In the words of Mohamamd Yunus, a Bangladeshi social entrepreneur, economist and Nobel Prize laureate, “social business is a cause-driven business. In a social business, the investors/owners can gradually recoup the money invested, but cannot take any dividend beyond that point.” Orchid Care Home fulfills the first requirement. However, that is as far as the similarity goes because along with the social cause that Orchid endorses, the other equally important aspect that drives its chairperson, Yamuna Katuwal is the byproduct—profit and her target is dividend beyond the money invested.
In the initial days, when Katuwal talked about her business idea—a care home for elderly people with medical complications—everyone applauded her because the idea screamed of altruism. No sooner did she mention that she intends to profit from her venture, everyone retracted as if she had suddenly caught leprosy. It was almost like Mother Teresa had turned into a conniving fox.
It is a popularly held notion that if one wants to take up a social cause, the service should be made free. ‘Making profit’ is tantamount to a derogatory phrase and uttered in hushed voices. Why marry social cause with economy? voice the chorus. According to critics ‘care homes as a business idea’ is a mutually exclusive notion. And if entrepreneurs see business prospects in it, they face public backlash and are labelled ‘money mongers’.
“With the majority of people routinely voting for left-leaning political parties, the word ‘profit’ is going to be a suspect in Nepal for a long time,” stresses Ashutosh Tiwari, co-founder of Entrepreneurs for Nepal and Managing Director at SAFAL Partners, which works with and invests in growth-oriented Nepali businesses. Nevertheless, people drop ‘donation’ casually during conversation. “I once spoke to an investor from The Netherlands who has invested in over 10 companies in Nepal. Earlier he used to donate to charities, but has recently switched to Impact Investing and he told me that he has never been happier and satisfied!’” underlines Nivida Lamichhane, PR & Communications, Rockstart Impact, a 100-day business support program which has been specifically designed for Nepali entrepreneurs and their businesses. Adds Tiwari, “Surprisingly, people don’t view the word ‘donation’ in negative light, though aid agencies, NGOs and charities run on donated money,” Tiwari espouses that the ability to make a profit, in fact, reflects the business acumen of an entrepreneur.
“I have to pay my staff (housekeeping, cooks, nurses, care-givers, admin), experts (doctors, physiotherapists), and pay for rent, food, maintenance of the place—and that needs money. I am not doing charity. Besides, I don’t want to compromise on the quality service. I am giving our clients the best they deserve and for that you need money.” For a cause to hit longevity, ‘sound finances’ is one of the prime contributors. “It’s only when you are able to make a profit, you are able to pay your taxes, pay your employees and your suppliers, and grow your business by hiring more people and buying more machines. Without profit, what are your choices? Either you will have to borrow money to continue your business or you will have to shut it down,” elucidates Tiwari.
This article will be advocating what most might consider abominable. It accentuates on the positive aspects of investing in care homes designed for seniors. It underlines the claim that care homes is a lucrative business idea. The care homes in question are not dingy, mismanaged, charity centers which take in people ‘out of pity’; but properly-managed commercial entities which treat clients with utmost professionalism, care and dedication and are established to generate revenue and function as profitable businesses. Tiwari believes that helping hands should be stretched towards such initiatives as it “solves a social problem profitably”.
Orchid is a commercial venture tackling a social issue. As people age, they exhibit higher rate of susceptibility to diseases as their immunity level falls dramatically. They become easy prey to illnesses; therefore, require timely medical care and attention. Orchid takes in patients with all kinds of medical complications—bed-ridden, Alzheimer’s, dementia—patients who need 24-hour nursing and personal care.
Since this venture is reaping profits, Katuwal is braving to begin a second one. “That venture will sit on the success of Orchid. It will be a cancer rehabilitation center. But that will materialise after a few years.”
Orchid has garnered a brand name for itself in the care home sector and Katuwal is celebrating eight years of service experience; but, the beginning was no easy feat. In 2009, when she applied for bank loan, rejections—one after another—were slapped on her face. A petite female, barely 25, requesting for a loan for business in which she had no prior experience—she fitted the requirements of a hopeless loan applicant. Besides, for almost two years of the start of the business, a staff of 13 members attended just a single semi-coma patient at the center.
It was indeed a testing time but the center persisted. “It is a global statement that not all startups survive and if they cross the first year, they cross a big milestone. Growth depends on how far sighted and ambitious the entrepreneur is,” comments Lamichhane. At present Orchid attends to 39 occupants. Business has been growing. “We also have day-care service. As and when needed, we also take clients for a few days when their children are out of town/country and have no one to take care of them in their absence.”
There were days when Katuwal wanted to throw the business idea in the pit of an ocean; but held herself back. “I used to pep talk myself. Besides, if it had not been for my family who supported me financially during the trying time, I doubt I would have thrived as an entrepreneur.” Additionally, she had another business to take care of. “Actually, my first venture was a medical clinic. During financial crisis at Orchid, all the earnings from the clinic was poured into it.” When you run a startup, it is invariably sensible to have an alternative source as an anchor to hold you together.
But how can one possibly assert if a business idea is profitable? What propels investors to put money on a particular business plan? “So far, with the experience that we have had at Rockstart Impact, most investors invest in people and the apparent enthusiasm vis-à-vis the project along with a guarantee that these entrepreneurs will make it big,” briefs Lamichhane. Of course, there is no certainty when it comes to business unless you begin it. “We’ve never been one hundred per cent sure that any of the businesses we’ve started at Virgin were going to be successful,” stated Richard Branson. But there are always certain pointers that sway the needle to one side of the argument.
