Bundles of Hope

August 26, 2015
Barakat Bundle
Members of the Barakat Bundle team, including recent HDS grad Mitul Daiyan, right, at the Harvard i-lab. / Photo: Evgenia Eliseeva

As someone who recently earned her master of theological studies degree, Mitul Daiyan never pictured herself playing a role in launching a social venture start-up, but the HDS graduate is doing exactly that.

Daiyan, MTS '15, is one of the founders of Barakat Bundle, a product that aims to decrease the infant and maternal mortality rates in South Asia.

Lowering these rates is no small task. That's why students and recent graduates from across Harvard are coming together and combining their varied skill sets and academic backgrounds in an effort to provide new mothers with the supplies and knowledge that will help their newborns survive.

"Every mother deserves an equal chance at being able to take care of her child, and her child has the right to grow as a citizen of the world," said Daiyan. "One thing I really loved about HDS was the strong social justice element that the School has. For me, that was such a large part of what I wanted to do moving forward, so when Barakat Bundle came into the picture, it just made sense. HDS has taught me that there are a variety of ways to be in service of others. To me, social entrepreneurship is a form of ministry."

Barakat Bundle is a curated package of evidence-based public health interventions that are paired with maternal and baby care items, including a clean delivery kit, oral rehydration salts, and knit caps and blankets that are meant to support expectant mothers during pregnancy, delivery, and infant care. The bundle, which was inspired by the Finnish Baby Box, doubles as a basket for the baby to sleep or play in, and its receipt is contingent on the mother receiving a prenatal care checkup.

As the team works through the development stage, they're focusing on India, where the infant mortality rate is more than 40 deaths per 1,000 births. (The United States, by comparison, averages about six deaths per 1,000 births.) Some members of the team will travel to India next month, where they have a partnership with the Indian Institute of Public Health. They will bring along different prototypes and model them in homes to see how people interact with them.

Being able to see and learn firsthand how potential users will interact with and use their product is a vital part of its development, said Karima Ladhani, the CEO of Barakat Bundle.

"From the public health world there are a lot of interventions that we know work, and we kind of expect people to know how to use them correctly and that they want to use them, and that's a real problem. That's often the reason why you give mosquito nets for malaria and then they're used as fishing nets," said Ladhani, a doctor of science candidate in global health at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health (HSPH) and a researcher at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

The team has spent the summer working in the Harvard Innovation Lab (i-lab) trying to get their product off the ground. The group won a spot in the i-lab after being named social enterprise track runner-up at Harvard Business School's New Venture Competition earlier this year. They won crowd favorite, however, and netted $27,000 as well as a coveted spot in the popular Boston-based startup accelerator MassChallenge, through which they could win more seed money later this fall.

"The i-lab does a really good job of making social impact ventures feel welcomed," said Ladhani. Both she and Daiyan said the coordinators and staff at the i-lab are always supportive, notifying them of opportunities, looking over funding applications, and putting on beneficial programming.

In addition to Daiyan and Ladhani, the members of the team, who all work on a volunteer basis and are pursuing funding opportunities for their nonprofit business, include: Nayab Ahmad, a bachelor of arts candidate at Harvard College, who serves as the director of product development; Jyoti Ramakrishna, a master of public health candidate at HSPH and the chief of pediatric gastroenterology and nutrition at Tufts Medical Center, who serves as director of medical affairs; and Amanda Hahnel, the innovation manager at the Doorways to Dreams Fund in Boston, who serves as director of operations.

"The Barakat Bundle team represents the true spirit of the Harvard Innovation Lab: a group of students from across Harvard who met and joined efforts around an idea. They've conducted early-stage research and are now poised to test their models in India this fall semester," explained Matthew Guidarelli, assistant director of social entrepreneurship at the i-lab. "We're really excited to see how they take the insights gleaned from these trials and revise their business model to further reduce preventable infant and maternal mortality in South Asia."

Ladhani said each member of the Barakat Bundle team brings her own unique skills to help the group. She said Daiyan's Divinity School background has helped create a nurturing and collaborative culture for the young startup.

"Mitul highlights culture and highlights team-building. She forces you to take a break and think about what we can do to make sure we're building bonds and moving forward together instead of leaving people behind," said Ladhani. "That's been a really unique addition to any start-up, and it has really helped our start-up begin to develop a culture."

For Daiyan, the way in which her academically diverse group has come together and works together is an example of how the broader University community, as well as other start-ups, can improve on success.

"You can see how much the team has grown through understanding the different ways we work, and I think this is an example of what collaboration can look like and how successful collaboration can be when we talk to one another," she said.

—by Michael Naughton