CONSUMER EMPOWERMENT: BE A SHADOW OF CONSUMERS IN ACTION!

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CONSUMER EMPOWERMENT: BE A SHADOW OF CONSUMERS IN ACTION!

Sri Lanka
Organization type: 
for profit
Budget: 
$1,000 - $10,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

In an environment of stigma and non-acceptance, proving the abilities of consumers in mental health is a greate challenge. They are considered a burden and sick forever. Opening up a practicing ground and a demonstration plot to change public attitudes, is what a consumer advocate (who has broken the glass ceiling), has introduced and proven workable. Need support to expand.

About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

Mentally ill people are considered a burden by the family and the society who are either afraid of them or have no confidence on them. For many who see them as sick people (forever), they are belonged to the Ministry of Health. Their high potential for contributors to the economy is not considered, and the stigma and discrimination further discourage them to participate and prove themselves. There has been nobody ready to help them demonstrate their talents, skills and knowledge that have been forgotten with the illness. Though there are rehabilitation programmes running in the country, no much choice available to suit their interests and skills.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

In Sri Lanka, Corporate Social Responsibility Programmes are led by the corporate sector organizations, where the communities/the beneficiaries are involved only during implementation. These projects follow needs-based approach, where empowerment is not considered vital. Corporate sector or small enterprise sector has no confidence in the capabilities and capacity of mentally ill person, added to which is the stigma and myths related to mental illnesses. All these factors contribute to the exclusion of consumers in mental health from the development/empowerment opportunities in the corporate and small enterprise sector in Sri Lanka. Laymen’s Den (Pvt) Ltd. – a consulting firm which was founded by a small enterprise development expert experiencing depression (Chintha Janaki Munasinghe) to establish a “Practicing Ground” for consumers in mental health and frustrated youth, to gain experience in the fields of IT, Development Research, and Media. Chintha being the first professional in Sri Lanka who revealed her mental health status in 2001 challenging stigma and discrimination, encouraged consumers in mental health to work with her in development assignments as entrepreneurs, animators, writers, research assistants, workshop facilitators, designers, dramatists, etc. Social acceptance being the main indicator for consumer empowerment, it is essential for them to prove their societal role and abilities. Laymen’s Den in their path to empowerment provides opportunities and assistance to demonstrate their abilities and build their capacities.
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

Laymen’s Den (led by a consumer in mental health) with its “shadowy” consumer development approach (i.e. consulting, challenging, assisting to be innovative and practical in addressing issues) was able to build the confidence and capacity of leading consumer advocates, who are the office bearers of Nidahas Chinthana Sansadaya (popularly known among professionals as Consumer Action Forum) to take any challenge they are faced with. No big workshops held especially for capacity building, but the improved knowledge has been filtered down through actions planned. Some walk along with her in tsunami affected village in Sri Lanka, writing down stories of impact as research assistants; many performed as enumerators doing surveys in rural villages; 15 of them got trained by her in forum theater and performed their life stories in 20 rural villages as well as in the middle of Colombo educating health professionals. Encouraged by the Laymen’s Den team Sriyani Dhammika, the present President publish a book on her story and their consumer movement called The Story of Guarillas amongst the Gorillas. Many organizations visited them to learn on managing mental illnesses and for consultation. They were invited for the District Coordinating Meeting by the District Secretary in Hambantota. They are also a part of Health Planning Meetings in the divisions they work. They were awarded the third place out of 40 organisations in the Hambantota district Productivity Competition 2008. So far, no donor has funded them. It is their time, earnings through contracts, and financial/capacity gaps filled by Laymen’s Den.
About You
Organization:
Laymens' Den (Pvt) Ltd.
Section 1: You
First Name

Chintha

Last Name

Munasinghe

Organization

Laymens' Den (Pvt) Ltd

Country

, WE

Section 2: Your Organization
Organization Name

Laymens' Den (Pvt) Ltd.

Organization Phone

+94112516709

Organization Address

252, Gangarama Road, Werahera, Boralesgamuwa 10290, Sri Lanka

Organization Country

, WE

Your idea
Country and state your work focuses on

, SO

Innovation
Do you have a patent for this idea?

Impact
Actions

1) consultation and facilitating the development of interventions with the consumers/consumer action forum to address the problems mentally ill people in country are challeged with; 2) providing revenue generation opportunities for CAF and their members through the work of laymen's den and its partners; 3) capacity building programmes for effective implementation of interventions/actions; 4) Collaboration on providing/organising monetary assistance to implement innovative actions proposed by the consumers; 5) Organise promotional support to the actions of consumers through media and other networks; 6) documentation of the project findings and learning

Results

1) Inclusion of consumers in mental health in development programmes especially those related to livelihood development; 2) Buidling partnership between enterprise/enterprise development sector and mental health sector in favour of mentally ill people; 3) economic and social status of mentally ill people improved with their rights exercised; 5) abilities of mentally ill people are known by the public; 6) mental health legislation effectively implemented in the country.

What will it take for your project to be successful over the next three years? Please address each year separately, if possible.

Year 1: In southern, Sabaragamuwa and Central Provinces: more consumers interested in joining CAF to be trained as advocates; livelihood development organisations with wider networks interested in understanding mental illnesses and mentally ill people; trainers experised in consumer empowerment process evolved within CAF;
Year 2: Mental Health and development organisations (GOs/NGOs + Private sector) from at least 2 provinces interested in joining the efforts; wider coverage on consumer actions and success stories given by media; donors interested in collaborating for expanding the project learning to other areas of the country as a result of confidence built on Laymen's Den and CAF;
Year 3: A consumer support network comprising consumers, community leaders, health and development professionals and administrators established at provincial levels where the project is in opeation.

What would prevent your project from being a success?

Limitations in resources (finacial investment) available in the organisation may restrict the expansion of the project, as the whole exercise is depending on the revenue earned through the consulting work. Changing attitudes at decision making level of the partners might take time though it worked well in the South, as it is the base of the CAF operation compared to other provinces.

How many people will your project serve annually?

101‐1000

What is the average monthly household income in your target community, in US Dollars?

$50 - 100

Does your project seek to have an impact on public policy?

Yes

Sustainability
What stage is your project in?

Operating for 1‐5 years

In what country?

, SO

Is your initiative connected to an established organization?

Yes

If yes, provide organization name.

BasicNeeds Sri Lanka

How long has this organization been operating?

More than 5 years

Does your organization have a Board of Directors or an Advisory Board?

Yes

Does your organization have any non-monetary partnerships with NGOs?

Yes

Does your organization have any non-monetary partnerships with businesses?

Yes

Does your organization have any non-monetary partnerships with government?

Yes

Please tell us more about how these partnerships are critical to the success of your innovation.

Laymen's Den being a consulting firm has a clientele comprising GOs and I/NGOs working in different fields of health and livelihoods sectors that are relevant to the proejct. Facilitating partnerships between Consumer Action Forum and these organisations, that will encourage more opportunities for mentally ill people in their programmes. Proven evidence and demonstration on capabilities of mentally ill persons will establishment of an environment for effective implementation of national policies in favour of mentally ill persons.

What are the three most important actions needed to grow your initiative or organization?

1) Action oriented partnership building between consumer action forum and laymen's den partners
2) COnsumer led mental health education programmes for health and development professionals
3) Educational tours from other provinces to sourthern province to share experiences on consumer empowerment on social and economic grounds.

The Story
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.