Following arguments will cement the claim that care home for the elderly is indeed a new avenue for investment:
With the shift in lifestyle, children of elderly parents are abroad or in Nepal but cannot avail time for them thus leaving parents requiring assistance to deal with every day challenges on their own.
“Life is vastly different now from what it used to be generations ago and there shouldn’t be any expectations on the millennials to look after their parents at home because the standard of living has risen and it’s no longer viable for a family to sustain on just one salary. Having said that, I would only consider putting my parents in aged care only if they are helpless and can’t do more than 50% of what they should be able to do, independently,” states Genisha Chhantel-Kaucha, an accountant based in Melbourne, Australia. “One option could be house-help but they cannot always be trusted. And productive time of productive people must be spent productively,” comments Gaurab Khatiwada, Head of Department, Supply Unit, Bajeko Sekuwa. Adds Ranju Lamichhane Bhusal, a homemaker and stock exchange enthusiast, “But the decision of a care home has to be consensual.”
However, both Chhantel-Kaucha and Khatiwada strongly voice, “this does not mean forsaking parents. Visit parents on a daily basis or during weekends and bring them home during holidays.”
Entrepreneur and co-founder of the Web design school The Starter League Mike McGee said— “If there is a problem that affects you, your friends, family, co-workers, etc., then the chances are high that it affects people you don’t know as well.”
There is an urgent need for care homes for the elderly. “Data shows that it is an impending issue. The number of people that fall in the 60 and above age category is in the rise,” states Samjhana Bhujel, Research Officer. “You start by looking at the social development numbers and population data. These give you the potential size of the market and the rate at which it is growing in various places in Nepal. On average, Nepalis are living longer – till their late 70s and early 80s,” explains Tiwari.
According to the Bureau of Statistics, in 2011, the number of population in the age category of 60 and above was 21,54,410. In 2016, it increased to 23, 97, 214 and the number is predicted to reach an astounding 26, 52, 258 by 2021.
It is a legitimate problem. The solution, of course, is not to put everyone in 60 or above age bracket in care homes. Pied Piper effect is not what the business strives for. “Those who are active, independent and physically fit should not be administered,” Bhusal says.
According to Bhujel, “today’s luxury will become tomorrow’s necessity. Mark my word!” comments Bhujel. However, Binay Rai, Training Manager based in Dubai asserts, “I have no objection if one decides to put their parents in a care center for their benefit but never as a burden.”
However, the need of the time is that such nursing homes for seniors should not be taken negatively. Where there is demand, there is supply. Or anticipating the demand, you ready the supply. “A business that practices universally accepted ethical principles when working with the elderly and then offers services that respect what their families want could well be a viable business in today’s aging Nepal,” emphasizes Tiwari.
“My grandmother suffered a lot in the last few years of her life because of limited mobility. My father, the only child, considered placing her in care home but many of our relatives and elders expressed displeasure. My father, thank god was already retired then. He suffered a great deal too as he didn’t know how to look after her. He couldn’t lift her to address her toilet needs because he was getting old himself and my mom helped as much as she could despite her own health issues. It was a terrible thing to go through and it went on for years. Towards the end of her life my grandmother had many bedsores and infections despite being cared for. Perhaps in aged care she would have been less miserable with round-the-clock care and my dad would have had better memories,” shares Kaucha
“Absolutely!” says Bhusal. “It is almost like putting your child in a hostel. You do it because you think that is for the betterment of your young kid. No matter how expensive it is, you pay for it since you know that your kid’s special needs will be entertained. It is the same with putting parents in care homes.”
The facilities in questions are—daily health checkup, clean and hygienic place, friendly caregivers, trained manpower, doctor facility and nutritious food. “There are qualified people who are trained especially for this and yes, one might think how difficult would it be to look after your aging parent? But there are techniques we don’t know about how to prevent bedsores or bathe an elder person with limited mobility. ” states Kaucha.
There are not many competitors; therefore, it is the right time to take that leap of faith. “We need to institutionalise the concept. The need may not be felt severely at present, but research shows that after a decade, care homes for the elderly will be tantamount to basic need,” asserts Bhujel basing her claim on research. In that respect, it does not seem like a futile attempt to start doing homework. After all, it needs a visionary to discern which business idea holds promises for the future.
“Find a gap in the market, and work to fill it,” stated Richard Branson. What Bhujel suggests is that such place should engage elderly people to be productive and not push them to vegetative state. Whatever may be their activity of interest, get them involved in it. “Old age homes at Devghat is worse. I have not visited Pashupati Old Age but whatever I have heard, it is not pleasant either,” expresses Bhujel. “I read a story about an entrepreneur who combined a students’ hostel with an old age home which was a big success! So, why not? All that one needs is an idea,” adds Lamichhane.
“As an investor, you invest because such a business, if run well, gives three kinds of returns: There could be a good enough financial return. Second, ensuring that the elderly have a dignified social place to live out their sunset years can give investors a sense of fulfillment. And third, such a business is likely to bring elderly together — to tap their wisdom, experiences and networks in ways that could make local civic work more imaginative and meaningful,” states Tiwari.