Expert views

Responding to urgent humanitarian and development needs

17 June 2020
Lili Mohiddin and Eliud Marangu, Norwegian Refugee Council

Until recently, the contribution of refugees to local economies was overlooked and underestimated.1 Small formal and informal businesses contribute to creating jobs and business opportunities, enabling households to access basic needs and services, which in turn, stimulates additional economic opportunities and reduces poverty. Although both poor displaced and host populations face multiple barriers when entering and engaging in markets, the challenges faced by the displaced tend to be more systemic, significantly hindering their ability to contribute to the local economy and achieve self-reliance.

With a vast (70.8 million2) and growing number of displaced people either as refugees3, internally displaced persons4, or asylum seekers, and the average duration of displacement between 10 years to 26 years5, we need solutions that enable displaced people to earn a living and become more self-reliant. The situation is even more severe in least developed countries, which host one-third of the global refugee population6, along with a decline in governments’ political willingness to provide access to protection and assistance.

In response to these growing needs, organizations are collaborating with like-minded humanitarian, development and, increasingly, peace-building agencies – essentially adopting what is known as the ‘triple nexus’ approach7. This approach recognizes the importance of tackling root causes and drivers of conflict (including resource competition and poverty) in parallel to responding to the urgent humanitarian and development needs of the local population and the systems they rely on.

Although this triple nexus has the ambition to meet a spectrum of peoples’ needs, mitigate vulnerabilities and move towards sustainable peace, there are challenges related to operationalizing such an approach. These include coordinating vastly different organizations, clarifying and articulating their roles and added value, and addressing concerns around the increasing competition for funding as more actors emerge. However, there is growing commitment to bring the work of the nexus forward, with donors and international organizations dedicating resources, assigning staff to strategic positions and the UN taking the lead.

Despite these challenges, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) believes in the value of the ‘triple nexus’. NRC, an independent international humanitarian organization that helps people forced to flee, believes that market-led livelihood programmes focusing on this approach are central to unlocking economic opportunities for displaced communities.

To adopt the triple nexus, NRC identifies specific partnerships with private-sector entities and development orientated actors to design programmes that address both the needs of the market as well as the complexities of a humanitarian environment. For example, NRC undertakes value chain, skills demand and (self-) employment assessments (including analysis of market-system opportunities and barriers) during programme design with key private and public-sector actors. Local authority, community and private-sector consultations are a vital part of public buy-in and ownership. These consultations also enable NRC to identify and address gender and social norms that can affect the engagement of marginalized groups, women and people living with disability in its programmes. This is particularly important as, while NRC varies its approach to peace building and conflict resolution according to each context8, all programmes include social cohesion and community strengthening and empowerment approaches.

Applying triple nexus principles in practice

In the Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps in Kenya, NRC and other agencies have developed an informal triple-nexus practice using an approach in which refugees trained by an agency (including digital and online skills) are linked to private actors and institutions for further internships or apprenticeships. Then, they match these refugees with development or humanitarian partners for cash grants to initiate livelihoods activities, coaching and mentoring. The programme includes community outreach and cohesion activities, with project participation opportunities offered across diverse community groups.

Strengthening this approach, NRC supports refugees in acquiring business permits, documentation, information on policies and legal requirements related to forming self-help groups, start-up registration and, ideally, financial support. To enable employment opportunities upon return to their country of origin following repatriation, or within Kenya if movement restrictions are lifted as part of the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF), refugees have the opportunity to obtain accredited qualifications by the Kenyan Government9 after completing training courses.

Thanks to these methods, the NRC and partners empower displaced populations to be ‘agents of their own lives and economic futures’. They can only achieve this through the partnerships, support and contributions that the humanitarian-development-peace nexus offers.

Moving forward as we work to respond to COVID-19 in countries with conflict-driven, protracted emergencies and deep-rooted development challenges, the triple nexus approach can, and should, be used to deliver comprehensive solutions and prepare for future shocks.

1 One example being the contribution of 180,000 refugees in and around Kakuma camp to an economy worth $56 million a year (Kakuma as a Marketplace 2018).
2 UNHCR Global Trends Report on Forced Displacement, 2018
3 UNHCR Global Trends Report on Forced Displacement, 2018
4 Ibid. (
5 27th April 2020
6 The “triple nexus” refers to the interlinkages between humanitarian, development and peace actors. In the UN’s “New Way of Working”, these actors are expected to work towards collective outcomes over multiple years, when appropriate. ReliefWeb 27/04/2020
7 UNHCR Global Trends Report on Forced Displacement, 2018-
8 In countries such as Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen where there is active conflict, NRC places a heavier emphasis on peace building and conflict resolution, relying on internal capacity and partnerships.
9 The qualifications are issued by Kenya’s National Industrial Training Authority.