Posted: 25 Jul. 2023 5 min. read

July is BIPOC Mental Health Month

Can BIPOC entrepreneurs make mental health more equitable?

By Maningbè B. Keita Fakeye, Ph.D., health equity research manager, Deloitte Center for Health Solutions, and Deloitte Health Equity Institute, Deloitte LP

During a 1996 visit to Vietnam, Vanessa Kirsch met a woman who had helped reduce infant mortality in her rural village by encouraging new mothers to supplement their baby’s diet with shrimp meal. In a village a few miles away, shrimp meal had not been introduced and babies were dying at an alarming rate.1 In both villages, Vanessa noticed that storefronts had signs advertising Coca-Cola. She wondered how social innovations, like the supplemental shrimp meal, might be scaled like commercial innovations. Two years later, she founded New Profit, a philanthropic organization that provides social entrepreneurs with capital and strategic advice to help them scale innovations—and their impact—to address entrenched social issues in education, economic mobility, and democracy with a focus on historically overlooked communities.

Over the next 25 years, New Profit invested $350 million in more than 200 organizations. The venture philanthropy organization continues to expand and explore critical and emerging issue areas where there is a need to identify, support, and scale social innovations. In May, New Profit announced that it had selected a group of 16 entrepreneurs to participate in its Mental Health Equity Catalyze Cohort. This follows last year’s launch of a cohort focused on improving health equity. The Deloitte Health Equity Institute, Carnegie Corporation, and Pinterest are providing funding for the initiative. Deloitte is also offering operational perspectives and support.2

While an estimated 44 million Americans have a mental health condition, nearly half of them (43%) do not receive proper care.3 (See our report, Mental health equity and creating an accessible system.) Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) groups are less likely than other groups to have access to mental health services. They are also less likely to seek treatment and more likely to receive sub-standard care.4

July is BIPOC Mental Health Month.5 I recently had an opportunity to talk with Molly O’Donnell, a managing partner who co-leads New Profit’s Portfolio team. We discussed the new cohort, and the role social innovators might have in making mental health care more accessible and equitable to BIPOC communities. Here is an excerpt from that conversation:

Maningbè (Mani):Mental health is a foundation that can affect many other aspects of health and life. A recent report from the U.S. Attorney General noted that mental health issues can have a negative impact on physical health (see What to do when workers feel lonely, disconnected). Why did New Profit decide to focus on mental health for this cohort cycle?

Molly: I think about what we all experienced during the COVID-19 pandemic as we were isolated from one another. The social isolation led to new and greater challenges around mental health, which can manifest in physical ways, particularly in BIPOC communities. We do a lot of work in K-12 education, and we know the mental health crisis for young people coming out of the pandemic is incredibly acute. If this generation of young people doesn’t get appropriate and systematic mental health care now, they might not thrive in the future. And we need them because the problems we face are big and intransigent—we will need all the brilliance that now sits in our K-12 schools. When we announced this new cohort cycle, entrepreneurs from across the country told us how important it was to focus on mental health equity. It reinforced to us just how critically important mental health has become in this moment.

Mani: You received a large number of applicants for this cohort cycle. What does that say about the need for mental and behavioral health services, particularly for BIPOC communities?

Molly: We received more than 200 applications for this cohort, which was one of the largest responses to an application cycle in New Profit’s history. Narrowing it down to just 16 organizations was a challenge. These organizations represent multiple points along the continuum of care and are all working to counteract cultural stigma within their own cultures and communities around mental health. They want to break the barriers that can make it difficult for some people to access, or even talk about, mental health care. One organization is focused on formerly incarcerated people. Another works with youth, and one supports the LGBTQIA+ community. They are also spread out geographically and each have created innovative solutions with and for their communities. New Profit offers them funding and the capacity to strengthen and sustain their organizations. They have the expertise and the experience to solve challenges in their communities. And we know they often need support and connection to a community of peers to grow and sustain their work.

Mani: What is New Profit and this new cohort doing to help make mental and behavioral health more accessible?

