The Self-Reliance Initiative

The Refugee Self-Reliance Initiative is both an initiative and a movement focused on promoting the self-reliance of refugees around the world.
Initiative Overview Read More

“Millions are trapped in dependency on short-term aid that keeps them alive but falls short of ensuring their safety, dignity and ability to thrive and be self-reliant over the long term.” UN Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, in his 2016 report for the World Humanitarian Summit.

Most refugees tell us that they want to “stand on their own feet” – to take care of their own needs and those of their family. This is key to regaining a sense of normalcy and agency in their lives, even as they might be in impermanent situations in host countries.

The objective of this initiative is to identify ways in which humanitarian and development programs can better assist refugees desiring self-reliance to achieve it.

This initiative will focus on three key areas: measurement, programming, and advocacy. Led by the Women’s Refugee Commission and RefugePoint, a multi-stakeholder coalition is promoting refugees’ self-reliance early and everywhere.

As a starting point, this community developed the Refugee Self-Reliance Index, a tool to begin measuring the collective impact of refugee response programs on refugee households and the journey toward self-reliance.

Initiative Overview

Community of Practice

First convened in June 2016, the Refugee Self-Reliance Community of Practice is an active learning community and was the driver of the Self-Reliance Index development process.

This multi-stakeholder community is made up of refugee service organizations, government agencies, foundations, research institutes and other partners. Current members include (in alphabetical order): Asylum Access, Christian Aid UK, Danish Refugee Council, the IKEA Foundation, International Rescue Committee, the Joint IDP Profiling Service, Mercy Corps, Oxford Refugee Studies Centre, RefugePoint, Regional Durable Solutions Secretariat, Samuel Hall, Save the Children, Trickle Up, UNHCR, US State Department/PRM, the West Asia and North Africa Institute, and the Women’s Refugee Commission.

Our Connection to the Women's Refugee Commission and RefugePoint

In 2016, RefugePoint and the Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC) discovered that they were working on similar projects to develop a tool to measure refugee households’ progress towards self-reliance. They decided to team up, share knowledge, and see who else might be working on similar issues. This gave rise to the Refugee Self-Reliance Community of Practice (CoP), which they now co-chair. Prior to the launch of the CoP in 2016, there was no global coordinating forum for sharing learning among practitioners and others interested in refugee self-reliance.

Founded in 1989, WRC has been a leading expert on the needs of refugee women and children, and the policies that can protect and empower them. WRC improves the lives and protects the rights of women, children and youth displaced by conflict and crisis. WRC researches their needs, identifies solutions and advocates for programs and policies to strengthen their resilience and drive change in humanitarian practice.

Founded in 2005, RefugePoint’s mission is to expand lasting solutions for at-risk refugees and to support the humanitarian community to do the same. RefugePoint’s direct services save and improve lives, while its field-building activities strive to create lasting change in the global refugee policy and practice. With field operations in 20 countries, RefugePoint works closely with UNHCR, governments and other NGOs to develop innovative approaches, gain uptake of those approaches, and improve humanitarian response.

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At present, there are over 65 million people forcibly displaced, inclusive of 22 million refugees – the largest number ever recorded.  More than 80% of refugee crises last over 10 years, 80% of refugees are in developing countries, and 60% of refugees now reside in urban areas rather than camps.  At the same time, solutions for refugees are dwindling. In recent years fewer than 3% of refugees worldwide have been able to avail themselves of any of the “durable solutions,” i.e. repatriation to one’s home country, permanent resettlement to a safe country, or legal integration into the country of first asylum. Concurrently, humanitarian aid budgets are spread impossibly thin as refugees remain in exile longer and donor countries increasingly prioritize domestic concerns. This tumultuous time has highlighted the need to do better on behalf of refugees and the sheer number of displaced people provides us with an urgent call to action. Refugees tell us that they want to be self-reliant and request support to build independent lives in their new homes, whether their stay is temporary or permanent. With this initiative, we aim to support efforts that set refugees up for long-term success – to support the refugees who desire self-reliance to achieve it because, for many, the alternatives are worse: dependence on diminishing aid or harmful coping strategies (begging, prostitution, exploitative labor, etc.). For those who desire self-reliance and for whom it is in the best interest, we believe that refugee support should be oriented to facilitate this goal. As a secondary benefit, measuring the achievement of self-reliance will enable the humanitarian community to direct limited resources to the most effective program strategies and to refugees who need them most.

Activities to Date

– RefugePoint developed the Self-Reliance Measurement Tool (link to tool). WRC developed the Well-Being and Adjustment Index piloted in Lebanon, Egypt and Ecuador; lessons learned were released in December 2016. (link to report)

– WRC and RefugePoint shared Self-Reliance measurement tools in global fora (Urban Refugee Task Team (URTT), Solutions Alliance Roundtable, etc.) in 2015/6.

– Following interest from partners, RefugePoint and WRC convened the “community of practice” in June, 2016 followed by quarterly calls.

– RefugePoint and WRC held meetings with UNHCR leadership in Geneva in December 2016.

– RefugePoint and WRC convened an in-person workshop with Community of Practice members in Nairobi in March to agree on self-reliance definition, principles and measurement parameters. (link to outcomes doc)

– RefugePoint and WRC developed the self-reliance index with partners through an intensive feedback process from between March 2017-November 2017.

– Pre-test of the Refugee Self-Reliance Index in collaboration with Mercy Corps (Jordan), the International Rescue Committee (Kenya) and RefugePoint (Kenya) in January and February 2018.

Next Steps

We envision 2018 as a year to test, learn, strategize, and build the self-reliance initiative ahead of the global roll out in 2019.

The Self-Reliance Initiative aims to collectively reach 5 million refugees with self-reliance programming in 5 years (2019-2023) and, in the process, to identify the most effective models and measurements to aid global expansion of self-reliance opportunities.

This Initiative further aims to raise awareness of the need for change in refugee response broadly and to engender a movement that attracts new philanthropic resources, private capital investments, public goodwill, sustained policy attention, and ultimately influences program design, host country policy environments and donor funding structures and priorities.

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