Reflections on SOCAP's First Mental Health Panel
Why mental Health?
The first mental health panel at the SOCAP Conference (Social Capital Markets) took place Friday, September 5th at Fort Mason Center in San Francisco. Hopefully, it will be the first of many more to come in the arena of impact investing and social entrepreneurs.
I was given the position of Health Theme Coordinator for the SOCAP14 Conference. My job was to research cutting edge topics for the conference that highlighted investable opportunities and innovation. Mental health was the first topic I wanted to research. Being the child of a parent with schizophrenia, I had a strong desire to see what was happening regarding innovative products and services around mental health. I was curious to see if any investors, philanthropists, or foundations were funding innovation in this area.
Additionally, something really caught my attention. It was the statement by the World Health Organization that by 2030 depression alone will be the leading cause of disability worldwide outpacing heart disease, cancer, and HIV. It sounds like an epidemic on the horizon, and who better to solve a massively scalable problem than innovators at SOCAP?
Mental health issues in my family have resulted in me and my siblings being livelong caregivers of a parent. As tough as that has been for me and my siblings, I could not imagine how challenging it would be for people in the underdeveloped world with very limited access to doctors, medicines, support systems, and communities that understood what it means to support someone with mental health challenges. Not to mention that in many countries people with mental health issues are often victims of human rights violations, caught in an even tougher cycle of poverty, and stigmatized with shame. Caring for a family member can often leave the caregivers depressed, ostracized, and in poverty.
Locating investable opportunities in mental health
The first person I found in this field was social entrepreneur Sean Mayberry of StrongMinds1. Sean works with depression in Uganda. Sean encouraged me to have the panel and suggested several other panelists. We discussed how mental health is the “underdog” in the health arena. That discussion lit my fire. I have always been a champion for the underdog. Fighting for underdogs is what I do best. There was no way mental health was not going to be represented in the Health Track at SOCAP under my watch, so I got to work.
Victor Wang of Gerijoy, LLC was also one of the entrepreneurs. Victor uses an avatar to work with geriatric patients who have depression or dementia. He is already testing and using his product Gerijoy in nursing homes, care centers, and personal homes.
Investors on the panel included the Peter C. Alderman Foundation and Grand Challenges Canada. According to Dr. Karlee Silver of Grand Challenges Canada, investment opportunities must be scalable, replicable, and be effective. They must have an impact that is measurable, and they must have the potential for profitability2.
Also on this panel was Dr. Helena Verdeli of Columbia University, an expert in global mental health working with social entrepreneurs like Sean Mayberry. When we bring together academics, investors, and entrepreneurs we can solve one of the toughest challenges of our time.
Calling on investors to support the underdog
It seems that there are too few investors in this health underdog, but as more innovation comes into the mental health arena, we will see greater potential for investors to also come into this arena. It is wonderful that SOCAP chose to highlight at least three mental health innovators at this year’s conference. Maybe next year it will be 10, and the next, 20. If you are an investor out there who loves the underdogs, please take a look at mental health innovations, so we can work together to avert the global epidemic on the horizon.
Darla Brewer, SOCAP14, Health Theme Coordinator