MINDS Foundation CEO returns from India with affirmation of organization’s direct impact
Zoe Mathews, media lab intern, Emerson College 2015
Raghu Appasani of The MINDS Foundation returned from India this month, and after two months of hiring new field staff, talking to partner hospitals and doctors about expansion within the region, meeting with potential funders, and meeting with local government officials to work on expansion support, he came back to the Next Mile Project with new prospects ahead of him. And some serious jet lag.
MINDS (Mental Illness & Neurological Disorders) Foundation was founded and incorporated in Massachusetts as a nonprofit in August 2010, and Appasani has been working since then to expand and brand the MINDS Foundation mission, both in the States and in India. The MINDS Foundation is a nonprofit organization working to provide high-quality, cost-effective mental healthcare in rural areas of India, a country that is growing economically and politically. MINDS currently operates in 19 villages in Vadodara, Gujarat, about 250 miles north of Mumbai.
“India is modernizing and urbanizing, but the villages aren’t getting access to the tools or resources that the cities have,” said Appasani. “That’s the barrier we’re trying to break down.”
India has a strict social stratification system that divides classes of people by wealth, and the country has followed a common model of urbanization with most of the wealth moving into the cities. This unfortunately has created an astounding disconnect between urban areas and rural villages in terms of how health professionals and communities approach mental illness. There is only one psychiatrist to every three-hundred thousand people in the country of over one billion, and the availability of those psychiatrists diminishes rapidly outside the city realms.
Appasani remembered one day he was driving down the road in Rajasthan, a western state in India, and had to stop his car because a man was in the middle of the street with a stick yelling vulgar statements. His mother was aggressively pushing him out of the road, or trying to.
“I hadn’t been to India in a while, and I was able to put a lot of actual faces to conversations I’d been having over the phone or via Skype,” he said. “It made me realize that we really need to set up a strong management team within India because there’s a huge pool of philanthropy and talent in the country that we haven’t properly tapped into yet.”
“That is the systematic change we’re going for, and it’s starting to occur,” said Appasani with a satisfactory smile. “It’s not a quantitative measurement, but being there you can see it.”
The previously insurmountable wall of stigma that mental illness rises between people of a community is slowly crumbling, due to the work that MINDS is doing. For Appasani, being able to witness that improvement and the deeper connections people are making is worth the hard work put in thousands of miles away.
“When someone’s dad comes to you in the middle of the whole community to thank you and give you his appreciation,” said Appasani, “I feel like somehow even though I wasn’t born there, your cultural roots bring you back, and it’s incredibly moving.”