Big Dream, Small Team
The Founder of Mpower is BW Disrupt Inspirational Woman Entrepreneur of the Year 2019 for taking on the daunting issue of mental health
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In a timeframe less than three years, the Aditya Birla Education Trust initiative ‘Mpower’, has already impacted more than 17,924,063 lives through both the Mpower Centre and Mpower Foundation. According to Neerja Birla, founder of Mpower, and the founder and chairperson of Aditya Birla Education Trust, the Mpower movement may have started with a big dream and a small team but it is already making strides towards creating a national footprint.
Mpower’s three-fold mission is to stamp out the stigma associated with mental health, to spread awareness through outreach and to provide mental healthcare for as many people as it can.
Giving a lay of the land in this context, Birla points out, “In India, we have severe shortage of mental healthcare professionals leading to a significant treatment gap — over 5 crore people living with a mental health concern, and only one psychiatrist per 13,000 people. It was a daunting task to bring together the team to help improve this issue, and to map out an action plan for such a seemingly impossible task. We knew we had to adopt a slow and steady approach that started with creating awareness, and a lot of outreach activities.”
In many ways, the fact that the task appeared overwhelming motivated Birla further to pursue Mpower’s mission and grow it to a place where it is making a visible difference to people’s lives. It is for this relentless pursuit in this direction that Neerja Birla was awarded BW Disrupt Inspirational Woman Entrepreneur of the Year 2019.
The Mpower Journey
It was Birla’s experience with the education sector, where she first saw instances of mental health concerns among students and even parents. This led to the germination of the idea of finding a solution. “Because people were not getting help, it would affect their lives in irreparable ways. I could see this from my own experiences too. Awareness and access to mental healthcare can make a world of difference in people’s lives. It prepares you to deal with these issues. And that’s where the Mpower story has its origin,” she says.
The Mpower Centre was established in Mumbai to serve as the headquarter. It started with a small team of doctors and counsellors, and a “handful of clients”. Over the last couple of years, the team and the clientele has grown. “The work we are doing has inspired mental healthcare professionals from all over the country to come join us. We have over 1,000 new clients in the last year, with a total of 11,619 sessions,” Birla informs.
The early awareness initiatives started with the cycling event ‘Ride to Mpower’. In the music space, Mpower hosts Mpower Fest, a concert that brings people together to talk about mental health. It also organises Art Express, where people come together to create art and express their thoughts about mental health that they cannot express otherwise.
In each of these endeavours, Mpower seeks to bring the community together in a safe space where mental health, which is as important as physical health can be discussed.
Mpower was founded to give people a chance to speak up about mental health, without fear of judgement or prejudice. Birla believes this has become part of Mpower’s work culture itself, and she sees this as a significant strength. She says that inspiring change is about communicating a vision that everyone can buy into, and then empowering and supporting them to follow their action plans for the same. “The mental health issue is massive, and knowing they have someone who will support them 100 percent, gives my team the strength to think out of the box and to keep going when the going gets tough,” she says.
Mpower has been hosting outreach workshops in Mumbai, Goa and the likes, where it reaches out to corporates, colleges and parents to create awareness and provide tools to deal with mental health in a positive way. A big breakthrough for the movement so far is the launch of its Bengaluru centre. “It just means we are one step closer to our vision of taking our initiatives and services to a national level, making it available to more people,” Birla explains.