CAIA CEO Misak Ohanian at HEAR Pan-Equality Network

HEAR is a pan-equality network of London equality and human rights voluntary and community sector organisations which CAIA is a member. On 7th September 2018, London’s Living Room, City Hall, was the fantastic environment for a major event organised by HEAR entitled” Working for Equality with the GLA and Statutory Sector colleagues: Achievements and the Way Ahead for Influence in Decisions and Policy”

The event included feedback from HEAR members on the Mayor’s recently published Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Strategy and discuss how equalities groups in London can more effectively influence decisions and policy.

Misak Ohanian, CEO of the CAIA was also one of several voluntary sector groups who talked about how they are working together to improve access to mental health support for BME Londoners. Below is his message.

I was born in the island of Cyprus to an Armenian refugee family who had survived the Armenian Genocide committed by the Ottomans during the First World War.

When I was young I spent a lot of time at the beach, swimming in the sea. For those who are also born or lived in islands they will know that going to the beach is an affordable and inexpensive form of entertainment for families.

While swimming in the sea I admired the diversity of the fishes. The wonderful vibrant colours and wonderful eco system.

While travelling on the underground for today’s meeting to central London I could not help but be reminded of the above and noticed that the people travelling with me were also extremely diverse, their sound, smells, coloured costumes, large and small, men and women, young and old and the disabled, the tourists and migrant, buskers and beggars. Over 300 language are spoken in London. Each bringing their own culture, individuality and identity to this multi-culturally diverse city.

Yet just as in the sea, the environment we live in is very challenging. Everyone rushing around doing their best to make a living. The big fish eating the smaller fish.

A recent report entitled “The value of small and medium sized organisations” commissioned by the Lloyds Foundation makes an impressive case of the role they make. Worth Reading.

The coming together of various communities to work together therefore is an excellent example of their value and contribution to their communities and wider society.

An example of this small community organisation/communities of working together is the Mental Equality Campaign that we are parts of, bringing together Armenians, Tamils, Somalis and others to express their unmet needs to improve their communities.

However, we face several challenges;

Recently we managed to convince Ealing Council that instead of contracts they offer should offer grants in the new 4-year commission round.

All but one. Regarding Mental Health commission they insisted on contracts.

When asked why this week to a representative from Ealing CCG, I was informed that it was because this is what Mental health providers wanted during the consultation.

I wondered why? On reflection was this not a way to continue to exclude smaller BMER & Equalities groups who may have had the chance to bid to deliver such services.

The impact of this significant. It’s not just about the monopolizing the available funds on offer.

We already have the experience of these providers cherry picking the staff from community groups such as mine after we spend years training, nurturing and supporting their careers. They want our expertise because they know they cannot offer the culturally sensitive/appropriate mental health activities we can. Meantime they often approach us to seek access to our community/service users and view us as only feeders to their services to justify the numbers they need to provide outputs and outcomes.

As a result of this we, as community organisations are never able to compete, develop new mental health or other services.

Commissioners when making decisions need to be aware of these implications, and understand that by pursuing such policies they will eventually not be able to engage with us and smaller so-called hard to reach communities.

Hence the value of our Mental health Equality campaign which has enabled us to engage with Commissioners. There is strength in numbers and in diversity. I thank ROTA for giving us a voice to express these views and I thank HEAR for hearing us in this struggle.