Connecting Somali refugees and their Kenyan hosts to online markets

23 August 2018
ITC News
ITC’s Refugee Employment & Skills Initiative uses trade to create livelihood opportunities

One of the world’s largest refugee camps is in Dadaab, a town in eastern Kenya that since the early 1990s has hosted people fleeing civil conflict, drought and famine in neighbouring Somalia.

As of the end of January 2018, some 235,269 registered refugees and asylum seekers lived in Dadaab, according to UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency. Such prolonged stays were not originally foreseen by the international policy architecture for forcibly displaced people; humanitarian agencies serving refugees have traditionally focused on providing food, shelter, and medical care. Vocational training, when offered, has focused on equipping people with literacy and skills like carpentry and computer use, but not typically with leveraging those skills into paid work opportunities. The International Trade Centre’s Refugee Employment & Skills Initiative is filling this gap, by linking skills training to demand in local and international markets.

In May 2018, the initiative kicked off its first digital training and mentorship programme in Dadaab.

Over five months, the programme aims to support 100 Somali refugees to expand digital skillsets in areas such as data entry and translation between English and Somali or Swahili, and earn incomes by performing services for clients around the world through internet-based freelance platforms such as Upwork.

A market-based programme

The Refugee Employment & Skills Initiative is designed with a firm focus on obtaining work at the end of the programme. Trained by Samasource Digital Basics, a San Francisco-based non-profit that teaches digital skills to people without traditional paths to employment, the refugees attend classes to develop internet research, word processing and spreadsheet capabilities, and receive coaching on how to prepare CVs and better appeal to potential freelance employers. Trainees are guided through the process of creating online profiles on freelancing platforms such as Upwork, and Freelancer and pitching for online jobs.

Graduates of the course join an ITC-led mentorship programme that includes support from successful freelancers and life-skills coaches. They also receive three months of remote support from Samasource Digital Basics.

Participants in the programme are selected through a competitive selection process that seeks to assess candidates’ motivation and commitment, as well as English-language and basic digital skills.

Not all of the programme participants are seeking to do internet-based freelance work. Fuad, who works as an advocacy trainer for a non-governmental organization in Dadaab, took the course with an eye to expanding his skill set at his current job. “When I saw the call to apply for the Refugee Employment & Skills Initiative training, I had to create time for it. I talked to my supervisor at work and they allowed me to take two weeks’ education leave.”

The Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), ITC’s partner on the ground, provides the necessary logistical and infrastructural support in Dadaab to ensure lessons can take place in a safe and learning-friendly environment. ITC and the NRC have worked closely to redesign co-working spaces, buy computers and upgrade internet speed.

The International Trade Centre’s Refugee Employment & Skills Initiative was made possible with the support of the Norwegian Refugee Council and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Government of the Netherlands.