Using trade to create jobs and build skills for refugees

9 July 2017
ITC News
The challenge

The worldwide number of refugees, persons displaced within their own countries and asylum-seekers exceeds 65 million. This number is higher than at any time since the aftermath of the Second World War.

Moreover, circumstances have changed dramatically since the international policy architecture for refugees was set up in the post-war period. Instead of relatively rapid resettlement, the average stay in a refugee camp now exceeds 17 years by some estimates.

The magnitude of the crisis is testing the economic resilience of host countries. In fact, the largest recipients of refugees are developing countries, which are often not substantially richer than the places from where refugees came.

For those displaced, particularly the young, options are limited. Humanitarian agencies have traditionally provided literacy and vocational training such as tailoring, carpentry and more recently, information technology. Though useful, this work has not typically prioritized linking skills to market- based income generation opportunities. In protracted refugee situations, the traditional support mix of food, shelter and vocational training no longer suf ces. Without skills that are linked to income opportunities, refugees remain trapped in dependency and are less well-equipped to integrate into the economic mainstream, whether at home or in a resettlement country.

Trade can play a useful role in generating market-based income opportunities. Advances in telecommunications – above all internet access – allow people and businesses in refugee settings to connect to overseas customers and earn sustainable livelihoods. In fact, connecting small and medium-sized businesses to international markets can create work for host country nationals alongside refugees, contributing to growth and resilience in host communities.

The solution

ITC has been working with a variety of partners to build tools and market connections that would enable refugees and asylum-seekers in multiple locations to earn incomes by connecting to international markets.

ITC teamed up with design students from Hyper Island, a digital-focused business school; innovation consultancy Common Good; and Freeman XP, a branding agency; to develop a concept for a mobile application that would enable talented refugees to perform translation, data entry, transcription and other digital services for overseas clients.

The result was a prototype app, dubbed Uable, which connects multilingual refugees with businesses that need translation services. The app will enable refugees to convert skills into incomes and better opportunities in the future. For companies, it will provide fast, competitively priced and secure crowdsourced services, together with a chance to engage in meaningful impact-sourcing.

The app design allows for of ine usage – i.e. connecting only to download new tasks and upload completed documents – as a way to deal with spotty or expensive internet access.

The team has successfully tested an early prototype of the app through real-life transactions for English-to-French translations by residents of Nakivale, a camp in southeastern Uganda that is home to refugees from countries including Burundi, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Payments were processed through the M-pesa mobile money system.

In parallel to these preliminary initiatives to connect refugees to international markets, ITC is also working to support migrants (including asylum-seekers) in Europe to develop vocational skills that will help them eventually reintegrate into their countries of origin. In the town of Lama di Reno, near Bologna, Italy, ITC is working with Lai-momo, an Italian organization that works with asylum-seekers, to train migrants in leather bag making and textile skills for the fashion industry. The programme started in July; 18 people from Bangladesh, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Guinea, Pakistan and Senegal participated in the stitching, basic bag manufacturing, gluing and pattern classes. This technical training is accompanied by instruction in Italian and mathematics. Trainees will be able to put the skills they acquire to use in the fashion sector, either in Europe or in their countries of origin.

The future

The next step for the Uable app is to develop and test the platform further and facilitate commercial-scale business for refugees in Uganda, for example, or internally displaced persons in Colombia and Ecuador. Developing partnerships with local of ces of UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency, and non-governmental organizations would make it possible to complement the roll-out with training in digital skills. The ultimate goal is to spin off the platform as an autonomous social enterprise which can expand globally and offer more sophisticated back-of ce information technology-enabled services including business process and knowledge process outsourcing.

As for the fashion training for asylum-seekers in Italy, there is considerable potential to replicate this model elsewhere in Europe. After repatriation, former trainees could receive support to join the artisanal sector in their countries of origin, where their skills would enable them to play the role of innovators, trainers, mentors or entrepreneurs who raise the quality of production. In some countries – notably Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Mali, and Kenya – former asylum- seekers could be connected to EFI hubs and their far- reaching network of fashion and lifestyle buyers.