Our new three-year strategy: Q&A with our CEO, Sarah Kline

We are delighted to announce that the Board of United for Global Mental Health has appointed Sarah Kline as CEO, as of 1st July 2021.


Sarah is a co-founder of UnitedGMH and served as Deputy CEO for the first three years. She was appointed interim CEO in February 2021 and led the development of the new three year strategy for the next phase of UnitedGMH’s work. We are now delighted to share our strategy for 2021-2024.

Over the next three years we will continue to focus our work on the areas in which we have built unique knowledge and expertise, and remain committed to our vision for a world where everyone, everywhere has someone to turn to for their mental health.

In a Q+A about her time at UnitedGMH and its plans for the next three years, Sarah shared some of her insights into the strategy development, and her hopes for the future of global mental health.

Q1) What have been your top three highlights in UnitedGMH’s journey to date and why?

There have been a lot of highlights in the past 3 years. It has been an exciting project right from the first moment when Elisha London approached me and Zander Woollcombe to help set up UnitedGMH. And I am honoured to be leading the next step in the organisation’s history as CEO with a new strategy that we have developed and will now deliver.

Three highlights for me personally have been first, our partners. The incredible work of our partners: sharing their joy and excitement when we work together to advocate nationally and globally for change. And the solidarity and mutual support we have built: meeting online early in the pandemic we shared what we were doing and encouraged each other to keep going. That spirit of partnership is so important to us.

Second, when we have put mental health on the global stage – in our own style! We organised an UNGA event in 2019 with the Deputy UN Secretary General, the President of the General Assembly, UN leaders, advocates and campaigners. We brought the Broadway cast of the musical “Dear Evan Hansen.” Hearing their voices carried across the UN lawn singing, “You Will Be Found,” was a special moment: mental health is here and part of the global agenda.

Third, the really positive response and the progress achieved thanks to our policy and financing work. It is really satisfying to see funding increasing and policies changing and being able to link those to our work and that of our partners. We are grounded in delivering our mission with our partners. Each step forward towards fulfilling our mission is a moment to celebrate.

Q2) How did you go about establishing the new 3 year strategy? What has been the process? 

We spoke to a wide range of stakeholders from around the world. We asked them to identify what is unique about us in terms of our approach and our core activities and how we can best serve the mental health community in the future.

Our stakeholders said what is unique about our approach is our neutrality, our expert-led way of working (including experts by lived experience), our focus on implementation and support rather than purely research, and our global mandate combined with our links to national groups. The activities they identified as unique to us include using our expertise in advocacy, financing and campaigning; providing a platform for multiple stakeholders to connect and collaborate; and recruiting new players to mental health from outside the mental health sector to fund and promote the issue.

Our 3-year strategy therefore reflects this advice.

Q3) What are the biggest opportunities for UnitedGMH to help improve access and quality investment in mental health?

Our stakeholders helped us identify the following opportunities to accelerate progress:

  • Leveraging the reforms demanded by the impact of COVID-19 to integrate mental health in universal health coverage
  • Leveraging the power and influence of global institutions, agencies and networks to generate political action and funding
  • Leveraging global health funds to accelerate substantial financing for mental health
  • Influencing bilateral and philanthropic donors considering investing in mental health
  • Building an independent accountability mechanism for progress
  • Supporting employers to develop and deliver better workplace mental health
  • Supporting citizen movements nationally and globally to drive change

Q4) UnitedGMH promotes collaboration and partnership work at its core, why do you think this is so important to the global mental health landscape? 

We strongly believe achieving change in mental health takes a multi-stakeholder approach. As UnitedGMH, we need to be humble. Many of our partners are much better placed than us to lead in certain areas as a result of their expertise and track record in their field, including experts by experience. We share a vision of good mental health for all. Our role is to support our partners in their journeys to achieve change, and to contribute our skills where we have unique expertise to achieve substantial impact. That is the approach we identify in our Theory of Change and will follow in our strategy.

Q5) What sort of partners do you work with? 

We are working with partners across a wide range of backgrounds including people with lived experience, governments, international agencies, civil society organisations, academics, national agencies, philanthropists and corporates. We have built the Speak Your Mind partnership, a nationally driven, globally united partnership between mental health organisations working in 19 countries around the world. And we have built the Global Mental Health Action Network, a community of over 1360 members from over 115 countries working together to increase political and financial action on mental health. Partnerships are core to our work.

