Quick Links | New Beginnings

Ibasho: a place where one feels a sense of belonging and purpose, and is accepted as oneself.

Interview with Emi Kiyota, Ph.D. President and founder of Ibasho

Dr. Emi Kiyota, an environmental gerontologist and organisational culture change expert,Dr. Emi Kiyota, an environmental gerontologist and organisational culture change expert, focuses on initiatives to improve the quality of the built environment for healthcare settings and long term care services for elders.
Emi is a consultant to numerous age-friendly design projects for senior housing, hospitals, and clinical-care centres in the United States, Europe, Asia and Africa. Dr. Kiyota is also a frequent speaker on these issues to audiences of both academics and practitioners, including the World City Summit, World Bank, Moscow Urban form. In addition to her consultant work on quality improvement in the built environment for long-term care and ageing services, Emi holds great concern for the similar needs of elders in the developing world. To this end, Emi and a group of like- minded colleagues have created a not-for-profit, international organisation called Ibasho, embodying the Japanese concept of “a place where one feels at home being oneself.“ Ibasho aims to create a socially, economically, and environmentally sustainable communities that value their elders. With this vision, she has involved in development for housing and services for elders in Bhutan, Sri Lanka, and Ivory Coast. She also facilitated to build the first innovative “Ibasho cafe” in disaster area in Japan after the Great East Earthquake/Tsunami, and is implementing this initiative in Philippines and Nepal. She currently serves as a board of director at Eden Alternative and IAHSA (International Homes and Services of Aging)
Dr. Kiyota was awarded as a Bellagio Fellowship for a one month residency on an ‘Innovative Response to Global Aging’ from the Rockefeller Foundation. She worked on developing her idea on creating a process for community planning that embraces and engages elders for the benefit of all.Ibasho: a place where one feels a sense of belonging and purpose, and is accepted as oneself.

What led you to founding Ibasho?

To respond to the need for places where elders can feel at home while remaining connected and useful to their communities, I founded a not-for-profit organization called Ibasho in 2010. Ibasho is a Japanese term meaning “a place where one feels a sense of belonging and purpose, and is accepted as oneself.”
My motivation for this work dates back to my experience of living with elders in a nursing home as part of my graduate research. While the staff did their best to provide residents with a safe place to live, the residents experienced feelings of loneliness, boredom, helplessness, and desperation. This raised some difficult questions for me: Would I be comfortable with having my loved one in this situation when the time comes? Would I be able to face these living conditions myself? Given that aging is not an option, but a natural part of our lives that nobody can avoid (except by dying young), what can we do to improve people’s later years? The key lesson I learned was that everyone wants to be useful to others, regardless of their age, socioeconomic level, and physical or cognitive limitations; yet elders are relegated to a wholly dependent role in our society, expected to receive care but not to contribute anything useful to others.

What are the problems according to you that the elderly face worldwide?

With the simultaneous rise inthe numbers of elders and natural disasters, societies worldwide are increasingly facing two critical questions: How can we care for unprecedented numbers of elders in our society, and how can we reduce the vulnerability of older populations during and after catastrophic natural disasters? To respond to these societal challenges, we need both intelligent policy making and practical solutions that emerge from citizen engagement on the ground.

Our common perception of the elderly—as a vulnerable group in need of assistance with nothing to offer the rest of us—marginalises a large and fast-growing part of the world’s population. Moreover, this perception is not sustainable financially. If we continue to marginalize older people and treat them solely as a vulnerable group to be cared for, the demographics alone will bankrupt economies around the world. We need to seek alternatives that encourage civic engagement—including elders themselves—in order to create cities and neighborhoods that allow people to age in community with purpose and meaning.

How do we tackle or how have you tackled the problems of elderly through Ibasho?

We implemented a project in Ofunato, Japan, after it was heavily damaged by a tsunami during the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011. Visiting the disaster area 11 months later, we found that older people wanted to do something useful to help the community recover.We worked with community elders to create an “Ibasho café”—a gathering place operated by elders who share their wisdom and experience with other community members. Elders were also an essential part of the design and construction of the cafe.

Since the café was completed in June 2013, all generations have connected in the space, with children coming to read books in the English library, older people teaching young people how to make traditional foods, younger people helping elders navigate computer software, and so on. To maintain the operation, elders operate a child day care center and a noodle shop, and sell food they grow at their own farmers’ market. They also apply for grants to help cover their costs. In their first two years of operation, they organized approximately 330 events and welcomed more than 11,000 visitors.

To assess the effect of the Ibasho café on the level of social capital among the members of the community, we partnered with the University of Tokyo, Tohoku University, and Purdue University (with support from The World Bank) to conduct an impact evaluation. We found three measurable and statistically significant effects: First, people who were part of Ibasho believed they had more control over their environment than those who were not, an outcome social scientists call increased efficacy. Second, people regularly participating in Ibasho programs reported having more friends than similar people who did not participate. Finally, individuals who regularly attended Ibasho events had a deeper sense of belonging to their neighborhood than similar individuals who did not participate in Ibasho.

Elder-led, community-driven initiatives that strengthen social capital, like Ibasho café, are particularly important in developing countries, where financial resources are limited and services for elders are not well established. We have now implemented an Ibasho project in the Bagong Buhay barangay (population of 6,500) in Ormoc, Philippines, and are in the process of planning a project in Nepal. As a part of these initiatives, I have facilitated a peer-to-peer knowledge exchange program for the elders involved. Japanese and Filipino elders have visited each other’s communities and shared knowledge and skills to improve their projects, establishing strong friendship and support systems.

When you look back what has been your most fulfilling moment about having started Ibasho?

The key lesson that I learned from working with elders and other community members is that community is something that must be actively negotiated and created with others, not something that can be passively received. We often make design decisions based on our best assumptions, and we tend to over-design for elders. Despite our best intentions, the result is often to rob elders of opportunities to develop their own community and shape their own environments. Each time I walked into the Ibasho café in Ofunato, the environment was never the same. Elders modified and personalize the space to make it their own. One time, an elder said “Thank you, Emi for creating this Ibasho café. It is a lot of work but I am so glad to have it in my neighborhood, I no longer have a feeling of helplessness.” The comment like that from the elders in the Ibasho café always gave me the sense of fulfillment.

Bihani is a social venture born out of the need to create a positive outlook to life and living meaningfully with focus on individuals above fifty years of age (but not restricted to it) who want to re- engage, re – explore and re – live a new beginning or create a rewarding second half of their lives.

www.bihani.com.np /www.facebook.com/bihanisocialventure/ www.twitter.com/bihaninepal, 00977-9813228579.