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LGBTIQ Refugee Voices: a Professional Training in Kenya

The trainings will build bridges between LGBTIQ asylum seekers and refugees in Kenya, the local community and the government.

Photo of Anna Fontanini

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What problem does the idea help to solve and how does your solution work? (2,000 characters maximum)

LGBTIQ individuals around the world face severe violence and persecution based on their sexual orientation or gender identity and expression (SOGIE) in their country of origin. Forced to flee their homes, these sexual and gender minorities (SGM) cross international borders to find themselves in foreign countries, often with a similar social, religious and legal context. Although Kenya hosts thousands of LGBTIQ asylum seekers and refugees from neighboring African countries, same-sex activity is criminalized. Social stigmatization against SGMs are deeply embedded in Kenyan society. Whilst asylum seekers flee to Kenya to seek international protection, the difficulties faced by the LGBTIQ community persist. Without the financial resources to travel to Europe, the US or Canada legally, they apply for refugee status in Kenya, hoping to be resettled eventually in a safe third country. Navigating the asylum system in a country like Kenya is extremely difficult as the interviewers, decision-makers and camp staff are officers of the Kenyan government (Refugees Affairs Secretariat) and some of these staff hold homophobic or transphobic views. This in turn makes SGMs unwilling to disclose their SOGIE and seek international protection on this basis, but with no other reason to ask for asylum their claims will get rejected. ORAM’s goal, together with local partners on the ground such as Team No Sleep and Hoymas, is to develop a training program to sensitize RAS officers working with LGBTIQ asylum seekers to the unique issues this population faces. We believe that a well-thought out open discussion on the topic can help sensitize people and make them more understanding of the matter. The training program will enable SGMs to become key actors in the process of shaping a fairer refugee status determination process, while enabling them to gain transferable life skills and build bridges to create a social network. Ultimately, SGMs will become active participants in their own lives.

Geography of focus (500 characters)

Kenya is one of the largest hosting countries in Africa, with 474,044 registered asylum seekers and refugees. Whilst Kenya is far from a safe haven for SGMs, it is the only country in the region where it is even possible to seek asylum based on SOGIE. However, this does not mean that the systems work fairly and SGMs are still subject to extreme risks.

Building Bridges: What bridge does your idea build between people on the move and neighbors towards a shared future of stability and promise? (500 characters)

Our goal is to build bridges between LGBTIQ refugees and asylum seekers, the Community-based Organizations (CBOs) they belong to, local LGBTIQ NGOs and the authorities. This enables systematic change to be made from the ground up. Decision-makers are often detached from the people whose lives they determine, but this training program would ensure first-hand engagement with the community to enact informed and influential changes.

What human need is your idea solving for? (1,000 characters)

After fleeing their homes, many LGBTIQ asylum seekers and refugees often live in isolation, not daring to disclose their SOGIE. Therefore, many fail to receive international protection. Those who do reveal themselves to the authorities, are often not given fair access to the asylum procedure. Without being granted asylum, SGMs live in limbo, unable to go back home, access rights within Kenya or be resettled. By playing an active part in shaping the refugee status determination process their hope for a better future will be restored. Through the development and implementation of the training program, SGMs will connect with local groups who share similar experiences, giving them a sense of belonging to a greater community. SGMs will also gain interpersonal and transferable skills which can contribute positively to their future employability and well-being. This in turn, will provide a sense of empowerment and hope, as they will be part of shaping and implementing system-wide change.

What will be different within the community of focus as a result of implementing your idea? (1,000 characters)

Our aim is to make SGMs feel less isolated by connecting them to local groups and enabling them to develop and deliver the training programs together. SGMs will gain a greater understanding of the refugee status determination process and have the opportunity to shape decisions concerning their own community. This will enable them to teach others about the asylum processes and how to access it, ensuring that more SGMs in Kenya are granted international protection based on their SOGIE. Additionally, during the development of the training programs, they will learn a variety of skills enabling them to enter the job market in Kenya as well as other countries if they are to be resettled. In order to track progress, ORAM will conduct regular surveys and focus groups with LGBTIQ refugees about their experiences training RAS officers to measure progress, monitor wellbeing and collect critical information for refining the program.

