Your Details

Your job title:

CEO & Founder

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Your organization name:

StrongMinds

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https://strongminds.org

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When was your organization founded?

StrongMinds is a social enterprise founded in 2013

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In what city, town, or region are you located?

Maplewood, NJ, USA
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In what city, town, or region is your organization headquartered?

Maplewood, NJ, USA
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In which countries does your organization currently operate?

  • Uganda
  • Zambia
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About You

Why are you applying for The Elevate Prize?

StrongMinds has an audacious goal to end the depression epidemic in Africa, where 66 million women suffer from depression. StrongMinds is the only organization striving to scale a highly effective, cost-efficient solution for depressed African women of all ages that is delivered by community members. We have demonstrated that when an African mother is no longer depressed, she works more, sends her kids to school more regularly, and feeds her family more regular meals. In short, when a woman recovers her good mental health, her family can thrive. StrongMinds is poised for exponential growth, enabling millions of women to live more healthy, productive, satisfying lives.

The Elevate Prize would be positively transformational for hundreds of thousands of women in need. It would allow StrongMinds to take our proven therapy model and implement it at scale to reach one million depressed African women and their four million household members in multiple countries over the next five years.

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Tell us about YOU:

I am a former diplomat and social marketer who believes in the importance of good mental health, an area that is often overlooked when addressing poverty in low-income countries. Over the years I have implemented successful HIV/AIDS and malaria programs in Africa and seen firsthand the struggles of the mentally ill. When I discovered there was a low-cost group therapy model that had proven remarkably successful in Uganda, I started StrongMinds to bring this highly effective depression treatment to women in the most impoverished areas of Africa.

My vision is for every person in need to have access to treatment. In order to achieve this, we need to continue to scale StrongMinds therapy by tapping into the existing infrastructures of NGOs and governments. Over the next five years, StrongMinds will treat between 500,000-1 million patients (including 250,000 in the next three years). With their mental health restored, patients will experience improved health and productivity. Entire communities will flourish and the next generation will have better access to nutrition and education in the countries we serve.

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Pitch your organization.

Depression is the most prevalent mental illness in the world. The World Bank considers it “the greatest thief of productive economic life,” with yearly global costs at U.S. $2.5 trillion. In Africa, approximately 100 million people suffer from the disease, costing the economy roughly U.S. $5 billion a year. For African women depression is the number one cause of disability. Yet, due to the lack of investment in mental health services, 85% percent of people suffering from depression in have no access to effective treatment.

StrongMinds uses a talk therapy model called Group Interpersonal Psychotherapy (IPT-G) to treat depression. IPT-G is an evidenced-based, simple and cost-efficient treatment endorsed by the WHO as a first-line treatment for depression in low-income settings. Our model uses IPT-G in a culturally adapted format delivered by local women. StrongMinds’ model emphasizes a participatory approach, empowering isolated, vulnerable and depressed women to improve relationships, develop communication skills, and foster lasting support networks. Each talk therapy group lasts 12 weeks, and the women come together weekly for 90 minutes. This provides African women with the ability to identify their depression triggers, reduce their current depressive symptoms and prevent future episodes for years to come.

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Describe what makes your work innovative.

StrongMinds model is innovative because it includes:

  1. Simplicity and effectiveness: StrongMinds fully treats a depressed woman in 10-12 weeks through group talk therapy sessions led by a trained community worker. Our model significantly reduces depression symptoms in all patients. Over 80% of treated patients are depression-free after therapy and remain depression-free.
  2. Culturally-appropriate model: StrongMinds model was rigorously tested in Africa and uses trained lay community workers to deliver therapy to their peers under expert supervision.
  3. Community-based approach: StrongMinds treats individuals in their communities, providing depression care near where people live – rather than relying on expensive psychiatric hospitals located primarily in urban areas.
  4. Comprehensive replication toolkit: StrongMinds has developed comprehensive tools to support partner implementation. StrongMinds’ vision is to provide full-service support that will ensure success by helping partners to plan, recruit, implement, monitor and evaluate the service, along with providing ongoing quality assurance and support.
  5. Scalability: Our simple solution is highly scalable – with the potential for seamless integration into existing social services and programs as demonstrated by initial pilots conducted by StrongMinds in Uganda and Zambia. 
  6. Cost-effectiveness: For $109 StrongMinds can provide a full course of treatment for one woman with depression.
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How and why is your organization having an impact on humanity?

We have treated nearly 80,000 women since 2014, of whom 88% are depression-free at the conclusion of therapy. The results are sustained, with 75% reporting they are still depression-free six months later.

The benefits of recovery extend into our client’s home lives: 13% report an increase in food security, 30% report an increase in their children’s school attendance, and 16% report that they can be more productive.

To scale our reach, we partner with other NGOs to train their staff to deliver the StrongMinds therapy model. By layering StrongMinds mental health services into already-existing programs, organizations can create better outcomes for the people they seek to help.

Through partners, we are already reaching at-risk populations:

  • Adolescents: In Africa, 41% of the population is under 15 years old. The first signs of depression usually occurs in adolescence, and is associated with poor school performance and greater risk for HIV and substance abuse disorder. We work with schools to provide early screening and treatment to achieve better outcomes.  
  • Refugees: 26% of the world’s refugees are in sub-Saharan Africa. In refugee communities, we see depression rates as high as 40%.
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Select the key characteristics of the community your organization is impacting.

  • Women & Girls
  • Children & Adolescents
  • Rural
  • Urban
  • Poor
  • Low-Income
  • Refugees & Internally Displaced Persons
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Which of the UN Sustainable Development Goals does your organization address?

  • 3. Good Health and Well-being
  • 5. Gender Equality
  • 10. Reduced Inequality
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Which of the following categories best describes your work?

Health

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