Collaborate. Learn. Lead. These key actions were on full display at a dynamic International Leadership Exchange held last week in Washington, D.C. Hosts were the International Initiative for Mental Health Leadership (IIMHL) and the International Initiative for Disability Leadership (IIDL). The conference theme was “Leading the Way Forward: Access, Accountability, and Action.”
Each of the words in this theme does resonate clearly in each of the IIMHL member countries: Australia, Canada, England, Ireland, Netherlands, New Zealand, Scotland, Sweden, and the United States. Each member country is struggling to improve care access, increase service accountability and undertake actions to engage all groups in the leadership of our services.
More than 750 participants from the nine member countries assembled at the Capital Hilton to collaborate on addressing these issues in order to learn together, and then to go home and lead. The conference included three tracks: IIMHL, IIDL and the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors (NASMHPD). The latter organization held its annual meeting in the context of the Leadership Exchange.
The opening session included very moving comments, music, and poetry by three youthful peers: Emily Ladau, William Kellibrew and Tunchai Redvers. A plenary session on Disruptive Innovation and Accountability led by Devora Kestel, Director of Mental Health and Substance Abuse at the World Health Organization, followed. Two other plenaries also followed on member country action reports and on longstanding IIMHL collaborative initiatives. These plenaries were interspersed with breakout sessions that examined a large number of collaborative “matches” that were held on service issues such as suicide, care fragmentation, and diversity and inclusion, at various sites in the US and Canada in the several days preceding the conference.
The final day brought additional breakout sessions and plenaries. Included were a youth panel plenary and a session on Building Healthy Communities for Impact at Scale by Tyler Norris, CEO of the Wellbeing Trust.
Throughout the conference, music and dance from the area’s black and Chinese communities created a festive tone and fostered good will and empathy among all participants.
Going forward, two key developments highlighted during the conference must receive our continuing attention. First, New Zealand has just released its first national budget which includes specific allocations for improving wellbeing of its citizens. What are the implications of this for the US? Second, it is very clear that increasing diversity among those seeking services must be addressed by more effective inclusion of peers, youth and indigenous groups in the leadership of our services. How will we accomplish this in the US?
The next International Leadership Exchange will be held 18 months from now, on March 1-5, 2021, in Christchurch, New Zealand. Please consider attending. I know that you will benefit from it greatly, just as I did this past week.