Grand Challenges Canada

In partnership with Global Affairs Canada, Grand Challenges Canada has awarded $250K CAD in seed funding for 20 mental health innovations in low- and middle-income countries.

More than half of the 20 selected innovations are youth-led and aim to tackle mental health challenges using digital technology, storytelling, and community-based care. Many of the innovations are female-led, and several focus on addressing the needs of those disproportionately affected by mental health challenges, including LGBTQIA+ youth, Indigenous youth, youth living with HIV and youth living in conflict and post-conflict settings.

The breakdown of the 20 innovations part of the second cohort of the Global Mental Health program include: 3 technology-based innovations, 3 arts, games or sports-based innovations, 4 LGBTGIA+ focused innovations, 10 peer-to-peer-based innovations. 35% of the cohort are female-led projects. 75% of the projects are based in sub-Saharan African and 60% of the organization are youth-led.

An overview of the 20 mental health innovations awarded seed funding.

Meet the Innovators:

  1. Alika Health Initiative, Tumaini Wellness ACEs innovation for children and youth in children’s homes in Nakuru, Kenya

Tumaini Wellness is a peer-led mental health innovation that aims to provide nurturance and quality mental health care to at-risk youth affected by Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs) in seven children’s homes in Nakuru, Kenya. The innovation uses a stepped-care approach, adapting the evidence-based Healthy Outcomes from Positive Experiences (HOPE) framework, which emphasizes positive childhood experiences that help children grow into healthy, resilient adults. The innovation will have peer support, with 35 young people trained to provide Psychological First Aid (PFA); institution-based psychosocial support, with 14 caregivers trained to provide psychosocial support within the care homes; and specialist care, with youth who meet clinical thresholds for a mental and neurological disorder referred to psychologists and psychiatrists at Psychiatrist Disability Organization.

  1. Association Interlinks, Promoting integrated, community-based mental health services for students in vulnerable situations, Tunisia

Access to mental health services for students in the greater Tunis area is limited due to a lack of professionals, inconsistency and disparity of care services, and disproportionate fees of private practitioners. Association Interlinks proposes a local mental health care system for students, particularly those living in university hostels. The innovation is based on several interrelated channels and levels of intervention including a mobile application, a mobile team of psychologists, and a hotline service, for remote or face-to-face intervention and support.

  1. Basic Needs UK in Uganda, Safeguarding the mental health of young people in Agago District, Uganda

BasicNeeds UK in Uganda (BNUU) will test the effectiveness of a stepped care model to provide mental health services to youth (10-24 years) in four sub-counties of Agago District in northern Uganda. The project aims to address the mental health scars caused by the 20-year war and the impact of COVID-19. The model provides a ladder of interventions, ranging from prevention and promotion through mental health clubs and classroom-based sessions, to group-based and individual counselling with BNUU counsellors and teachers, and mental health interventions provided by primary health workers and BNUU counselors.

  1. Contact Trust Youth Association, Arts Beyond School Project (ABS), Zambia

The aim of the Arts Beyond School Project (ABS) is to address gaps in acceptable and accessible mental health services in Zambia where 45% of the population is below the age of 15. The ABS project aims to use art therapy and arts-based approaches to psychoeducation to enhance mental health awareness, wellbeing, and resilience in youth aged 10 to 24 years. The project will integrate its approach within schools, at the community level, and in health facilities by training youth mental health champions, healthcare providers, and guidance and counseling teachers in the arts-based psychoeducation and the use of therapeutic art through the Zambia Therapeutic Art course.

  1. Dream Sports Africa, MY (Mind Yourself) Mental Health Project, Nigeria

Photo credit: Dream Sports Africa

The MY (Mind Yourself) program is a student-led volunteer network aimed at reducing stigma and building resilience among Nigerian youth, who face a lack of understanding around mental health in their communities. The program will leverage a transformational approach that trains 60 students as Mental Health Leaders, who will then lead 20 public secondary schools and universities in Abuja and Lagos in planning and implementing culturally relevant mindful movement-based sessions both in-person and online. The program is based on research that suggests a reciprocal relationship between physical activity and social and emotional development, where physical activity provides opportunities for participants to learn and use social, emotional, and cognitive skills that ultimately improve well-being in sports, school, and life.

