Dr. Karima Ladhani is the Founder & CEO of Barakat Bundle, a non-profit that creates life-saving care and education bundles for mothers and newborns in need in South Asia. She also serves as the Assistant Director of The Harvard Ministerial Leadership Program where she works with government ministers of health, education, and finance to support transformational human development in their countries. While HNDSM has partnered with Barakat Bundle for almost a year now, AJ and Karima have been friends since they were both in diapers! It is great to partner with people that are spearheading such important initiatives and take this opportunity to give back.

Tell us about what brought you to where you are now, personally and professionally.

Coming out of undergrad, I started my dream job on the trading floor of a major bank and two weeks in, realized I hated it. On a hunch I emailed every professor in my university doing anything health related and tried to sell any transferable skills I thought could be useful. Only one replied. So as my friends went off to high paying finance jobs after graduation, I stayed behind and began a research assistant position with an international tobacco research program. This stroke of luck introduced me to the world of public health and the idea of impacting health at a population level through policy, programs, and innovation. I call this time my 'freefall' period because I had no idea where I would land but that meant I wasn't limited by what I thought was possible. In this case, I landed at Harvard to study public health in graduate school and ultimately have had the opportunity to apply my business and health background in my non-profit, Barakat Bundle.

What inspired the idea of Barakat Bundle and how did it all materialize? Was this initiative always a part of your long term vision?

I was sitting on my bed in grad school when I read an article entitled, "Why Finnish babies sleep in cardboard boxes." At the same time in school I had been studying global health in more depth and learning facts like how 80% of maternal and child deaths are completely preventable. It seemed absolutely unfathomable to me that women and children continue to die from causes the world has already solved. How could it be that we can't get simple items like mosquito nets and umbilical cord clamps to families who need them? How could we not accompany these proven medical items with health education? And so, the article about how the government of Finland has been providing families with a box (that doubles as a sleep space) full of items for mother and baby conditional on mothers attending prenatal care intrigued me, and the fact that to this day more than 95% of first time Finnish mothers opt for the box over a grant of 140 euros was my 'aha' moment. It struck me that maybe there was an opportunity to adapt this delivery model to the South Asian context, where I had personal roots and where the scale of preventable maternal and child health is significant. And that's how Barakat Bundle was born.

What is something you believe everyone should experience in their life?

Freefalling, as I describe above. When you freefall and take risks in life that force you to embrace the discomfort of not knowing what comes next, you allow yourself to 'land’ beyond your expectations. And that's where the most rewarding parts of life often exist.

Karima Ladhani, Barakat Bundle

What was your favorite moment today and do you have any favorite grounding rituals?

Everyday after lunch, I like to reset my day with a fresh cup of matcha/coffee/tea, light my HNDSM Tokyo candle and settle in to 'my most dreaded tasks.' Adding some intentional positive moments around things I'm not looking forward to helps reframe the experience for me. I worked from home before so the only thing I'm getting used to is lower Internet speed since everyone else is home now too! 

Any advice you can give to young professionals in and out of the current context of the virus?

We don't know what we don't know (though that can be a good thing). When I started Barakat Bundle, I had no idea how much I was going to have to learn about accounting, international manufacturing, safety testing, supply chain management, people management and more. Had I known, I might have been too scared to begin. Naivete sometimes gives us courage and that can be helpful to keep our ambitious dreams aflame. That being said, as we navigate our careers, we also have to maintain humility to know that those things we don't know - they still do exist. When we are ready to face them, we need to take steps to inform ourselves, talk to those who know more, and be honest about knowledge gaps we need to fill. Life is an ongoing learning experience and being agile thinkers and actors can help us stay ahead of the curve.

Can you tell us about some of your favorite spots in Washington DC?

Roaming Rooster, Halcyon House, Zeke's Coffee, National Museum of African American History & Culture

November 25, 2020

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