One-on-One: Gabrielle Fialkoff, Director of the Office for Strategic Partnerships

One-on-One: Gabrielle Fialkoff, Director of the Office for Strategic Partnerships

August 12, 2015

Gabrielle Fialkoff, the Director of the Office of Strategic Partnerships for Mayor Bill de Blasio, stopped by the NYN offices to talk about the Mayor Fund's exciting announcement: A $30 Million public-private partnership to deliver mental health services to low-income New Yorkers called Connections to Care. Fialkoff explained the genesis of the program, as well as the RFP process as the Mayor's Fund hopes to partner with a dozen community organizations to deliver services.


NYN: Welcome to New York Nonprofit Media. I am Jeff Stein, and I am here with Gabrielle Fialkoff, the Executive Director of the Office of Strategic Partnerships. She is here on behalf of the Mayor’s Fund, which announced this week a $30 million program for mental health services for low-income New Yorkers. It is going to represent a very large public-private partnership, bringing together the city, foundations, and obviously connecting with a number of community organizations. It would be great to hear about the whole genesis of the program, and also announcements as they are coming along. 

GF: Thank you so much for having me in to talk about this very exciting partnership. It is called Connections to Care, and it is a partnership with the Corporation for National and Community Service and their Social Innovation Fund. So it is a $30 million partnership between CNCS and the Mayor’s Fund, and we will be partnering with local community-based organizations. The grant came out of the need to increase access to mental health services for low-income New Yorkers. It will be a five-year study, where we will train staff in community-based organizations, like an early learn center, or an employment center, to, while they are working with their clients, understand the signs of mental health stress and to give counseling and referrals. We will train staff in techniques that early evidence shows have positive outcomes in decreasing mental health issues, but also increasing success in employment, decreasing hospitalizations, decreasing incarcerations – there is a lot of interesting early data. So we will be partnering with about a dozen community-based organizations, who will form a partnership with a mental health provider, which will train their staff and stay involved in ongoing ways, monitoring how they do very closely. 

NYN: Just to provide a little insight for listeners, what is the general roadmap, or timetable, of the program? I am sure a lot of people will be interested in getting involved and finding out more. 

GF: We will be putting out an RFP in September and asking for applications and responses from our community-based organizations and their partner mental health providers. We will be evaluating those through the winter, and hope to launch in the spring. It is very exciting, it is very fast moving, and we will have about a dozen partners. What is particularly interesting is that we are going to have different types of providers. So we really encourage anybody with an innovative idea in this space to apply. We are looking for interesting programming, new ideas, and a commitment to addressing mental health issues for low-income New Yorkers who lack enough adequate services. 

NYN: I would love to get your thoughts on bringing together the different spheres and layers in this space to affect positive change for New Yorkers. This obviously includes community-based organizations, nonprofits, the philanthropy side, and also government. What are the challenges and also the rewards of bringing together all those players?

GF: We established my office, the Office of Strategic Partnerships, when we came into office a year-and-a-half ago. We really saw a need for a connection: a connection between government, nonprofits, and the private sector. We think about that coming together of public and private partnerships as a new way to change the lives of New Yorkers and our citizens, not only to test innovative new programming, which is important, but also to use the scale of government. What we have is the scale of government, what the private sectors brings is a flexibility of funding and speed, and we have this incredible knowledge base and track record in our nonprofits. Bringing them together, I think we have had some really interesting successes to point to, certainly this grant being the biggest that we are proud to announce thus far. We really hope that this office can serve as a national model as well for a new way to do government, and a new thinking about it – not just thinking government solely, but bringing together the resources of New York City. We have got incredible corporate citizens, corporate partners, and New Yorkers who are so generous. I would imagine that we have one of the largest, or the largest, nonprofit community in the country. Bringing it all together is just such a great way to leverage resources and assets in a new way.  

NYN: We spoke before the interview about the over-arching policy ideas. Why mental health? Why is this the first real issue that the Mayor’s Fund is trying to tackle? 

GF: There are a few reasons that this came to be. Certainly the personal experiences of First Lady Chirlane McCray, who is the Chair of the Mayor’s Fund, have shaped her desire to be involved in this issue. She has spoken quite a bit about parents who suffered from depression and Chiara de Blasio, their daughter, who has suffered from substance abuse and is in recovery. So it is a very personal issue for her. Then we look to the larger landscape of what is happening in our city and public policy, and addressing this issue from a criminal justice point of view, from a homelessness point of view, from a medical point of view. The First Lady often says that one in four New Yorkers have mental health issues. If it were the flu, that would be unacceptable. We have to start thinking about mental health in a broader context as affecting everything we do. We think about opportunity and access, and we think about how to address the income inequality crisis. If you have mental health issues, and they are keeping you from working, affecting your family, or affecting your education, those are underlying issues we have got to deal with. From a public policy point of view, from a public partnership point of view, we see this as really touching every area of the work we want to do to address income inequality. 

NYN: As a final question, what sort of advice do you have for nonprofits who are both looking to get involved in this specific program, and more broadly looking to connect with the aims of the mayor in dealing with the health and human services crises of the city? 

GF: For Connections to Care, we are, as I mentioned, really looking forward to hearing from the many wonderful nonprofits in the city doing interesting, innovative, important work. I encourage everybody to call the Mayor’s Fund – it is also online – and get involved and find out how to participate in the RFP. We welcome everybody’s interest. From a broader point of view, certainly there are so many critical issues in our city, and there is a mental health crisis that we want to address. We ask people to stay involved and get involved. We work with so many incredible contract partners throughout every city agency. Staying connected to the city and what we are doing is how we truly achieve success on the public policy side. We see the nonprofit community as integral to our work – it is, and it has to be.