  1. Foundation for Professional Development, StepWell: An evidence-based mental health promotion and prevention digital game, South Africa

Digital gaming offers an opportunity to provide Mental Health Prevention & Promotion (MHP&P) interventions to youth at low cost and high reach. Foundation for Professional Development’s digital game “StepWell” aims to equip youth with new social and interpersonal skills to navigate everyday challenges, improve self-image and relationships, and cope with adverse circumstances while having fun. The game has increasing difficulty levels that reinforce healthy ways of coping with commonly encountered challenges. Ecological momentary interventions (EMIs) will be delivered in real-time through the game to enhance therapeutic outcomes. Information on accessing in-person care and services will also be provided through the game.

  1. Kwantlen Polytechnic University, Wang Oo Relit, Uganda

In Uganda, an estimated 1 in 4 children in primary care clinics present poor mental health symptoms, which were worsened by the aftermath of a civil war that ended in 2006. Kwantlen Polytechnic University is working to reintroduce the traditional practice of “Wang Oo” as a prevention strategy, where the community gathers around a fire to hear elders share folk stories. With support from community elders, the re-established “Wang Oo” will provide mental health education, socioemotional development activities, and a platform for sharing lived experiences of mental health challenges. Children Care Uganda‘s youth mental health leaders will develop and implement the activity series as an add-on to their existing programs in the Gulu District.

  1. Lifafa Research Foundation, Youth Mental Health Promotion, Cameroon

In Cameroon, discussing mental health issues are often considered taboo. Lifafa Research Foundation aims to provide mental health services for young people in underserved municipalities in Fako Division, Cameroon, by training community-based peer educators and school-based guidance counsellors on creating mental health awareness, providing psychological first aid, mental health assessments, and referrals to Lifafa’s clinical psychologists. A clinical psychologist will travel monthly to target communities and schools and provide counselling to referred youths. Through Facebook, WhatsApp, and a blog series, the initiative will also facilitate communication and virtual support and reach young people in situations where physical contact may be impossible.

  1. Lighthouse Social Enterprise Company Limited, PRIDE MindZ, Vietnam

In Vietnam, a lack of mental health literacy, stigma, and limited LGBTIQ+-friendly care and services are some of the factors adding to the mental health inequities faced by LGBTIQ+ youth. PRIDE MindZ will be the first peer-led mental health prevention and intervention program aiming to destigmatize mental health and normalize help-seeking behaviour while improving access to LGBTQI+-affirming mental health services for youth. It will achieve these objectives through a social media-based mental health literacy campaign, building a national map locating LGBTQ+-friendly mental health services, providing anonymous online peer-led counselling and crisis intervention chat services, and in-person peer-facilitated art therapy support groups at three LGBTQI+ serving CBOs in Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, and Hue.

  1. Mae Fah Luang University, Hill tribe youths minimizing mental health problems in Thailand: a peer-based model

Photo credit: Mae Fah Luang University

Mae Fah Luang University aims to build the capacity of 144 hill tribe youth leaders aged 15-24 in selected villages in northern Thailand to help address the mental health challenges in their communities, where over 30% of people do not have Thai citizenship or access to free health care. Through training that includes principles of psychology, counselling techniques to support youth experiencing mental health challenges, and with the support of community leaders and public health professionals, the hill tribe youth leaders will provide peer-support in their local language and adapted to their culture and norms.  In addition, a mobile application will be developed in the selected hill tribe languages to support the youth leaders in helping their peers access mental health information and services.

