Today, on World Mental Health Day organisations across the globe are coming together to bring attention to mental illness.

But, while the focus remains on breaking down stigma and encouraging people in difficult situations to seek help, waiting lists for mental health professionals in the public sector can be as long as 12 months, while in the private sector, therapist fees can be as much €150 per hour.

MyMind, an award-winning social enterprise, relies on self-referral and fees based on ability to pay to bridge this gap, striving to make mental healthcare as normal as a GP visit.

Social entrepreneur Krystian Fikert, CEO of MyMind, and Colin Edwards, general manger of pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim Ireland (BI), have teamed up with that goal in mind. Here, they explain how and why.

BI and MyMind are two very different kinds of organisations, one a big corporate, the other a small social enterprise. What prompted you to see the potential in having the other as a partner?

Colin Edwards: MyMind actually came to the attention of the company at a global level. The Boehringer family got interested in the concept of working with social and health entrepreneurs in many different countries that were doing something new and where we could bring something to them with the transfer of skills, knowledge and expertise, as well as financially. One of our marketing executives from Brazil, Thalita Guimaraes, came over to work as an executive in residence with MyMind for six months. Then, because MyMind were on our doorstep in Dublin, we got in touch with them and it’s been a successful story ever since, as they have really grown and developed their services.

Krystian Fikert: I think it’s very unusual that BI would pay for an executive like Thalita to work full time for us, and it was the best way for her to really learn about and help us – from management, operations, data collection, reporting procedures etc. It was very powerful for us, but also had a big impact on her work, and I think her life. In general though, our main priority is to build very strong links with GPs, and with BI, it was extremely important to have a partner willing to help us to build these relationships.

CE: As a healthcare company, we’re providing products which improve people’s lives, but we want to do things beyond getting these products to patients. So we have a natural allegiance with other people who are trying to improve lives, just doing it in a different way.

How would you say that this partnership differs from a typical CSR initiative, or another CSR initiative that you are involved in? 

KF: What is different is that there is real interaction. If it’s financial CSR then the interaction can be very small. For example, BI did research for us in terms of usage of anti-depressants in the UK and Ireland, a very important type of expertise that is probably not possible in the regular type of CSR. From our perspective it can be time consuming, but we see the benefit in investing the time to build these strong relationships.

CE: We are involved with another initiative where we do some fundraising for Barnardos. What’s different is that we feel we’re getting something ourselves out of working with MyMind. We see this as a relationship that we can learn things from and where some of our people can develop new skills. As our business changes, we know we’re going to have to work with different stakeholders, and we’re learning from social entrepreneurs who are doing radically different things to what we do.  We’re a big organisation – we’re like a supertanker, we take a long time to turn around. Now, we’re thinking more about non-traditional stakeholders we can work with. We’re very lucky in that we work in a large company which has resources to invest if we want to develop a new business. It’s very interesting for us to see how a small organisation with few resources actually gets on and does things.

KF: BI has a very good sales structure, and it was very important for us to learn how we can sell our service in the healthcare sector – the language we need to use, how we build relationships with GPs. That’s invaluable, because if you go to regular sales trainings, the knowledge is general. In this case, it was very specialised and targeted. More practically again, the BI sales team around the country distribute MyMind materials across GP practices, something simple but actually very innovative. It is almost impossible to make cold calls to GPs and introduce ourselves to set up meetings because most of them don’t have time to take the phone calls. So with BI we can use the existing links.

We don’t know the impact of it exactly, but the proportion of MyMind clients referred from GPs has risen by 80pc since 2012, so there must be a correlation between what they are doing and the increase in referrals.

Has the partnership changed the way you think about your strategy or mission, in terms of your core business?

KF: In terms of the overall vision and mission of the organisation, we are constantly interested in building partnerships with other organisations. To have BI on board is a good reflection on how we’re progressing with our overall strategy. Recently, we have been finishing our pilot programme with MyMind at Work. We provided this session to BI in the pilot stage and it was important for us to get feedback from them before bringing it to the next stage.

CE: Globally, the company has created new public affairs and patient advocacy roles. We’re doing this because we think it is probably the best way to grow the business, but it’s too early to say whether it’s having that effect. We’ve decided we are going to see if we can learn a lot more by having people whose full-time job is to engage with non-traditional stakeholders. And that’s kind of interesting.

How would you quantify the social or economic impact the partnership has generated?

CE: I don’t think we can quantify it, to be honest. And I’m not sure I want to quantify it, because it shouldn’t be about how much it affects the bottom line. We also want to be responsible members of society in general. But it’s about the bottom line if it helps us become a more nimble, flexible organisation, better able to cope with new things coming.

KF: Likewise, it’s quite hard to put certain numbers on clients we’ve impacted through the partnership. But we can definitely say that there is increased number of clients referred through GPs, and there is still huge potential to increase the participation on both sides, so we’re very happy to have BI as a partner in building our social impact in Ireland. We want mental healthcare to be as normal as going to see a GP, and we’re not going to achieve that on our own.

The Change Leaders series is a collaboration between Ashoka Ireland and