Innovation summary

Mental ill health is common among Botswana’s LGBTQI+ community, who also face significant barriers when accessing mental health services, due to discomfort or fear of disclosing. As a result, this experience is normalised as an inevitable part of being LGBTQI+ and very few people seek the help they need. We believe that poor mental health is not a consequence of our LGBTQI+ identities, but of the discrimination, isolation, and violence we face for who we are.

Open Hands is a community of peers dedicated to supporting one another’s mental health and ensuring those who need it can access the services they need. We are creating a network of care for LGBTQI+ people and their families to feel safe, connected and loved.

We run self-care groups, make referrals to specialist services, and raise awareness of mental health issues amongst this community.

Open Hands is a project by Friends of Diversity, an organisation who works more broadly to support Botswana's LGBTQI+ communities through outreach and practical support.


Impact summary

  • Over 200 LGBTQI+ people exposed to mental health care and being informed enough to make appropriate decisions to safeguard their mental health and well-being
  • 70% increased access to quality and comprehensive mental health care services by LGBTQI+ people in Botswana
  • The overall annual cost of implementing the project is $35k

Because of the Open Hands project, It is my pleasure to see LGBTQI+ people thrive in safeguarding their mental health wellbeing despite hostile environments they exist within, I am more hopeful that one day the world will be tolerant towards LGBTQI+ people."



- Neelo Pono, Service User

Innovation details

Problem addressed


This project is unique because it is practical and intimate in nature. This self -love therapy sessions initiative is one of its first kind designed particularly for LGBTQI+ persons in Botswana. At present, the current interventions from other organizations targeting the LGBTQI+ community are focused on the biomedical components such as HIV prevention and treatment. Moreover, there is more work done in legal reforms protecting the sexual rights of LGBTQI+ persons. However, little is done in ensuring that mental health and wellbeing for the LGBTQI+ community is advocated for, hence the need for this project.

Goal and Content

The idea behind this project is to help the LGBTQI+ community to internally reflect as stigma perpetuates internalized homophobia, biphobia and transphobia. The project through self-love sessions will create safe spaces for LGBTQI+ persons to share their lived experiences due to stigma existing within hostile environments. These sessions will be coordinated fan experienced social worker and other professional counsellors. The sessions will not be like other regular talk shops instead they will be more practical and life changing. In the end, the aim is for the LGBTQI+ community to develop a positive outlook of life and be inspired to reach their full potential despite the challenging circumstances. We aim to measure this through qualitative analysis, by keeping a record of the uptake of services along with follow up calls to analyse and understand the impact of these activities, especially in terms of social perception change and behavioural change.

Key drivers

  • LGBTQI+ community
  • Professional counsellors
  • Community leaders
  • Resources such as finance, technology, human resources


Lack of finance


There is no specific funding to implement the planned project activities, therefore we are unable to carry out the intended activities.


COVID-19 pandemic disruption

COVID-19 restrictions against public gatherings also interrupted us to carry some of the activities e.g.self-love workshops


  • Increased use of electronic communication such as telephones, social media and WhatsApp communication- plan in process to boost our Facebook page to reach more LGBTQI+ people
  • Enhanced Online counselling support services
  • Expand our geographical reach to reach out to more LGBTQI+ people



Evaluation methods

  • Attendance registers
  • M & E evaluation forms filled in by LGBTQI+ people
  • Feedback forms on the project
  • Feedback from our referral partners
  • Number of people the project is reaching
  • Administration of pre- and post-evaluation questionnaires

Cost of implementation

The overall cost of implementing the project is $35k. About 300 direct beneficiaries have been reached by Open Hand’s activities in 2020. This means that the cost per person of this innovation is less than 10USD per month.

Impact details

  • Number of people supported through support groups: (75 people attended in total). This is a unique approach because it promoted acceptance and spirituality because it allows LGBTQI+ persons to reflect internally.
  • Number of people supported through phone calls: (200 people have been reached through phone calls).  This provided a safe space of listening and understanding to members of the LGBTQI+ community.
  • Number of referrals done: (50 LGBTQI+ persons referred for advanced counselling)
  • Number of therapy referrals attended: (Only 30 LGBTQI+ persons attended). Referrals to therapy sessions has greatly assisted LGBTQI+ people in exposing them to positive alternatives of coping mechanisms.
  • Number of people reached through social media-Facebook (14,323 ppl). This has changed negative perceptions of LGBTQI+ people among families and communities.
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