Assessing Economic Opportunities for Refugee and Displaced Youth in Central Sahel
Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger in the broader West Africa context
Despite West Africa’s reputation for stability and economic growth there are a number of significant economic and political crises unfolding in the region. Most recently, the Mali‒Niger‒Burkina Faso tri-border area (Central Sahel) has become one of the fastest growing displacement crises in the world. Economic opportunity remains minimal for many within both displaced and host communities.
In late 2022, the Mastercard Foundation commissioned an assessment of economic opportunities for refugee and displaced youth in Central Sahel. Managed by WUSC, and undertaken by Expectation State, the five-month study drew on document reviews and 73 consultations across the region, including through a team of researchers in Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, and Senegal.
The purpose of this assessment was to identify potential economic opportunities for refugee and displaced youth to inform entry points for future initiatives. Based on the barriers and opportunities uncovered, 15 recommendations emerged:
- Place entrepreneurship at the centre of efforts to increase economic opportunity for displaced and host communities.
- Recognize agriculture as a livelihood and an economic enabler.
- Leverage the power of entrepreneurship in displaced populations through microfinance.
- Work with local banks to improve product offerings to SMEs active in or employing from areas of high concentrations of displaced people.
- Support regional fin-tech start-ups that see citizens in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger as part of their eventual customer base.
- Attract refugee lens capital to grow the ecosystem and its profile.
- Organize parts of the informal services market.
- Work with governments to support a pilot group of displaced population-linked businesses to move from the informal to the formal economy.
- Support the creation of a smartphone-accessible platform for displaced populations to access identity documents and proof of education.
- Ensure the provision of paralegal assistance for broader documentation challenges to facilitate access to records of previous learning.
- Establish or invest in online universities providing higher education for displaced and host communities in West and Central Africa.
- Conduct a labour market analysis to work with universities to update their curriculum.
- Start a challenge fund for local NGOs working on issues related to economic opportunity for displaced and host communities.
- Work with an incubator to highlight the contributions of displaced populations to national economies.
- Pair any intervention in the region with a robust research capability.
This report was produced as part of our DREEM project, funded by the Mastercard Foundation. Learn more about the DREEM project here.
On June 13, in the lead up to World Refugee Day, join the teams from the Mastercard Foundation, WUSC, and Expectation State for a virtual presentation of the findings and subsequent discussion, from 4 to 6 p.m. East Africa Time.
We’ll be looking at the nature of the displacement crisis and what is realistic in the context of economic opportunity, drawing on lessons and understanding from multiple other displacement contexts. Register here.
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