One of the great strengths of NGOs (and, indeed, of civil society in general) is that they often work tirelessly in bringing a range of ‘unseen’ issues out into the open. This can range from issues such as child slavery to obesity; from mental health to the rights of prisoners. However, one of their weaknesses is often centred around the fact that in raising such issues, they can be relatively blind to the ‘systemic’ challenges which need to be addressed in order for a problem to be fully addressed.
In the case of mental health, without an understanding of health inputs (eg financial resources, legislation), processes (eg how mental health can be integrated into existing health platforms) and outputs (eg monitoring of impact) then this amounts to little more than clapping with one hand. Thankfully, initiatives such as EMERALD are looking into ways in which existing health systems can be strengthened in low and middle income countries for the benefit of those living with and affected by mental health challenges – and this includes financial modelling and the opportunity cost of not doing anything about mental health. Such programmes are a strong call for NGOs to ensure that their planning does not rest only in their own silos and that truly catalytic partnerships need to be developed. Or is this wishful thinking?
Will the pursuit of funding result in fewer and fewer genuinely collaborative ventures? Do too many development agencies fear losing some of their own identity and ‘image’ when embarking on partnership agreements with others? Should more donors actively insist on developing meaningful partnerships in their funding criteria?