What is the inspiration behind your idea? (1,000 characters)

ORAM has been advocating for and supporting LGBTIQ asylum seekers and refugees in transit countries worldwide for over a decade and we have come to understand the unique needs as well as the difficulties of working in a space where the topic LGBTIQ is so contentious. By staying in close contact with our beneficiaries on the ground, as well as local stakeholders, we ensure our programs are tailored to the specific needs of each region and area we work in. However, whilst we are in close contact with people fleeing because of their SOGIE, in countries where the topic is highly contentious, decision-makers have often not met or spoken to a member of the LGBTIQ community from their own country, let alone someone seeking asylum on this basis. We believe that creating a connection between beneficiaries and service providers is key to building a sustainable solution. An open communication between LGBTIQ refugees and asylum seekers and officials will foster positive change.

Describe the dynamics of the community in which the idea is to be implemented. (1,000 characters)

The training program is primarily directed to serve asylum seekers and refugees who have fled their countries of origin based on their SOGIE and are currently seeking asylum in Kenya, but will also subsequently benefit government officers and decision-makers in the asylum process, as it will give them the tools needed to make an informed decision and process claims on such basis. Many SGMs have experienced severe trauma in their home countries as well as on their journey in search of a better life. Despite this, the community is full of inner strength, hope and resilience, but currently they are rarely given the opportunity to present their ideas and lived experiences to those who matter, the Kenyan state asylum officers. In partnership with grassroots and refugee-led community-based organizations, we aim to create an infrastructure that enables asylum seekers and refugees to express their concerns and enter into a dialogue with those in power, while those in power actively engage.

How does your idea leverage and empower community strengths and assets to help create an environment for success? (1,000 characters)

The training program will bring together LGBTIQ refugees, community-based organizations, local grassroots organizations and the authorities. Currently most training is delivered by professional experts, but we believe that there is no one more suited for this than the refugees themselves with their personal experiences, skills, determination and resilience. Local small grassroots organizations and community-based organizations also have expert knowledge of the region and experience of working in the given space, but often lack the resources needed to implement projects and change. By supporting and empowering LGBTIQ refugees and local organizations ORAM believes that together we can build a fairer asylum process, enabling SGMs to live with dignity.

What other partners or stakeholders will work alongside you in implementing the idea, if any? (1,000 characters)

ORAM will partner with Hoymas, one of the leading advocacy and service provision organizations in Kenya mandated to serve sex workers, men who have sex with men and men living with HIV and AIDS. In recent years they have developed expertise working with the LGBTIQ refugee community living in Nairobi and conduct a variety of capacity-building and training sessions. Additionally, we will partner with Team No Sleep, a local LGBTIQ refugee-run CBO that provides safe spaces and livelihoods for LGBTIQ refugees in Kenya and advocates for their rights. Through these two local organizations, we hope to involve many more people on the ground, in order to ensure the training module is well-informed. Crucially, the LGBTIQ asylum seekers and refugees themselves will be involved in shaping and implementing the training programs from start to finish.

What part of the displacement journey is your solution addressing

  • Being on the move, crossing borders, and/or temporarily settled

Tell us how you'd describe the type of innovation you are proposing

  • Channel: A new way to deliver existing products or services to customers or end users

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Prototype: We have done some small tests or experiments with prospective users to continue developing the idea.

Group or Organization Name

ORAM, Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration

Tell us more about your group or organization [or lived experience as a displaced person?] (1000 characters)

ORAM, Organization for Refuge, Asylum and Migration specializes in the protection of LGBTIQ asylum seekers and refugees. Over the last decade, we have worked with LGBTIQ asylum seekers and refugees in transit countries worldwide, providing legal representation and guidance during their asylum claims. Since 2008, ORAM has trained hundreds of refugee and asylum professionals from the UNHCR, local government agencies and NGOs all over the world. We have trained adjudicators, refugee status determination officers, interpreters and a number of front-line staff. Our training programs build on years of direct experience with refugees, rigorous research and best practices for trainers of intercultural groups. We have already begun some of the ground level work in Kenya, connecting with local LGBTIQ organizations, CBOs and LGBTIQ asylum seekers and refugees in the camps and in Nairobi and conducting preliminary trainings with some LGBTIQ asylum seekers and refugees.

