Peer Dialogue: Being OK in the chaos

Krystian Seibert and Joshua Haynes

How can we approach mental health in a different way that recognises its broad impacts across society? How can we more holistically invest in organisations and people, ensuring that the well-being of staff is put front and centre? Guest editor Krystian Seibert talks to Joshua Haynes, founder of mental wellness impact funding platform, Masawa.

Krystian Seibert: It’s a bit of a cliché, but it’s a really timely moment to be exploring this topic given the focus on mental health in recent years, also how the pandemic’s broader impacts have highlighted the importance of mental health and exposed the inadequate focus on the issue, especially when compared to other areas. So what got you into the mental health space?

Joshua Haynes: I worked in software development and digital innovation. I also was a diplomat in the Obama Administration working at the US agency for international development, and seconded to the Swedish international development agency, working on the nexus of civil society innovation and technology. At some point, I burned out and had a reckoning with my own inner systems, my own childhood trauma. I was raised by a single, alcoholic mother on welfare and had to confront my depression, my anxiety, my issues with food. I quickly realised that I wasn’t the only one experiencing these problems. The flip side is that there are so many approaches, so many opportunities and innovators who are looking to allow people to become more mentally well. However, I saw that there wasn’t any compassionate capital for this work on either the for-profit or the non-profit side, so I decided to use my experience in social impact and systems thinking, and my ability to look beyond surface-level events to work on this capital element. I couldn’t find another impact fund that was doing this in the way I thought was necessary to address a crisis of this scale. That’s when I decided to found Masawa.

KS: That’s fascinating. I’m chair of a mental health charity whose work reaches around the world, and I’m also drawn to it by my own experience of mental illness. I think the mental health space, maybe more than others, draws people in because of their own lived experience. I want to talk about your work in a moment, but I’d like your take on a more general issue. We know that mental illness is a global problem. Over a billion people are living with a mental illness, 80 per cent of them in low- and middle-income countries, but the data that we have shows that the philanthropic funding for that is woeful and that government development assistance is not huge either. Why are funding levels so low? Is there something at the core of philanthropy that is impeding it?

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