Bihani’s effort to foster age and disability inclusive communities focusing on older adults

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Aging is a very ironic subject – we all age and will grow old but we rarely talk about its issues, many of us fear it because of the negative notions like illness, sickness, dependency and the burden associated with it. Rather than emphasizing the negatives, Bihani Social Venture focuses on the positive aspects that come with aging- our existence, we would not have been who we are today without our elders; and the wisdom and experiences that our elders have to offer. So, Bihani works on making the elderly feel loved and appreciated.

Blincventures.com had an insightful interview with the founder of Bihani Social Venture – Santoshi Rana who herself is an inspiration to many women out there. 

Read on to know about her journey and her venture- Bihani. 

1. How was the concept of Bihani Social Venture ideated?
There was a point in my life when I was constantly questioning my purpose and contribution. While undergoing the phase of trying to figure out, I quit my corporate job and went ahead to study Media and Communications Management with the aim of getting into campaigning for social causes. During this, I got to work with Change Fusion Nepal and while we organized the 1st ever ‘Surya Nepal Asha Social Entrepreneurship Award’, the various individuals and entrepreneurs I met, gave me the courage and determination to take the step towards starting my own venture.  The concept of Bihani developed very organically, like many of us – I had never looked at the issues of Ageing as a problem in our society. However, as I researched and tried to understand the gaps in the market, there was a clear need for services beyond aged care homes and NGOs that elders needed. With sustainability in mind, Bihani was established as a For-Profit Company with a social enterprise model.

2. Can you tell us more about your venture?
Established in 2013, Bihani is Nepal’s first social enterprise relentlessly working to foster age and disability-inclusive communities focusing on older adults. Our aim is to ensure that the potential, aspiration and experience of elders do not go to waste.  It also provides an opportunity for the children and others to make their parents or elders experience a social and rewarding life where they can continue contributing and living life without any barriers. We offer innovative and diverse services and activities related to health, social engagement and participation, and organisational development to promote the formation of new bonds, exchange of knowledge and capacities across generations. Bihani focuses on institutions, organisations and individuals, to raise awareness and sensitise regarding the context of shifting demography, changing population trend and the diverse issues that may be associated with aging; disability, social isolation, among others. 

Our approach is holistic, utilising the strengths of our elders along with fulfilling their needs. Bihani’s objective is to provide a platform for elders to Re-Engage in areas they have experience of or were involved in before retirement, Re-Explore their interests, hobbies, wishes or dreams and Re-Live focussing on self-care and leading a fulfilling life focused on their wellbeing and happiness.  

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3. What are the different services Bihani Social Venture offers?
Bihani focusses on the three areas of, Social, Health and Organisational Services. Social activities are designed with the aim of engaging elders to prevent loneliness and isolation. We organise activities, like musical events, short trips, gatherings and potluck etc. Our “Saathi Ka Saathi” initiative, enables us to keep in touch with our Members, through visits, calls or social media, wishing them on special occasions or celebrating it together. We also engage elders in the use of technology so that, they can use it to communicate and use the internet for news and information. 3 of our Members maintain blogs while 2 are in the process of publishing theirs and many enjoy playing online games or being active on social media.

For Health, we offer social prescriptions through a Client/Patient and Family-Centered Care (PFCC) Approach.  We organize health camps, informative sessions, group and individual classes, including Home-Based Service, focused on the needs of elders. Our services include interventions such as, Art, Tai Chi, Games, and Music etc. as per the interests of the elders and is backed by evidence that confirms promotion of brain health, hand-eye coordination, psycho-social support (PSS) and overall wellbeing. We also consult and partner with relevant experts and Organisations specialising in Geriatrics or issues related to Ageing.

Through Organisational Services, we promote income generation, networking and volunteering activities. We provide support to Elders, our Members, Partners and Organisations to develop their ideas and ventures through enterprise development. 

Apart from these, through our “Wrinkles and Smiles” Project, we support 3 Aged Care Homes as our social impact partners. We support the, staff and the Residents through various interventions required for their mental and physical wellbeing along with, connecting them with relevant Organisations, Experts and Individuals as per their need.

4. Is there any specific reason for working with old age homes?
We chose to work with old age homes as part of our impact as a social enterprise. When we visited Matatirtha Old Age Home for the first time, the Aamas there started singing “Happy Birthday” as people usually visited them during their birthdays or special occasions. With limited access to activities and options, the Residents literally, live the same day of their life every day and our role is to ensure they have something to look forward to. After every visit, we are now asked, “Abba kahile pharkera aune?”  Once we get involved, it becomes a lifelong commitment for us. We cannot leave the Residents, they have already been abandoned once. Our sole purpose is to make them feel loved and wanted, showing them that they are not alone, and we will always be back to visit them. 

