The UN Refugee Agency helps refugee artisans access decent work opportunities.
The UN Refugee Agency helps refugee artisans access decent work opportunities.

Helping refugee artisans access markets and generate income

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) is a global organization dedicated to saving lives, protecting rights and building a better future for refugees, forcibly displaced communities and stateless people.  In Kenya, UNHCR supports refugees and asylum seekers mainly from Central and Eastern Africa. This is where Midori Honda (Japan), served as a UN Volunteer Livelihoods Officer starting May 2018.

The Livelihoods Unit of UNHCR is responsible for overseeing national livelihood strategies in Nairobi, the Kakuma and Dadaab Camps, as well as the Kalobeiyei settlement.

Livelihood interventions help displaced people secure necessities such as food, water, shelter and clothing while also supporting them to gain skills, capacity and social networks. Fundamentally, livelihood assistance focuses on equipping displaced people to become increasing self-reliant, as well as supporting their capacity to participate in income-generating activities.

Unlocking the potential of refugee artisans through improved market access for artisanal products is one way UNHCR is building self-reliance though livelihood assistance. MADE51 is a UNHCR initiative that connects refugees with local social enterprise partners to design, produce and market artisanal products throughout the world. UNHCR works as a platform that provides branding and marketing strategies for the fair trade market, with integrated technology.

Midori's assignment with UNHCR in Kenya saw her working on MADE 51 projects to connect Local Social Enterprises (LSEs) with skilled refugee artisans, giving them better market linkages and improved artisanal skills. She was deployed as a UN Volunteer under the Programme for Human Resource Development for Peacebuilding (HRD), a joint partnership of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Japan, the Hiroshima Peacebuilders Center and UNV, funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

“I explored one new high-end exhibition, one business hotel and strengthened relationships with one fair-trade shop, forging new market access and opportunities for income generation and self-reliance for refugee artisans,” Midori said. 

The project supported planning and early implementation, such as capacity building of refugee artisans, product development and international market access. As the project advanced, I facilitated local social enterprises to work directly with refugee artisans and gradually take ownership of the relationship. At the same time, refugees built up their capacity and found other market opportunities to become more self-reliant. --Midori Honda

"During my assignment, MADE 51 projects served around 154 refugee artisans in Kenya.  I worked with Kenyan designers, retailers and exhibition planners to enhance local market linkages of artisan products," she continues. 

"Through MADE 51, we supported 20 refugees and asylum seekers (5 males, 12 females and 2 LGBTI) and approximately 35 female survivors of sexual and gender-based violence to produce quality products for export markets. Further, 67 beneficiaries in artisan sectors were supported with marketing assistance, including sales of products in a UN shop, retail shops in Nairobi, holiday markets and exhibitions. As a result, more than three million Kenyan shilling (US $30,000) in annual sales were raised," says Midori.

She concludes, "New market access like this increases refugees' income generation opportunities and ultimately helps build capacity for improved self-reliance."

The idea of volunteerism is noble, and this programme is providing great opportunities for youth to volunteer in decent conditions. As an external to UNHCR, Midori had a different perspective and came with fresh eyes and new ideas which benefited the programme. --Danya Kattan, Livelihoods Officer with UNHCR, Kenya

Midori’s assignment contributed to SDG 8: Goal 8. Promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all.

This article was prepared with the kind support of Online Volunteer Helen Maccan.