.
Sotheary (14:52): What else would you advise your younger self, and let’s go back to four or five years ago when you just started your company.
Priya (15:02): The message to young girls and women is that, again, just believe in yourself. If you have a dream, don’t let other people decide what your future is if that is something that you want to do. You can create your own future. You can do whatever you want to do because it is your life; it is your dreams and your ambitions. And no matter what society says. You should pursue that life that you have in your mind, and not have any regrets later on that day do this. Because you know, what they say is that we are only as good as the chances that we take. If you don’t take that chance at this stage, if you are someone with an idea, if you don’t, if you don’t take that chance, if you don’t take the leap of faith, then you might never do that later on. Right. If you’re a young girl out there with a dream with a goal, just be confident. Just try it, just jump straight away into it. And I’m sure that with a lot of hard work, you will succeed.
Sotheary (16:05) Thank you so much for your time joining me today. Thank you so much. Thank you very much for listening to the Next Women Generation. If you like this conversation, please subscribe and leave us a review and stay tuned to our next speaker.