Skoll Foundation



Skoll Awardee(s): Chris Underhill
Award Year: 2013
Issue Area(s) Addressed: Health, Peace and Human Rights

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“Let us get rid of cages. Let us say, no more cruelty.”

Sub-Issues: Health Delivery; Human Rights; Integrated Health 450 million people in the world have mental illnesses, and three-quarters of them live in the developing world, where the vast majority have no access to treatment. Mental health issues are underfunded, misunderstood, and often considered taboo.

The Skoll Awardee: As young couple, Chris and his wife, Giselle, volunteering in Africa, visited a hospital compound where they saw caged mentally ill people being tortured with long sticks. The incident sparked a lifetime devoted to improving the lives of people with disabilities. Chris founded a series of organizations and programs serving elderly and disabled people through direct services such as gardening therapy in Britain, and policy action to address gaps in mental health services in Africa and Latin America. Drawing on this experience, he persuaded a group of venture philanthropists that unfilled needs for mental health services could be an investment opportunity. He founded Basic Needs to pioneer a model for mental health care in the developing world, that provides assistance with economic and social well being as well as medical help. Basic Needs trains primary care doctors, nurses, traditional healers, and community health workers to diagnose and treat mental illnesses in areas where there are no psychiatrists, so that patients can be treated at home. In addition to medicines, health workers are trained to provide help with employment so that patients can support themselves and their families, and reduce the stigma of mental illness. At the time of the Award, half a million people (patients, caregivers, family members) had benefited from these programs.

Impact since joining the portfolio in 2013:

  • Increased the cumulative number of beneficiaries to 580,000.
  • 94 percent of mentally ill people in communities served have access to treatment, and 70 percent report reduced symptoms. (vs. world average in developing countries of 15 percent)
  • 79 percent of patients secured employment or productive, non-remunerative work



© 2015 Skoll Foundation.