In June and July 2018, Michelle Quaye MD(c) and Robyn Masters PhD(c) moved to Nairobi, Kenya, working out of a small apartment shared with three colleagues. With the support of the African Mental Health Foundation they had two months to launch a pilot of a new entrepreneurial support model that focuses on connecting individuals who have lived experience of mental illness with the business training and resources needed for them to start their own business.
It is no secret that individuals who have struggled with serious mental illness face incredible stigma and discrimination. In addition to the physical violence and emotional burden of this discrimination, these individuals also experience extreme poverty as their opportunities for employment are scarce. However, their sparks of creativity and passion for business cannot be denied. They are eager to share about their previous experience owning businesses or practicing trades before they fell ill. They tell about their visions for the future. A future where they contribute meaningfully to their communities, provide for their families, and share their experience with others.
The long-term vision of this team involves a network of local businesses and supportive organizations which provide specialized training in a variety of industries. This network enables individuals with lived experience of mental illness to take real steps out of poverty and into financial independence. The training they receive builds on their experience and interests through the development of knowledge and skills needed to launch a business of their own. The costs of this training and resources needed to start a business are covered through a microloan model, meaning that all donations to CREATE Kenya enter a rotating fund which is re-used time and time again. But first, the pilot test.
Over the summer of 2018, seven individuals with lived experience of serious mental illness mental illness enrolled in the pilot test of the CREATE Kenya Entrepreneurial Program. This program, facilitated by Eggpreneur, involved three full days of poultry farming training and practical skill application. The trainees learned about chickens and their care, poultry farming financial basics, and had the opportunity to practice practical skills. Two of these seven individuals, Charles and Dickson, are now the proud owners of growing flock of chickens. The remaining trainees continue to be involved in the group as plans are made to build coops.
Next steps for Team MJR
CREATE Kenya continues to expand their support offerings. Following the closing of Point Tech, the team has revaluated the ways they can best support those who have lived experience of serous mental illness. Recognizing the strength, resiliency, and capacity of these individuals, a new triparte model is being explored and piloted in Machakos, Kenya. This model combines three essential components of recovery to provide individual with a hand up, not a handout. The core components are:
- Entrepreneurial support and capacity building: through offering micro loans to cover the cost of entrepreneurial training
- PSR Toolkit support: this resource, initially developed for employees at Point Tech, supports the functioning and well-being of individuals with lived experience of mental illness
- Peer mentorship support: peer mentors who have already received the PSR Toolkit and/or are trained peer PSR Toolkit facilitators will provide mentorship to new participants
Together, these efforts target reductions in social inequalities, social isolation, and poverty, while promoting wellness and personal growth. This approach is redefining the way we think about recovery from mental illness.