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Bhavana Issar: Breaking Barriers for Family Caregivers

Bhavana Issar: Breaking Barriers for Family Caregivers

Hi everyone! I’m Spiffy, your favorite interplanetary journalist reporting from Planet Earth with an eye on entrepreneurs making a difference in the health and well-being of people. Today I’m in Mumbai, India, where I’m going to learn about the issues that caregivers face. Join me as I welcome Bhavana Issar, founder and CEO of Caregiver Saathi Foundation.

Spiffy: Hi Bhavana, it’s a pleasure to talk with you today. Can you tell me more about the challenges you’re addressing through Caregiver Saathi Foundation

Bhavana: It’s a pleasure to be here with you today, Spiffy! Caregiver Saathi Foundation aims to create an ecosystem of well-being for caregivers of family members with chronic and incurable conditions. The healthcare system depends significantly on the family caregiver and home-based care will always be preferred. Caring is fundamental to humanity and the essence of civilization. Given our socio-cultural context—where family is expected to be caregivers— caregiving tends to be invisible, unrecognized, under-appreciated, and underserved. Over the past few decades with urbanization, fragmenting of communities, and the increase of nuclear and distributed families, the caregiving load tends to be borne by individuals, mostly women. In addition, family caregivers are often the neglected consumers of healthcare services and the invisible category at the workplaces. 

Spiffy: I see! What motivated you to do focus on these hardworking, overlooked caregivers?

Bhavana: I have the life experience of having been a caregiver—I was 25 years old when I lost my father to a degenerative terminal illness. Over the last 30 years, I have been an active caregiver to various loved ones with terminal illness, dementia, and mental illness. I wanted to do something that would give me a sense of purpose and meaning for my life. I found the answer when I looked at the intersection of my life experience, education, professional expertise, and honing in on what the world needs. I realized that offering a systemic solution, like an organization that supports caregivers, was the answer.

Spiffy: That’s amazing, Bhavana. I think your story can inspire others to look at their own life intersections. Now, can you tell me how you are working to make the world a more equitable place?

Bhavana: Well, Spiffy, caregiving is often invisible. More than 80% of the caregivers are women. Women and girls provide 3.26 billion daily hours of unpaid, care-related work, in India. This is equivalent one trillion US dollars. Caregiving is the engine of the economy. These responsibilities hold women and girls back from financial independence, education, and realizing their dreams and potential. By shining the light on caregivers and recognizing the labor and skill that goes into caregiving, we are making the world equitable for women. By going beyond gendered roles, we are enabling men to be able to explore roles that are taboo. By normalizing psychosocial and emotional support, we are making mental health support accessible.

Online meetings with Caregiver Saathi Ambassadors allows the Foundation to increase awareness and education of caregivers and other stakeholders. (Image courtesy of Bhavana Issar)

Spiffy: This sounds like a beautiful change, Bhavana. Do you have any recent milestones that you’ve reached?

Bhavana: We were incubated at STEP (Shakti—The Empathy Project) and were selected for a grant. This has enabled us to embark on our flagship service of building certified a Caregiver Saathi network. In an initiative supported by Cartier women and ITC, Caregiver Saathi has been selected by She Capital as one of the 21 women-led ventures to watch in 2021.

Spiffy: Congratulations! You know, I’m alway curious to hear about experience when entrepreneurs faced failure and didn't give up. What did you learn from failure? 

Bhavana: There are many organizations that have expressed interest in our training programs but haven't yet signed up. While the need for the programs is recognized, the financial model and funding for the programs are not direct. The beneficiaries, and those who recognize the need, are unable to pay for the services. We are exploring other ways of building a scalable organization and identifying alternative sources of funding.

Spiffy: What is something you've unexpectedly learned from someone recently? 

Bhavana: My pet is a moody and affectionate dog. Her expression of love and care is unconditional. She likes affection, petting, and being cared for. There are times when she feels the need to be touched and cared for. She doesn't hesitate to walk up to one of the family members and convey that she wants to be caressed. Caregivers—and certainly I need—to learn to do that. Ask for what we need—it's an act of self-care.

Spiffy: Before we sign off, is there anything else you would love to tell our audience? 

Bhavana: Perhaps the biggest regret of my life is not engaging in a conversation with my father when he wanted to talk to me about dying. It was a difficult conversation to have. All the same, I wish I had that conversation because there have been occasions later in life when I have wondered what he would have wanted to tell me. Caregiving is considered a gendered role as if women are better caregivers. Caring and nurturing are feminine traits, that both men and women can possess and express. Caregivers need caregivers and companions. One can live a full life if one can appreciate the fact that it is finite and dying is inevitable. And it's not the years of life but the life in the years that matters.

Spiffy: Thank you for sharing this advice, Bhavana. It’s something that we can all consider. And thank you for taking the time to tell me about your work! It’s been an honor!

Bhavana Issar, founder and CEO Caregiver Saathi Foundation, is a passionate person with diverse interests. She is a consultant in the area of human resources, change, and leadership development. She is a facilitator in process work and is a Gestalt OD Practitioner. Her story was included in the book by bestselling author Rashmi Bansal, Touch the Sky: Stories of women across India who are changing their destiny. As a motorcyclist, she believes motorcycling has helped her push the boundaries of the body and mind, and is an avid supporter of women motorcyclists. (Nominated by Shakti—The Empathy Project)

© 2021 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Jill Landis Jha. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. Follow Spiffy’s stories of founders building a more equitable world at www.ladderworks.co/blogs/spiffys-blog