10/23/2013 10:07 am ET Updated Dec 23, 2013

Using a Business Model to Reach the Poorest -- Social Franchising

Today nearly 75 percent of the 450 million people worldwide with mental illness and epilepsy live in the developing world, and 85 percent of these people have no access to treatment. The size of the problem is vast, with depression projected to be the leading global burden of disease by 2030.

It's a complex picture. Mental illness and epilepsy have long been the "poor relation" of global health and development agendas, taking a back seat to more prominent issues -- often being underfunded, misunderstood and considered taboo. Those living with mental illness and epilepsy often live in poverty, experience daily acts of cruelty and denial of their basic rights, are prevented from exercising choice, pursuing opportunities or planning for the future.

The experiences of the most marginalized are often "hidden in plain sight," as Kevin Isack, a young person from Tanzania explains: "I had to drop out of school because of my failure... I led a quiet, buried life."

With almost no treatment available, people often use traditional healers which are expensive and trap them in a vicious cycle of poverty:

We used to move here and there searching for traditional healers' treatments. We sold our livestock, crops and sometimes I used to work in the others farms so as to get money to pay traditional healers. It cost me a lot.

Thirteen years ago, BasicNeeds was established as an international development organization to respond to this humanitarian emergency, and has now worked with hundreds of national and international partners across 12 countries, helping more than half a million people with mental illness and epilepsy, and their family members.

But we need to do more. With the support of the Skoll Foundation and our many other partners, we are now scaling up our operations to reach at least one million more people who are living with mental illness and epilepsy in low and middle income countries in the next five years. We will do this by accelerating the implementation of our Model for Mental Health and Development, which combines health, socio-economic and community orientated solutions with changes in policy, practice and resource allocation to make real change in the lives of people we work with.

A key part of this scale up plan is the development of social franchises. Social franchising is about the replication of a tried and tested model, in our case this is the BasicNeeds Model for Mental Health and Development.

Like a business based franchise approach, our social franchise system will support independent organizations operating in low or middle income countries (such as international non-government organizations, in-country NGOs or country governments) to take on the delivery of the Model in their territory, increasing the impact of their work and most importantly, the quality of life for people with mental illness, epilepsy and their families.

We aim to compliment and strengthen local interest and leadership in mental health, epilepsy and development, working with partners who know their territory well and want to do more.

We know our Model works and are excited to offer potential franchisee partners a comprehensive package which will support them to implement the Model and link into our wide peer practitioner, research and policy networks.

By supporting BasicNeeds through the CrowdRise challenge we can reach out to more people with mental illness and epilepsy who are in need of help. If you are interested in our social franchise plans and want to find out more, we would be pleased to hear from you. Please contact us via our website.

-- Jess McQuail, BasicNeeds Franchise Manager