Molly: As philanthropists, we try to think differently about some of the root causes of problems that hold current challenges in place. When building a portfolio, we look for organizations that are thinking expansively and holistically about mental health. Once we have selected organizations, we work to build their capabilities to grow, to sustain, and to influence. One organization in our cohort, Father’s UpLift, Inc., is a mental health and substance-abuse treatment facility for fathers and their families.5 They provide resources to help fathers overcome barriers around engaging in their children's lives while also supporting them in their role as fathers. It’s a unique intervention point. They are also trying to highlight the shortage of BIPOC therapists and prepare the next generation of BIPOC therapists through their recruitment fellowship. Sista Afya Community Mental Wellness focuses on providing affordable, culturally relevant care in communities. They offer free individual therapy and community workshops.6 Black Girls Smile provides mental health education and support to Black women and girls.7 Another organization focuses on mental health care for educators, because we all know that educators have had a difficult time and might need additional care so they can continue to support our young people. And one of our recent alumni, the Rural Opportunity Institute, focuses on people who have generational trauma (e.g., isolation, discrimination, racism), which can negatively impact the nervous system.8

Mani: We know that some entrepreneurs from the BIPOC community are often under invested. What are the drivers of that inequity, and what can be done to shift this reality?

Molly: Some of the inequities that we see today, like accumulation of wealth, equitable access to education and careers, and homeownership, can all be traced back to the beginnings of this country. The same is true of our funding gaps. About 30% of Americans identify as people of color, but only 4% of philanthropic capital goes to organizations led by people of color.9 There is work to do to shift mindsets and behaviors within philanthropy to address those funding disparities. For example, we all have affinity bias. A philanthropist might be more willing to trust an entrepreneur who has a similar background to them. It can be difficult to break the idea that people have to look like me or have experiences like me, for me to trust them. We believe that those closest to a community’s needs, assets, and experience hold the greatest expertise to address challenges. In many ways, this is still a different way of thinking in philanthropy.

Mani: Generation Z is more likely to report mental health concerns than older generations.10 According to our latest research, employers are in a critical position to support longer and healthier lives (see Employers can spark a movement to help us live longer and healthier lives). How can employers invest in younger generations to support their needs across their lifespan?

Molly: Employers need to be aware that this generation is going to demand holistic health benefits, including mental health. It requires a mindset shift around how communities and employers think about mental health. New Profit focuses on transformational change by changing the way people think about issues, facilitating relationships that improve power dynamics, and dismantling structures that keep inequities in place. Employers might need to shift their mindsets and behaviors to attract and retain young talent.

Mani: How important is it to build social capital to mobilize resources effectively, design more equitable solutions, and to meet some of the challenges that communities face?

Molly: The conversation around social capital is increasing. Research indicates that young people who have friendships across socio-economic backgrounds tend to have far better life outcomes.11 This is the idea that life outcomes are affected by what you know but also who you know. Who you know allows you to move differently in the world and offers more opportunity. When someone is launching an organization, they typically turn to their friends and family for financial support. Early boards of directors are even called Friends and Family boards. Their social capital is often directly connected to their ability to raise financial capital and to activate people around the organization’s mission. And those things together are essential for organizations to be successful and sustainable over time. 


As July comes to a close, marking the end of BIPOC Mental Health Month, it is important to recognize that the challenges of mental health equity persist beyond this designated month. Achieving equitable and inclusive mental health care will likely require the collective effort and cooperation of stakeholders and innovators from diverse sectors. Through collaboration and unity, it is possible to make a meaningful difference in the lives of individuals and their communities.

Latest news from @DeloitteHealth


1 New Profit--Our Story

2 Meet New Profit’s 2023 Mental Health Equity Catalyze Cohort, New Profit press release, May 22, 2023

3 Stress in America, American Psychological Association, 2020

4 Four opportunities to improve mental health in BIPOC communities, MedCity News, April 28, 2023

4 BIPOC Mental Health Month, Mental Health America, July 2023

5 Fathers' UpLift

6 Sista Afya Community Mental Wellness

7 Black Girls Smile Inc.

8 Rural Opportunity Institute

9 Transforming the social sector, New Profit

10 Gen Z more likely to report mental health concerns, American Psychological Association, January 2019

11 Social capital and economic mobility, Opportunity Insights/Harvard University, August 2022

This publication contains general information only and Deloitte is not, by means of this publication, rendering accounting, business, financial, investment, legal, tax, or other professional advice or services. This publication is not a substitute for such professional advice or services, nor should it be used as a basis for any decision or action that may affect your business. Before making any decision or taking any action that may affect your business, you should consult a qualified professional advisor.

Deloitte shall not be responsible for any loss sustained by any person who relies on this publication.

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