How Albert Suyanto's MBA skills are helping people with a mental illness
Melbourne Business School student Albert Suyanto has already had an impact on Australia's health system – even before graduating.
Albert is a Full-time MBA student who completed an internship with not-for-profit employment services provider WISE Employment during his studies.
As part of the internship, Albert undertook a financial analysis that has helped ensure the future of a program helping people living with a mental illness enter the workforce.
Caroline Crosse, Director of Innovation, Mental Health and Employment at WISE, says Albert's work proved critical to continuing the pioneering WISE Ways to Work program.
"I was talking to someone recently who said their son never came out of the bedroom, but has just started work and is now talking to his family, watching telly and eating with them," she says.
"They hadn't realised that part of his being stuck in the bedroom was his sense of worthlessness and lack of purpose. If you don't have access to work, you often have no identity and feel like you don't exist."
WISE Ways to Work helps people with a mental illness build key skills such as concentration, memory, problem-solving, communication skills and mental and physical health management in preparation for employment.
Albert's challenge was to match the cost of delivering the seven-month Employ Your Mind vocational rehabilitation component of WISE Ways to Work to more than 600 payment categories available to community support services providers under Australia's new $22-billion National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS).
With a background in economic modelling, Albert says his MBA skills – gained with the help of a Rupert Murdoch Fellowship – proved to be the most useful for his work at WISE.
"My project was about understanding all the costs in delivering the program and whether the NDIS categories would match the activities and provide enough revenue," he says.
"The problem was quite simple – what is the cost, where is the revenue, and is there a gap?"
By simplifying the problem, collecting data on every single program cost and matching them to the detailed NDIS funding requirements, Caroline says Albert gave WISE exactly what it needed to know if it could continue the program.
"Albert's analysis gave us the confidence to commit to test-running the NDIS, at a time when there is still some uncertainty about it in the community mental health sector," she says.
"His work has clarified what we are able to deliver and what the NDIS funds will and won't cover."
Caroline says part of the challenge was due to the NDIS system of funding approved face-to-face activities broken into hourly chunks of time, rather than taking a whole-package approach to programs like Employ Your Mind and WISE Ways to Work.
“However since Albert did his analysis, they have made some changes and now recognise that they need to fund some non-face-to-face activities, which is good news," Caroline says.
WISE is confident it can deliver the program with NDIS funding – which is an outcome that makes Albert very pleased, after having seen it in action.
"I met a lot of participants who said they really want to work because they want to contribute to society and feel normal," he says.
"The language they use is 'we want to be mainstream', which I thought was very touching and inspiring."
Albert saw firsthand how the program assists people with a mental illness slowly gain the work and social skills they need to hold down a job and break the sense of isolation that can lead to suicide.
"I was at WISE when a participant said 'I'm having suicidal thoughts'," he remembers.
"One of the coaches really stuck by him, saying: 'Look, I'm really here for you. Let's get through this. Don't go home yet. Talk to me about it.' That really impressed me."
Caroline says the Employ Your Mind and broader WISE Ways to Work program is the only one of its kind she knows of in Australia, and could pave the way for addressing a major problem in the community.
"The 80 to 100 people that we plan to get through our pilot program are only a tiny proportion of the number who need it. About one in five Australians have some sort of mental health condition, so it affects virtually every family," she says.
"Without programs like ours, some of them could be pushed off the grid, with often tragic consequences for the family and community."
As well as receiving pilot funding from the Department of Health and Human Services, the Ian Potter Foundation and Gandel Philanthropy, the WISE Ways to Work program is supported by organisations including Melbourne Water, and not-for-profit technology company Infoxchange who provide work experience and employment opportunities. To learn more about it, visit the WISE Employment website.