entrepreneur: The accidental healthcare entrepreneur transforming the birth experience: Janhavi Nilekani

Janhavi Nilekani calls herself an accidental health entrepreneur. The 34-year-old daughter of billionaire technology pioneer Nandan Nilekani and philanthropist Rohini Nilekani wants to transform the birth experience for mothers.

The 10-month-old Aastrika Reception Center (AMC) in South Bengaluru that she started last September has so far recorded 21 deliveries. The six-bed center follows a woman-centered midwifery model, promoting a physiological or normal birth while focusing on a range of non-pharmacological comfort measures to manage pain and progress labour.

“Infant and maternal mortality rates in our (India) are still very high and far from sustainable development goals. Morbidity is high,” said Nilekani, a development economist with a PhD from Harvard University. The venture, which she funded entirely, was inspired by her own experience of becoming a mother, she added. AMC hopes to break even and turn a profit in the next two years.

Nilekani, the eldest child of co-founder Nandan Nilekani, has a personal stake of 85.89 lakh shares in the software giant, which had an estimated value of Rs 1,231 crore at the end of March 2022.

She is also the chairperson of the Aastrika Foundation, a Nilekani Philanthropies Initiative that was established in 2019, with the aim of strengthening health systems through capacity building of health workers across the country.

There are 65 hours of learning content on the Sphere Foundation’s online platform, which has had around 8,000 users. As many as 2,035 certificates were issued for completed courses for nurses, nursing students and midwives.

In addition to working with central as well as several state governments and nursing colleges, the Aastrika Foundation also works closely with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Other collaborations include those with the United Nations Population Fund, the United Nations International Emergency Fund and the Maternity Foundation, Jhpiego (an international, non-profit health organization affiliated with Johns Hopkins University), among others.

Pointing to the strong influence of her parents’ philanthropic and development work combined with her academic training at Harvard that helped steer her towards working in the “NGO” sector, Nilekani said “sometimes I take advice from my father who was an entrepreneur at Infosys- in.”

But “for many years now, he’s been focused on public goods, and my mother has been a philanthropist for thirty years, so this (entrepreneur) is a little left field for my family.”

On July 5, Nandan Nilekani tweeted: “Our daughter Janhavi is working hard to transform maternity care and the birth experience. Proud of her!”

Acknowledging her parents’ “strategic guidance”, Nilekani said they were curious about her decision to turn to entrepreneurship. “But for me, this is a combination of politics and strategy for working in the private healthcare space, as well as a passion project. I’m not really an entrepreneur. I wouldn’t start a chain.”

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