Q6) What are UnitedGMH’s strategic areas of impact? How will these be measured? 

In the next 3 years UnitedGMH will measure success against 4 areas of strategic impact:

  • RIGHTS: Hold decision makers to account for the goals and targets they set on mental health including the Sustainable Development Goals
  • FINANCE: Substantially increase quality financing for mental health (target US$0.5 billion in 3 years)
  • SYSTEMS: Achieve mental health as fully integrated in government and donor health plans
  • EDUCATION: Build the mental health community’s advocacy and resource mobilisation capacity and increase its impact

Measures of success for these 4 areas include establishing an independent and highly credible global monitoring and accountability platform and annual report; a substantial increase in quality financing for mental health; the full integration of mental health and psychosocial support into key global strategies and national reforms; and significantly growing mental health advocacy capacity across the world, particularly in low-middle income countries.

Q7) Funding has been identified as a critical need for progress, where will UnitedGMH be looking to work with funders over the next three years to drive progress? 

Around the world, the current levels of government financing for mental health generally remain incredibly low. In a significant number of countries the levels of funding are so low that additional financing is required. Whilst full domestic government financing for mental health should be the priority for sustainable mental health systems, we see international aid and domestic and international philanthropic support as catalysts for domestic finance. And we want to revolutionise how mental health financing is directed: away from the bulk of spending on tertiary institutions and towards more effective community-based support for the majority of people who need it. That’s why we will work with our partners to help generate increased funding for mental health, spent in accordance with the right to good mental health and promoting access to quality services, particularly at community level.

Q8) As someone with lived experience of a mental health condition, how does that impact your leadership? What is UnitedGMH’s internal approach to mental health?

I live with a mental health condition – it does not define who I am but it is a part of my life. My own experiences of mental ill health were very tough and I am very grateful for all the support I received and continue to receive. I feel my lived experience gives me empathy and insights when speaking to others. But sharing lived experience means you are forced each time to relive things that are hard and can be quite personal so it is not something I do every day.

More broadly, I hope everyone can appreciate and respect the courage it takes those who share their lived experience. I see people being encouraged to open up but that can take its toll and needs to be done with a clear purpose and outcome that will be positive for those asked to do so. I frequently encourage people who are asked to share their lived experience to be very sure it is in their best interest to do so and feel they only do it from the perspective of empowering themselves.

In terms of our organisation, while we are obviously talking about mental health every day, we also need to focus on those issues internally too. We ensure everyone has basic training to equip them with knowledge on mental health; managers have training in mental health first aid; and we have strong safeguarding policies in place given the many people we work with who have their own experiences and needs when it comes to mental health. We can always do more – it is important to keep learning and reflecting on how best to support people to have good mental health.

Q9) As CEO of UnitedGMH – what’s your approach/one wish for the future? 

Many individuals and communities, particularly the most marginalised groups in our societies, suffer stigma and discrimination due to their mental health needs and do not receive support. I am committed to addressing these challenges through our work in partnership with others.

I have asked the team – hold in your hearts someone you may know or someone you can visualise who will benefit from our work; think about how you can best serve them, why you are here and what you can do. Individually and collectively, we have a lot to contribute; we need to always think about how we can grow, learn and adapt to serve others best. I am committed to ensuring we are mission driven, open and transparent, and ready to adapt and deliver in partnership with others.

Sam Brown, Chair of UnitedGMH board:

“On behalf of the UnitedGMH board, I am delighted to welcome the launch of UnitedGMH’s new three-year strategy. I want to thank the many stakeholders who contributed their insights and recommendations; and all those with whom UnitedGMH has worked over the past three years. The board and staff of UnitedGMH are excited by the challenge we have set: to achieve a world where everyone, everywhere has someone to turn to in support of their mental health. The three-year strategy will help us meet this challenge with the commitment and focus it demands.”


Babita Sharma, UnitedGMH Trustee & BBC journalist:

“As UnitedGMH’s newest board member, what immediately struck me about the organisation was how much impact there was in the first three years. I am excited to see the team, partners and wider global mental health community use this refined vision to accelerate even greater progress over the next three years. As a journalist, I am particularly proud to see the championing of lived experience at the heart of its strategy. UnitedGMH will be working hard to increase investment in mental health and ensure vital access to services and support for all those who need it.”