• Awarded: 2013
  • Issue Areas: Health · Health Delivery · Human Rights · Peace and Human Rights
  • Region: Central and Southern Asia · Eastern and Southern Africa · Middle East and North Africa · South America · Southeast Asia · West and Central Africa
  • Web:
  • About the Organization

    BasicNeeds is an international NGO that was founded in 2000 by Chris Underhill with the aim of bringing about a lasting change in the lives of mentally ill people around the world.

    BasicNeeds seeks to enable people with mental illness or epilepsy and their families to live and work successfully in their communities by combining health, socio-economic, and community-oriented solutions with changes in policy, practice, and resource allocation.

    Using Chris’ Model for Mental Health and Development, BasicNeeds helps mentally ill people by providing them with access to regular community-based treatment, along with with livelihood support and initiatives to overcome stigma and abuse.

    By building up the capacity of existing services in a country and simultaneously nurturing self-help groups, the Model has been tested and proven in 12 countries and adapted to a variety of settings.

    BasicNeeds’ vision is of a world in which the basic needs of all people with mental illness and epilepsy are met, and their basic rights are recognized and respected.

    In the developing world, mental illness, which affects 300 million people, is misunderstood, untreated, and often considered taboo.

    Basic Needs trains community providers to assist with economic and social well being as well as medical treatment.

    Founder Chris Underhill realized that when patients can be part of the community, the stigma of mental illness is reduced.

    580,000 people have better lives despite mental illness thanks to Basic Needs' work.

    Ambition for Change

    Mentally ill people have access to treatment, participate fully in society, and are able to care for themselves and their families

    Path to Scale

    Social Franchise and Policy Advocacy

    Basic Needs works within existing healthcare systems, training doctors, nurses, and community workers to recognize and provide adequate treatment and support to people with mental illnesses, and works to persuade the leadership of those systems, such as government health ministries, to adopt the model.

    Business Model

    Philanthropic and government agency support for program development and training programs. Public agencies and other healthcare providers bear the cost of providing actual healthcare services.

    As young couple, Chris and his wife, Giselle, volunteering in Africa, visited a hospital compound where they saw caged mentally ill people being tortured with long sticks. The incident sparked a lifetime devoted to improving the lives of people with disabilities. Chris founded a series of organizations and programs serving elderly and disabled people through direct services such as gardening therapy in Britain, and policy action to address gaps in mental health services in Africa and Latin America. Drawing on this experience, he persuaded a group of venture philanthropists that unfilled needs for mental health services could be an investment opportunity. He founded Basic Needs to pioneer a model for mental health care in the developing world, that provides assistance with economic and social well being as well as medical help. Basic Needs trains primary care doctors, nurses, traditional healers, and community health workers to diagnose and treat mental illnesses in areas where there are no psychiatrists, so that patients can be treated at home. In addition to medicines, health workers are trained to provide help with employment so that patients can support themselves and their families, and reduce the stigma of mental illness. At the time of the Award, half a million people (patients, caregivers, family members) had benefited from these programs.

    Impact & Accomplishments

    • Increased the cumulative number of beneficiaries to 580,000.
    • 94 percent of mentally ill people in communities served have access to treatment, and 70 percent report reduced symptoms. (vs. world average in developing countries of 15 percent)
    • 79 percent of patients secured employment or productive, non-remunerative work


    Natasha AbrahamCommunications Officer, BasicNeeds

    See All Awardees →