What was the defining moment that led you to this innovation?
Looking at the status of persons experiencing mental illnesses in my country and many other countries I visited, I believe that I am gifted with depression, that led me to near death experience at my teens. Until the time I joined BasicNeeds to establish its Sri Lanka programme (2001), I was unaware that I am experiencing Depression, though there were several incidents of my getting frustrated and planning to die. Luckily, I am gifted with many other skills and talents, that helped me develop my career as popular journalist to a practical development worker, who enjoyed working with me. Young and the senior citizens were the best who get along with me. At BasicNeeds I used to visit many institutions and families of consumers and observed how difficult it is for someone experiencing a mental illness to be accepted as a productive citizen. No body has confidence on them. Some are afraid of them. In the business world, they have no space. Incidents reported that, some have to leave their jobs after the employer came to know that they are experiencing mental illness. It was so pathetic. Even I had the same experience, soon after I revealed my status in 2001. By the time, I have already broken the glass ceiling. As a pilot, I managed to provide opportunities for several of them to prove themselves and be a mentor to them, when they are down. Some became good advocates; some joined the workforce as executives, entreprenuers, community workers, etc. The whole idea behind my new company was transferring ethics and good practices to those who are rejected by the wider society. As its name "laymen's den" depicts it is designed as a social enterprise, where we gain revenue through professional services while providing opportunities for mentally ill and the "rejected" to gain experience by working with us or collaborating their efforts/actions as equal partners. Economics talks of power, but more than that is the power of collectiveness, sharing and giving demonstrated by the consumers who were with for more than a decade! Their efforts are to collaborate rather than demanding; support for effective service delivery than criticising; providing leadership to have better solutions. These learning has led to this innovation.
Tell us about the social innovator behind this idea.
Chintha Janaki Munasinghe, as explained abouve is someone who always sees the brighter side of a problem or a challenge. Among her colleagues she is famous for working out solutions for any sort of problem that may ended as a fundable project. She is an optimist in desiging and specimist in implementing... so she always have a contingency plan ahead and interestingly many of the projects designed and implemented by her have been proven to be practical and innovative. One such intervention was BasicNeeds Sri Lanka's DfID funded project (2003/7) Social Integration of Mentally Ill People in SOuthern Sri Lanka. Being a practical Buddhist, Chinthi follows four-fold truth as the path to all her innovative ideas. So far she has developed such fundable project ideas (and got funding) for more than 20 local and international organisations. She says that few are gifted with talents and skills to collaborate with those who are not gifted with the same. She believes that she became mentally ill because she has a duty for those people.Interestingly, during her childhood (1972), she used to feed everyday a old mentally ill begger on the way home and spent some time listening to him with the dog; at her teens she survived from suicide being unconcious for four days(1978); she became famous as a science journalist with her psychiatry article series (1988); she joined BasicNeeds as the country programme manager to serve the mentally ill people in Sri Lanka (2001). The consumers who joined BasicNeeds pilot project (2002 - 2006) during her time, registered as an NGO to take her vision forward (2007); Her social enterprise/consulting firm - Laymen's Den was established with the view to provide opportunities for those who are considered worthless (2008). Chinthi is a hard worker and a multi-tasker. She has developed all necessary skills (since her first job under guidance of Mrs. Manel Abeysekera as her first Boss at Ministry of Foreign Affairs), even to run her office singel handed. Her development gurus are Andy Jeans and Priyanthi Fernado who had confidence on her when she joined Practical Action in 1991 having no experience in development, but with a journalistic eye. An empathetic soul, with courageous mentality she managed to control her depressive moods with the support from her loving husband and her caring psychotherapist - Mr. K. M. Herath, who are always there when she need them. She has done a small research to find that those with depression are hard-workers and those experiencing schizophrenia are creative souls. She believes that the mentally ill people are a great contributors to the economy, provided that they are given a chance. She is proud to be one of them.
How did you first hear about Changemakers?
Web Search (e.g., Google or Yahoo)
If through another, please provide the name of the organization or company
I saw a news clip in Sri Lanka Rupavahini on Changemakers and Ashoka Fellowship.