Friday, November 5, 2010

A meeting that made a difference

Out of the multitudes of meetings endured few survive to the memory of the following week (or, I am afraid to say, day) but one in 1999 is deeply memorable.

I walked into the office of Chris Underhill, then CEO of Intermediate Technology Development Group, now Practical Action, in their grand (but practical) office in Warwickshire, with grandly delighting views of the surrounding countryside in search of ideas. I had been re-appointed as the director of WIN (now Andrews Charitable Trust) that acted as a 'venture philanthropy' fund (before this appellation was invented). We aimed to start new charitable ventures that tackled either new problems or engrained old ones in new ways.

Nobly Chris tried to interest me in ITDG as was his responsibility as CEO. I fear I had to disappoint him: we did not work with established organizations (unless spinning off a new, innovative structure). We parked ITDG and began a discussion on the challenges of mental illness, compounding people's poverty and being exacerbated by it, especially in developing countries.

It had been a theme privately pursued by Chris since his days as founder of Action on Disability and Development and his trustees' probably wise refusal to enter the field - physical (and learning) disability being enough of a complex task, now as then.

I was immediately engaged recognising people in poor communities who are mentally ill being potentially amongst the most marginalized (and stigmatized) of people. I was more deeply personally engaged because of my own, mercifully brief, encounter with mental illness.

Out of that initial engaged, engaging conversation came 'Basic Needs' that celebrates its tenth anniversary this year. From time to time, you realize as you navigate the cycle of meetings that from some conjunctions, extraordinary things can emerge. Thousands of people have accessed treatment, found or renewed livelihoods, discovered new lives out of the wide collaborative effort that flowed from that meeting.

You can follow one of the stories of people helped, that of  Lucy Akinyi Were, here:

http://www.basicneeds.org/html/life_lucy.htm

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