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Innovation and mental health: What can social entrepreneurs teach us?

graphic with text: I always wondered why somebody didn't do something about that. Then I realized I am somebody.

By Dr. Sean Kidd, Head of the Psychology Service of the CAMH Schizophrenia Program, Independent Clinician Scientist, and Assistant Professor with the McMaster and University of Toronto Departments of Psychiatry

Accessing mental health treatments and professionals is a pervasive problem in low income countries.

Along with the general lack of resources (such as one psychiatrist per million people), it is regularly found that uniform, top-down health interventions fail.

However, in the very settings where harsh political, social, and economic conditions would seem to represent a total impasse, compelling local examples of social innovation are coming to life.

There are individuals and social entrepreneurs who are relentless in their effort to drive forward innovative solutions to major social problems. They:

  • Operate effectively in contexts characterized by adversity and severe resource limitations
  • Are highly embedded in the communities they work within
  • Catalyze large amounts of social capital around solutions that are sustainable

Learning from the changemakers

In close partnership with Ashoka, an organization that has, for decades, recognized the tremendous potential in locating and supporting these highly leveraged solutions, CAMH and the University of Toronto have obtained a grant from Grand Challenges Canada to use a social entrepreneurship lens to advance innovation in mental healthcare in low income contexts.

We will be studying the work of Ashoka Fellows addressing mental health in South Asia, Africa, and South America to better understand how they develop and scale up.

Our first stop in what will be six intensive case studies is Basic Needs – an organization that has developed remarkably effective community based initiatives across three continents, reaching over a half million people to date.

Along with our study of Ashoka Fellows, we’ll be connecting with business, social innovation, and technology experts to understand how we can package the information we collect in a way that helps people to develop and grow interventions in other contexts.

We want to share the strategy, vision, and passion of the Ashoka Fellows in a way that will make it easier for social entrepreneurs and citizens to come up with their own ways of addressing mental health where they live.

This project has brought together a fantastic collaboration that includes, on the Ashoka side, Susan Pigott, Amy Dalebout, and David Aylward, and in Toronto David Wiljer, Donald Cole, Kwame McKenzie and myself. On the road with Basic Needs is Athena Madan, the project’s first post-doctoral Fellow, with coordination by Nina Flora.

Save the date: You’re invited to a webinar

This is just the beginning – but we wanted to let you know what we’re up to, and to invite you to join us for the ride. There will several forums for sharing ideas and information, and you’re welcome to join our first webinar on May 21 at 9:00 am to 10:30 am EDT.

We hope you can take part in what I think will be a very interesting conversation. Help us answer some tough questions:

  • Ananda Galippatti (Sri Lanka) will look at tolerating uncertainty, being bold, and low cost experiments – What are the key factors to consider in expansion?
  • Maha Helali (Egypt) will take a look at the person whose intervention is running well in their town/city and wants to expand to other places in their country and abroad: What are the key strategies to be considered?
  • Monira Rahman (Bangladesh) will talk about building upon and being responsive to community interests and energy – how does this make a difference?

We hope to see you online!

>> How to sign up for the webinar (pdf)

*Photo: Courtesy of Ashoka

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