5. How is Bihani Social Venture sustaining?
People usually have the notion that if we are doing something social then we should not talk about charging money and making profits. However, to bring the change you need to generate the required amount either through donation, funding or earning yourself. At Bihani, we have designed a very simple business model which helps us generate income through the charges for services we provide, Membership Fees and Consultancy Fees while working with organisations/ partners.

6. Can you tell us about your team?
We have 10 core team members and 4 field workers sent by their colleges as part of their course. Besides colleges, mentoring opportunities and universities, students from different schools like Lincoln, Pathways Delhi, Ullens and Premiere International, have also been part of the team to complete their community service work. We have also been hosting students, interns, researchers and exchange participants from various countries through AIESEC and Yunus Centre at King’s College among others. Recently, we had a Washington DC based Fulbright Graduate Research Fellow who partnered with Bihani for her Research and we developed our social impact calculator with the support of a Researcher from New York University, Abu Dhabi who was placed with us through King’s College. The size of our team keeps changing depending on the requirements, linkages and opportunities.

7. Is Bihani working outside Kathmandu Valley too?
Outside the valley we have been working with the Gurkha Welfare Trust’s Residential Homes in Dharan and Pokhara in building the capacity of the staff to ensure that the Residents are given the best possible holistic care focussing on their overall mental and physical wellbeing. 

8. Has communication and language ever been a problem or a barrier?
As a social enterprise, it is key to innovate immediate solutions in case of a problem. We work with individuals from all types of backgrounds- nationally and internationally so, we have to learn to adapt as per need.  We also have more than 100 members; calling them, visiting them sometimes is difficult but it has never been a barrier and during the lockdown due to the COVID19 crisis, we are engaging with our clients and members digitally and through phone calls to keep in touch and to disseminate information.  The diversity of our team in terms of ethnicity and gender has been our strength. When working in Kathmandu and Lalitpur, I always have staff who can speak in Newari. Even I have started understanding bits and pieces. It is very important to put ourselves in the other person’s shoes and understand the need and requirements to ensure that communication or language does not become a problem. 

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9. Any unique changes in the elderly you’d like to share with us?
There are many. Use of interventions have brought visible results in many of the elders we work with.  Some of the moments among many that have brought joy to our team is when one of our Member who was learning to use Whatsapp, sent a voice message on her own to our team member on her birthday, seeing a 90-year-old Aama playing Ukulele and enjoying online games or having an Aama who disliked anyone touching her hair, allowing us to try different hairstyles on her. Likewise, one of my friend’s mother who always wanted to sing on the radio but never got the chance was given an opportunity to sing in one of our events and we also sent her to a radio station where she fulfilled her dream.  Seeing the change in her from someone who was quiet to now being so vocal and confident has been fulfilling and she remains inspiring. So, there are innumerable experiences, special moments made every single day when working with the elderly. 

10. How has your entrepreneurial journey been so far?
There have been challenges, but overall it has been an exciting journey. I can very proudly say that maybe I am one of those few people who have job satisfaction. Our team and I are lucky to have the opportunity to impact the lives of others on a daily basis, just by doing simple things we are able to bring happiness in the lives of those we serve.

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11. As a women entrepreneur, what are the major challenges and has it been difficult having a work-life balance?
An entrepreneur is an entrepreneur, the struggles I face as a woman and the struggle that a man faces is the same. Personally because of my upbringing, I tend to look at things from an individual’s perspective rather than a gendered one.  However, culturally, as a woman you have to balance your personal and professional life, you have different roles to play whereas, as a man you can just be an entrepreneur. Again, I have a very understanding husband and family which has made my entrepreneurial journey easier.  Earlier I used to take work home but now I never do that because work is something that never ends. Just leaving your laptop behind at work makes a huge difference. As a team, we try our best not to bother each other during weekends, off days or outside working hours. It is very important to draw the line, understand and respect the fact that your team and you have a life beyond work. 

12. What changes have you seen in yourself?
I think that the main change or let’s say the lesson learned is the need to respect elder’s especially one’s parents and when I am saying this I am speaking for myself as well as for my team members. Another biggest learning has been, to always put yourself in the other person’s shoes especially, your parents. One of the biggest problems with working to bring social change is the fact that people who preach do not practice what they say. At the end of the day, change begins from you, so we make sure that at Bihani, we walk the talk and lead by example.

To know more about Bihani, check out their website and social media handles. 

Facebook: @bihanisocialventure
Instagram: @bihanisocialventure
Twitter: @bihaninepal

Interviewed and Article by Trishna Shakya 

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