  1. Mental 360, Nakujali-Conversations Save Lives, Kenya

In Kenya, mental health challenges affect 1 in 4 people, with many not having access to adequate care. The Nakujali-Conversations Save Lives program will pilot a peer-based model that empowers affected youth to learn about self-care, transform into wellness champions in their communities, create their own support systems and to work with stakeholders (i.e., religious institutions, policy makers, county governments and the police) to raise mental health awareness, destigmatize mental health and influence policy. Mental 360 will train youth leaders (Rafikis) with lived experience of mental health challenges to lead mental health support groups with other youth within their communities. The youth Rafikis will also be trained in entrepreneurship and given seed capital to start a small business.

  1. Nile Hope, Investigating the Youth Readiness Intervention Integrated within Youth Economic Empowerment (YRI+YEE) to Improve Trauma-Associated Psychological Distress among South Sudanese Youth, South Sudan

Nile Hope aims to adapt an evidence-based mental health intervention, the Youth Readiness Initiative (YRI) to improve trauma-related symptoms, prosocial skills, and mental health functioning among youth people (15-24) affected by conflict in South Sudan. The interventions of this project will be delivered by youth with lived experience and aim to improve interpersonal and community relationships; help youth develop skills on coping and problem solving; and promote the appropriate integration of unpleasant memories for youth who experience difficulties due to traumatic exposure. Additionally, the interventions will also provide vocational skills, financial literacy training and seed capital for income generation.

  1. OUT – LGBT Well-Being, Bazwa LGBT Youth Program, South Africa

OUT Well-being aims to address mental health disparities among LGBTQI+ youth from low-resource settings in South Africa by designing and piloting the “Bazwa LGBT Youth Program.” The program focuses on mental health literacy, internalized homophobia, anxiety, depression, and suicide prevention among LGBTQI+ youth aged 10-24. The program’s strategy includes developing a WhatsApp platform for youth aged 18-24 that employs an AI bot to facilitate access to online and offline mental health services and developing a family peer support program for youth aged 10-17 by training parents and caregivers to support their LGBTQI+ children’s mental health.

  1. Rwanda Youth Voice for Change, Mental Health Access for Key Population Project (MHAKP-Project), Rwanda

Rwanda Youth Voice for Change’s Mental Health Access for Key Population (MHAKP) project aims to improve access to relevant, accurate, culturally appropriate and stigma-free mental health information service for LGBTQI+ youth in Kigali. RYVC will leverage peer-support through partnerships with local LGBTQI+ groups and trained peer counsellors to provide workshops and basic mental health support through a telephone hotline, in-person counselling and laughter yoga sessions. They will also use accessible technology to help LGBTQI+ youth self-screen, access information on mental health and strengthen community building through a Facebook Chatbot and WhatsApp. Additionally, RYVC will partner with clinics to develop a network of therapists where LGBTQI+ youth can be referred for care.

  1. Sangath, “Baatcheet”, a web-based storytelling intervention to address anxiety and depression and social disability among urban Indian youth aged 16 to 24, India

Photo credit: Sangath

Sangath is launching “Baatcheet,” a web-based storytelling intervention that aims to reduce anxiety, depression, and social disability among low-income urban youth in New Delhi, aged 16-24. The innovation will be co-designed with young people who have diverse lived experiences of common mental health challenges and is designed to help youth create meaning from illness experiences, learn new coping strategies, and connect with peers through shared stories. Baatcheet will feature a curated archive of bilingual (English and Hindi) personal narratives of coping with anxiety and depression, alongside evidence-based strategies for behaviour change. The innovation will be facilitated by trained youth facilitators and will also allow participants to include their personal stories and develop personalized goals and action plans.

  1. Sentum Scientific Solutions Limited, We matter too: A mental health innovation for adolescent men using African hip-hop (Bongo) in barber shops in Kenya

Young men in Kenya are less likely to seek professional help for mental health conditions due to perceived public and self-stigma and a lack of youth-friendly mental health services. Sentum Scientific Solutions aims to use barbershops as community spaces to create mental health awareness and provide access to youth-friendly mental health services in four counties of Kenya. The innovation will generate mental health awareness through mental health-themed African hip-hop/rap music and songs focused on mental health awareness, stigma, and discrimination and played in barber shops. Young barbers will be trained as peer mentors to connect with their youth clients on mental health issues and link them to appropriate care.

