Refugee Livelihoods: New Actors, New Models

Ziad Ayoubi and Regina Saavedra

Forced Migration Review 58, June 2018, pp. 39-43


This article explores the potential contributions of governments, development actors, the private sector, and humanitarian actors to support refugee livelihoods. The authors begin by making the case for the early economic inclusion of refugees in order not to prevent or delay the potential contribution of refugees to host economies, noting that this is less easily accomplished in developing countries with high rates of poverty and unemployment. The authors highlight the potential contribution that development and private sector actors can make to support refugees’ livelihoods and economic inclusion, citing the World Bank’s Global Concessional Financing Facility as a significant example. They also note the evolution of UNHCR’s livelihood interventions towards more targeted, market-based and results-oriented programming, i.e. identifying and prioritizing specific sectors, and analyzing opportunities for refugee inclusion within the ‘value chains’ of each sector based on potential for growth, relevance to refugee capacities and feasibility of intervention. The sector selection takes into account economic trends but also: the political, legal and socio-cultural context, including rules, regulations and norms; available supporting services; and profile of refugee and host communities. The article also describes several approaches taken by UNHCR and its partners including:

  • The MADE51 (Market Access, Design and Empowerment) initiative which aims to build the technical capacity of local, ethical social enterprises to manage unique collections produced by refugees and to support them in branding and marketing products internationally.
  • The Graduation Approach to lifting households out of poverty through short-term humanitarian assistance, livelihoods training, employment or self-employment support and coaching.
  • UNHCR is working with the Swedish Development Agency to establish a credit guarantee facility for financial service agencies providing loans to refugees and host populations, i.e. rather than managing revolving funds directly, taking a facilitative approach to ensure access to financial services.

The authors call for more models to be tested and more development funding, with continuous monitoring to identify lessons learned.