Website URL:

Type of submitter

  • We are a registered Non-Profit Organization

Organization Headquarters: Country

United States

Organization Headquarters: City / State

Minneapolis, Minnesota

In preparation for expert feedback: What are three unanswered questions or challenges that you could use support on in these categories? These questions will be answered directly by experts matched specifically to your idea. (600 characters)

1. What additional tools do you recommend to measure the impact on the beneficiaries? (government officials + Community Based Organizations+ refugees) 2. How do we include fluctuations of the legal and political context into the calculation of our margin of risk? (E.g. closing of borders, migration policies, violence directed at beneficiaries) 3. How do you effectively support a partner in the distribution and allocation of funds from a distance?

Did you use the resources offered during the Improve Phase (mentorship, expert feedback, community research)? (2000 characters)

Yes, we used the offered resources during the Improve phase and found them extremely useful. The User Experience Map was a useful tool to test the ideas from a beneficiary point of view, it allowed us to identify the gaps and address them. It also enabled us to visualize the global impact of the idea. The Evaluation criteria guided us along the right path to a successful idea. We repeatedly consulted Improve Phase Toolkit in order to keep on track and leverage all the resources offered throughout the process. Our Community Research came through the exchanges we had with our partner organizations in Kenya in order to co-create and improve on the idea. Our refugee-led partners Team No Sleep recommended that we incorporate educational training sessions for asylum seekers and refugees about the asylum process, rights and obligations and any other information gaps. Maisara, our mentor and a person on the move herself, provided feedback on the desirability of our idea. She was very positive and enthusiastic, and made three suggestions: 1) She underlined the value of a mental health specialist during the training in order to avoid triggering trauma with the refugees delivering the training; 2) She addressed the issue of bringing a holistic approach to the idea and providing information about additional LGBTIQ friendly services during the training sessions; And 3) She mentioned the need for the project to be expanded to different stakeholders. The Expert Feedback has been extremely useful, especially on an internal level and technical side of the project. He provided suggestions on different tools that we can use to measure impact, risk strategies to take into account when operating in fluctuating political and social contexts, and valuable advice on how to better support our partners on the ground. Lastly, we received positive feedback and support from our fellow participants on the platform, as well as interesting opportunities for collaboration.

In what ways would potential BridgeBuilder funds allow you to pursue your idea that other funding opportunities have not? (1000 characters)

The Bridge Builder 2019 Challenge encourages, rewards and even requires us to build new bridges between people on the move and host communities. This is unique to the funding opportunities we have pursued in recent years and very much in line with our work supporting vulnerable LGBTIQ refugees often excluded from society. The 36-month implementation period gives us enough time to implement our idea effectively. Three years are fundamental to the successful development and implementation of our project, ending in long-term sustainability. This fund also encourages ideation from the bottom up. The focal point of the challenge is Human Centered Design, allowing us to develop an idea build around – and together with – LGBTIQ refugees who become the change agents in this solution. Participation in the challenge is open without constraints, and when working with marginalized groups this is an essential criterion that is not always present in other funding opportunities.

What aspects or proportion of the overall idea would potential BridgeBuilder funds primarily support? (1000 characters)

The funds will cover research, development, implementation and assessment expenses over a 36-month period. This includes: the partners’ and our salaries for time spent on this project, refugee trainers’ salaries, cost of transportation for refugee trainer participants, IT contractor salary, training materials developed for the training sessions, learning materials (pencils, paper, pens, whiteboards),ORAM’s travel expenses to Nairobi, Kenya during the development, implementation and monitoring phase, space rental, expansion of the idea to different organizations that work with refugees and training of other stakeholders in Kenya.The funds will also cover the costs for educational training sessions for asylum seekers and refugees, including meals and transportation for the attendees.Lastly, we would also cover the costs for mental health support for the refugee trainers, as recommended by our mentor. We estimate an amount of $180,000- $200,000 to support these activities over 36 months.

