MINDS Foundation CEO returns from India with affirmation of organization’s direct impact

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.

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IMG_0547“It was clear to me he was hallucinating,” said Appasani. “Just the fact I was just on the road and seeing this happen in an area where MINDS programs aren’t being applied yet, it was a sign to me that this is an issue plaguing all of rural India.”The trip put many things into perspective for Appasani, and allowed him to firm up the logistics of expanding MINDS, but also to connect with more people involved in the organization on a personal level.

“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.”

IMG_0506The firm class distinctions in India has allowed for a serious lack of resources in general to poorer classes; preventing this through a grassroots approach is the MINDS Foundation’s main goal. Funneling the vast wealth in the country to philanthropic means is vital to the wellbeing of people in the rural areas not getting the education and resources necessary- especially in the mental health field.“There’s a general drive for supporting these initiatives,” said Appasani. The government of India will pass a CSR (corporate social responsibility) bill this year that requires companies earning over a certain amount to establish a CSR committee that would coordinate the spending of at least 2% of the company’s net profit for the year on CSR related actions.Appasani was fortunate enough to see the effect of the MINDS programs firsthand, when he visited a village and saw a man who had been diagnosed with OCD, treated, and is now working as a laborer on a farm and starting to refer other patients.

“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.”