Skoll Foundation



Skoll Awardee(s): Chris Underhill
Award Year: 2013
Issue Area(s) Addressed: Health

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  • Nearly 75 percent of the 450 million people worldwide with mental illness live in the developing world, where 85 percent do not have access to treatment.
  • Until very recently, mental health issues have taken a back seat to physical health in international development efforts.
  • Mental health issues are underfunded, often misunderstood and considered taboo.  In the developing world, they are often also human rights issues.


BasicNeeds works with mentally ill people across 12 countries through a holistic model to address community mental health, poverty and stigma.

Its cost-effective, comprehensive model:

  • Engages the community to raise awareness and identify those in need;
  • Trains medical and volunteer workers to treat people in their own communities rather than in institutions;
  • Helps mentally ill people and their caregivers to create peer support and advocacy networks;
  • Provides opportunities for income generation or participation in productive work thereby enabling sustainable recoveries and reintegration into society;
  • Generates evidence and new knowledge which can facilitate improvement of health practice and inform policy.

BasicNeeds scales by training existing players to implement its model, thereby influencing and building capacity within the existing health system. It transforms both the what (services provided) and the how (who delivers the services and where) of the system. As a result of its strong evidence base, BasicNeeds plays a key role in influencing local, national and global mental health policy and is building the field of practice of community-based mental health that goes beyond medicine.


BasicNeeds’ approach has not only led to behavior change in its participants and the community at large, but has also created systems change by training existing resources and building the field of practice through its demonstration model. It has:

  • Served more than 624,926 primary (mentally ill, caregivers) and secondary (other family members) beneficiaries
  • Enabled 94 percent of mentally ill people in the communities it serves to access treatment (of which 70 percent report reduced symptoms) vs. the WHO baseline for access to treatment in developing countries of only 15 percent
  • Helped 79 percent of participants obtain either paid employment or productive, non-remunerative work versus a 65 percent BasicNeeds baseline (productive work) and 35 percent baseline (paid employment)
  • Restored honor, dignity and self-worth to its participants

Influenced policy and practice change at virtually every level, from traditional healers and local chiefs to ministries of health and national governments to the WHO.



© 2015 Skoll Foundation.