Thalita Guimarães, Senior Product Manager with Boehringer Ingelheim Brazil, was selected to participate in Ashoka’s Executive in Residence program and spent 6 months working with MyMind in Ireland. Founded by Ashoka Fellow Krystian Fikert in 2006, MyMind strives to bring affordable and empathetic, community-based mental health care to those who need mental health support. Through its network of paid and pro bono therapists and mental health professionals, MyMind expects to serve more than 2,000 clients in 2013.
Ashoka: What aspects of the Executive in Residence experience were most surprising to you?
TG: When I arrived at MyMind, one of the things that surprised me the most was MyMind’s extensive social impact. The organization is an active part of the community, and its greatest ambition is to improve the lives of Irish residents and provide support to anyone who may be struggling through mental adversity. MyMind does this through face-to-face and Skype counseling sessions. There are more than 60 psychologists who are either contracted by MyMind or serve as volunteers. Together, these psychologists take care of 200 patients every month through counseling sessions conducted in in more than 15 different languages.
Ashoka: What was your role in working with MyMind, and what have you brought back to your company from the Executive in Residence placement?
TG: MyMind has a limited budget to invest in marketing activities such as public relations, advertising, and direct marketing. During my placement, therefore, my main role was to help MyMind strengthen their core processes and develop new strategies for income generation so they could grow sustainably. For example, I had the opportunity to implement non-conventional, innovative and highly cost-effective marketing tools as well as create strategies for engaging new partners and donors. Because of our marketing activities during my placement, we achieved a record number of MyMind appointments in February 2013, a 23% increase from September 2012. Additionally, during my time at MyMind, we developed a structured business plan to put the MyMind model into practice in other states throughout Ireland and other countries around the world, thus guaranteeing healthy and sustainable growth.
When I returned to my role at Boehringer Ingelheim, I brought back the experience of creating low-budget but extremely cost-effective initiatives in an innovative business environment. This experience inspired me to be much more creative and results-oriented, and this new expertise helps me in my daily activities as a product manager. I understand now that successful and meaningful initiatives are not necessarily defined by high investments, but by audacity and creativity.
Ashoka: How did you find the process of collaborating with the MyMind team?
TG: After working for years in a multinational company, I hadn’t imagined that I would learn so much from the MyMind team. They received me as part of the team very quickly. Despite my completely different background and culture, we realized we could maximize results by harnessing each of our individual strengths, such as communication skills, technology, finance, and data management.
Ashoka: What challenges did you face during the Executive in Residence placement, and how did you overcome them?
TG: The key challenge I faced was adaptation, both in my professional and my personal life. Being away from family, friends, and my native language challenged me to grow and realize my strengths and weaknesses. It helped me become more flexible in dealing with different kinds of situations and enabled me to understand myself better, which offered an excellent opportunity to improve upon my skills.
Additionally, the experience encouraged me to build new trusting relationships and deal with diversity. This helped me develop a leadership style of respect for team members’ unique differences. I learned how to develop trust with each of my team members and tap into everyone’s strengths to develop new processes and create new products.
Ashoka: How did the experience change your perspective on social entrepreneurs and/or non-governmental organizations (NGOs)?
TG: It was really exciting to see the relationship between communities, government and private companies. I had not expected that an NGO or a social entrepreneur could promote such a positive change in communities while working with very limited resources. MyMind’s models for business and for social impact showed me that it is possible to integrate different partners with the same objectives. It is something the MyMind team should be proud of.
Additionally, at MyMind I realized how meaningful and gratifying a job is when you combine social purpose with a conventional business strategy. One of the greatest qualities of the MyMind team is how they listen and learn from clients, communities and partners. MyMind’s model was built on this value, and it helps shape their business every day. Now that I’m back in my role at Boehringer Ingelheim, having had this experience with MyMind, I can offer new business solutions that focus on the needs of our real client, the patient.