What are the key steps or activities for your idea for implementation in the next 1-3 years? (1000 characters)

YEAR 1:Month 1–3:Preparation and research -Build relationship with governmental officials and conduct surveys with partners on the ground -Collect and analyze of data -Draft training content Month 4–6:Research and development -Research training method most suitable to users’ feedback -Develop training material and determine employment contracts -Finalize first training with partners Month 7–9:Pre-implementation -Meet partners on the ground -Decide logistics: space, material, gadgets, catering -Prototype: mock training session Month 10-12:Implementation -Deliver first training session+ORAM support -Listen and incorporate feedback into training -Adjust training accordingly YEAR 2:Towards sustainability -Monitor training sessions, collect feedback -Partners to conduct sessions+employ new recruits among refugees -Start measuring impact with inquiries among asylum seekers YEAR 3:Sustainability -Expand to new stakeholders -Adjust training and indicators -Measure impact

What will community-level impact look like over the timeframe of your idea? How will you determine whether or not you have achieved that impact? And what outstanding questions do you still have? (1000 characters)

Impact: by 2023 we aim to reach two main goals: 1.Training 100 refugees: empowerment by teaching skills such as public speaking, delivering training sessions, writing skills and will provide refugees with employment opportunities, as well as an income. 2.Improvement in the asylum process regarding LGBTIQ asylum claims: less homophobia and transphobia among refugee professionals, resulting in better treatment of LGBTIQ asylum seekers and an increase in positive decisions regarding LGBTIQ asylum claims. As suggested in our expert feedback, we will measure impact through online pre and post-training surveys completed by participants of the training sessions and the local trainers. Throughout year three, ORAM intends to survey newly arrived LGBTIQ asylum seekers in order to compare their experiences to those who arrived before the trainings, ensuring that the registration of and decision-making on LGBTIQ claims is effective and leads to more positive decisions.

Describe the individual or team that will implement this idea (if a partnership, please explain breakdown of roles and responsibilities for each entity). (1000 characters)

Team No Sleep is a refugee-led community-based organization based in Nairobi. Their personal journeys and lived experiences throughout their flight and asylum process in Kenya make them the perfect trainers. In year two they will also be responsible for recruiting new refugees to deliver the trainings, in order to be as inclusive as possible. Hoymas is a Kenyan NGO, founded to support men who have sex with men and sex workers and have expanded their focus to serve the LGBTIQ community more broadly, including asylum seekers and refugees. They have experience in delivering trainings in Kenya and working with vulnerable groups in the country. They will therefore provide input throughout the development of the trainings sessions and support the refugees during the training itself. ORAM has over a decade of experience in LGBTIQ asylum issues in a variety of geographical locations around the world and has trained government officials and thousands of refugee professionals on the topic.

Lastly, how did you apply new learnings to your idea? (1000 characters)

Based on the expert feedback we have incorporated surveys for monitoring the implementation phases. Additionally, we will create different scenarios for potential risks.This will be done through continuous exchange with our partners on the ground and updates on the political landscape.These regular meetings will also enable us to keep track of funding and milestones. Our mentor suggested providing mental health support for the refugees delivering the trainings.Counselling will be offered by Hoymas, who have years of experience in the field. We will also refer the LGBTIQ refugees to other LGBTIQ-friendly services, especially vocational training and employment opportunities. Following our mentor’s advice, we will also expand the training sessions to other stakeholders in Kenya working with refugees. We connected with UNHCR and HIAS, organizations on the ground who have previously offered sensitization training in Kenya. They stressed the need for trainings manifested by the government


Join the conversation:

Photo of An Old Friend

Hi Anna Fontanini ,

Thanks for providing such thought provoking questions! Here a few notes below to help you move forward:

1. I recommend using survey tools to measure impact on beneficiaries you are engaging directly. There are a number of different solutions available online to meet your needs and create unique questions for each user group (government officials, cbo, and refugees). This will give you a good sense on where to pivot or iterate in your programming and get receive direct insights from the community you are serving.

2. The best way to account for future legal fluctuations in policy would be to create different scenarios for each potential risk. Spend some time mapping each risk by capturing feedback and various perspectives from your team to hedge and be prepared for things to come that may directly impact your work. It will also be helpful to continue reading news articles, blogs, and stay up to date on the political landscape.

3. The best way to support a partner from afar is to create a clear roadmap for each of you to follow and hold each other accountable. Make sure the goals are mission aligned with one another and host regular meetings to keep track of funding and key milestones identified by both parties.

Photo of Anna Fontanini

Hi Chris McLemore ,
Thank you very much for your important feedback, we are working on incorporating it to the proposal!

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