  1. SiyaFanaFana, FanaFana – Chat for Change – Improved well-being of Zimbabwean LGBTQIA+ youth using a scaled digital chatbot service, Zimbabwe

Photo credit: SiyaFanaFana

In Zimbabwe, levels of depression, anxiety, and suicide among LGBTQI+ youth are double that of the general population. “FanaFana” is an innovative digital chatbot service designed to provide mental health support to LGBTQI+ youth in Zimbabwe. FanaFana uses automated responses, human moderators, and AI to provide LGBTQI+ youth with multiple interactive mental health and wellbeing pathways without fear of criminalization, stigma, or judgement. The chatbot will be co-designed with LGBTQI+ youth and adapted to provide an empirically proven mental health intervention called AFFIRMative Cognitive Behavioural Therapy to address depression symptoms specifically. The service will offer an anonymous, private, identity-affirming space to serve the unique mental health needs of LGBTQI+ youth aged 15-24.

  1. Tamer Institute for Community Education, Youth-led Mental Health ERs: Towards Sustainable and Community Owned Psychological First Aid (PFA), West Bank and Gaza

In Gaza, the 2021 escalation left approximately 600,000 youth and children showing symptoms of severe distress, with 2 out of 3 adolescents having post-traumatic stress disorder. The Tamer Institute for Community Education plans to create a community network to mainstream psychological first aid (PFA) through seven mental health emergency rooms within community-based organizations and libraries in Gaza and Hebron city area to provide immediate PFA during and after emergencies and ongoing psychosocial support using arts-based approaches to children and youth affected by the 2021 escalation. The project will train young mental health first responders and build the capacities of community youth leaders, organizations, libraries, and staff from Tamer and Cooperazione Internazionale (CISS) to run the network.

  1. Vimbo Health, Vimbo Life – A CBT based mental health app tailored to youths living with HIV in South Africa

The Vimbo Life project aims to create an Android mobile app that provides self-guided treatment courses for depression and anxiety tailored to youths aged 18-24 living with HIV in South Africa, where almost 900,000 youth aged 15-24 live with HIV. The app will be an adaptation of the existing adult-focused Vimbo for Depression & Anxiety app, based on cognitive-behavioral therapy principles, and will include HIV management content for all users, a preventative well-being course, journaling, problem solving, audio meditations, and reminders to boost adherence to anti-retroviral medication. The app will be low-data with offline capabilities and offered in English and Zulu.

  1. Women Friendly Initiative, Collaborative Action for Mental Health Promotion Utilizing Students (CAMPUS), Nigeria

The CAMPUS project aims to address the social, economic, and academic stressors faced by students in Nigerian tertiary institutions and provide early interventions for mental health challenges through non-clinical mental health and psychosocial peer support. The project will build three integrated systems focused on peer, campus and remote support. They will train students to provide non-clinical MHPSS as peer supporters, establish a Mind and Body clinic within the student union building, and establish a toll-free hotline and website with a mental health e-course with information on mental health, self-care, and links for self-referral to on and off-campus mental health services.

About the Global Mental Health Program

In the past decade alone, Grand Challenges Canada has supported one of the largest Global Mental Health innovations portfolios, investing $60.74 M CAD to support 144 projects across 45 low- and middle-income countries. Currently supported by Global Affairs Canada and the UK’s Department of Health and Social Care using UK aid through the National Institute of Health and Care Research (NIHR), Grand Challenges Canada has embarked on a bold initiative to directly fund and provide technical support to youth-led mental health innovation.

Youth Mental Health Funding

In 2021, Grand Challenges Canada announced its first round of funding for 18 innovations addressing mental health challenges faced by young people aged 10-24 in low- and middle-income countries. Young people, who are themselves closest to the challenges, were involved in shaping the first call for funding, offered input on focus areas, and were involved in the review process.