The Argument for Holistic Approaches

We like to put things into nice, neat categories. It helps us organize. It allows us to rely on well-honed heuristics that pre-determine assumptions about an idea or an organization. We do this every day in thousands of covert ways to make our lives more efficient and psychologically satisfying.

We also do this with our community change organizations. We have housing organizations. We have mental health organizations. We have civic organizations. We sometimes talk about these as sectors and emphasize the need for enhanced “cross-sector collaboration”. We less often acknowledge that these sectors are in many ways artificial. They were created by us and are maintained by us.

This dividing of the boundaries of helping organizations (and the funding that supports them) often leads us to ineffective approaches in part because they fail to acknowledge that the outcomes we seek — reduced poverty, improved well-being, declines in infant mortality, etc — are all connected on fundamental (and often causal) levels.

I just finished reading a very nice National Bureau of Economic Research paper entitled ‘Poverty, Depression, and Anxiety: Causal Evidence and Mechanisms’. In short, this review highlights something that we all discuss intuitively — poverty and mental health are inextricably linked.

Unfortunately, our social service system is not built to deal with this reality. We have incredible programs (although clearly not enough of them) that connect people to mental health services and supports to prevent and treat adverse symptoms. We have dynamic initiatives that help people emerge from poverty by improving employment, increasing financial skills, and expanding education. Yet, too often, these resources are disconnected across sectors with the assumption being that they are separate issues. While the mental health/poverty dichotomy is poignant, the same could be said in other areas we well.

These lines were created by us and can be changed by us. We need to embrace holistic approaches that don’t do one thing or another — or even take one thing and tack on another — but perhaps combine the efforts, in an integrated and intentional approach that doesn’t see one thing as adjacent to another, but considers them in concert together. This has potential to change how we strategize, how we partner with others, how we distribute funds, and — perhaps — how we structure our organizations as a whole.

We are working hard at this every day at Norwescap, building an integrated system for comprehensive participant support. Follow our journey and leave your idea, question, or comment below so we can learn from each other.

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