Five years ago, we launched Brio with a big dream to meaningfully contribute to improving mental health in communities facing adversity. The approach was inspired by conversations we had with community leaders in Latin America, all of whom shared the ways mental health, and mental illness, were persistent themes they wish they had more resources to respond to.

With the trust of our earliest partners, we created a collaborative design approach (and toolkit in 2020)— with the vision of making it more possible to integrate mental health into the work of on-the-ground social change organizations. 

As we celebrate five years of innovating and implementing programs with our partners and their communities, one thing remains true: our social change world cannot reach its potential without mental health; and addressing mental health effectively must extend beyond traditional systems into the spaces where community members live their lives.   

5 years, 5 highlights from 2023

As global interest in addressing mental health grows, we’ve discovered that there are so many contributing factors to successfully shifting the way we respond to our inner experiences— to build lasting mental health at the community and population level.

For the past several years, we have sharpened our focus on cultivating psychological flexibility, a set of mental processes that support meaningful behavior change, even in the midst of hardship.

While we co-created programs with partner organizations and their community members, and worked to replicate and implement some of the programs on greater scale, we have asked five critical questions of ourselves in the process.

The five questions below are explored in greater depth in this year’s annual report


2 Integrating evidence informed knowledge and practice


1. How does cultivating psychological flexibility actually change our lives?

Mental health is critical to an overall experience of wellbeing. But too many of us stop there— at the prevention or treatment of illness.  Instead, we should be asking participants and partners whether cultivating positive mental health has made a meaningful difference for them. 

In the annual report, we share stories from specific community members about what the process of building psychological flexibility has meant to them, and how it has actually made their lives better. We can’t simply measure the improvement of mental health or wellbeing without a clear sense, and resonance from community members, of what it is all for. Is it making people’s lives better, from their perspective? That’s what matters.


2. What impact is possible— by the numbers and beyond the numbers?

One way to understand depth and scale is by quantitative measurement. And in our report, we share the numbers that help to tell our story. The depth numbers demonstrate the level of time and dedication required to design programs that community members are actually excited to attend; and also, depth measures what exactly is changing and to what degree.

We can create all kinds of awareness campaigns (and those have their place)— but to truly understand an internal shift, not to mention a transformative experience— we need to quantify more than just eyeballs on a page. If you’ve wondered how to measure real mental health shifts, we share some of the scales we’ve used in the report, and the results. 

Furthermore, breadth can demonstrate that an initiative validated at the deep, community level has been made accessible to many more people. And that’s important too. 


3. How does mental health help communities advance across important issues?

We believe that mental health has a bi-directional relationship with nearly any meaningful societal endeavor. It is not just an area of vulnerability (stress and trauma interfere with community flourishing), but also a critical shared resource that can help communities make changes within themselves and beyond themselves. If mental health can strengthen any social change mission, then we need to focus on what that intersection means.

So what does this look like in the lives of real participants and partners? In the report, we share about the specific social change arenas where our partners work, and how mental health is contributing to improved outcomes in other domains. 


4. Can community-centered mental health programs really go to scale?

Yes, if done thoughtfully. We find that the deep-change-vs-broad-impact tradeoff is real— and the fact of the matter is that the thorough care and support of an individual can only be automated so much.

But that doesn’t mean that quality, transformational programs can’t reach thousands of people and produce good results. They just need to be thoughtfully created— unhurried— so that when the opportunity comes to implement at scale, the program is good enough to withstand variations in format, implementer, and other inevitable constraints and compromises. 

In 2023, Brio’s total impact scaled to 130,000 individuals directly, with 120,000 newly reached by a state partnership in India. We share more about this program Hausla, in the report.  


5. What really matters in social change work, in the end? 

We know that many of you work in social change, or hope that you will one day. It’s no secret that our sector is flawed— from inequity in funding to intractable systemic problems within social change itself. However, this work matters, and we think it matters for a reason that is different from what we frequently hear from the loudest voices.

Let’s start with the idea of scaled impact: the more good, the better, right? But one of the deepest lessons we’ve learned this year is that whether you focus your impact on depth or scale or some of both like us, you can’t tie your personal significance to either. There’s no existential thirst that can be quenched by the idea that someone’s life is better because of you; that’s still ego-centric and will destroy the work in the end. We believe instead that this work is about coming alive together: doing what brings about that vitality in you, and witnessing it in others. 

I (Daisy) explore this idea in greater depth in my letter in the annual report. And if you work in social change and have ever wondered when you’ll be allowed to quit, when you will have done enough, or when you will finally stop feeling guilty about your power or privilege, this letter is for you.

So without further ado, here’s the report.