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Empowering refugee leaders: Five exciting ways that WUSC is promoting refugee leadership

Since 2016, there has been a growing recognition of the importance of refugee representation in policies and decisions that impact the lives of refugees around the world. The increasing participation and engagement of young refugees in decision-making processes is a positive step towards a better refugee response.

Refugee leaders and refugee-led organizations (RLOs) around the globe have the experience and expertise to address the needs of refugee communities. Despite this, these refugee-led initiatives face significant challenges in implementing and expanding their programs due to limited access to funding and connections to donors and influential bodies.

Fulfilling WUSC’s pledges from the Global Refugee Forum

WUSC is committed to ensuring that the perspectives, needs, and aspirations of young refugees are heard and acknowledged, and that they contribute to the design and implementation of our work. WUSC signed on to the Global Refugee-led Network (GRN) pledge in 2019 to support the meaningful participation of refugees and host communities in decision-making processes. As part of our commitment, we expanded WUSC’s Student Refugee Program (SRP) alumni advisory team. Members of the SRP alumni network contribute their diverse and unique perspectives, skills, and experiences as newcomers to Canada and former refugees to enhancing the integration of incoming students in the SRP. They also provide valuable inputs on the development of new programming related to refugee higher education. In addition, members of the SRP alumni advisory team act as experts to help build our knowledge on refugee and SRP experiences, and by engaging them in strategic discussions and solutions, we are ensuring that their perspectives are meaningfully included. 

Funding & capacity building to support refugee-led initiatives and businesses 

WUSC is supporting a range of initiatives focused on enabling access to employment and entrepreneurship for marginalized young people, particularly women, through our volunteer program. Some of the partner organizations are led by refugees which provide programs and services to support other refugees in their communities. Social Enterprise Ghana recently received funding from WUSC to support refugee communities living in Eastern Ghana, who have been largely excluded from entrepreneurship support programming to date, to develop and grow green enterprises that mitigate and address the effects of climate change. Participants will be provided with Business Development Services (BDS) support, mentorship, and market access. 

YARID, an organization based in Uganda, is receiving support to provide vocational training and startup support to urban refugees living in Kampala. Refugees will be trained in environmental sustainability and entrepreneurship skills using a model which combines business and financial literacy training, a small grant, startup kits, and access to village saving and loans associations. 

In Kenya, L’Afrikana is a refugee-led organization that is receiving WUSC support  to provide needed vocational training to young female urban refugees. L’Afrikana’s project will support young refugees with the necessary skills to develop a livelihood and train them in entrepreneurship skills to launch their own careers while investing in startup kits when needed. L’Afrikana will facilitate the sales of their products through their existing sales network in Kenya and the US, which supports the financial sustainability of their interventions. 

These organizations will also be supported by volunteers mobilized by WUSC who will help build their capacity to deliver on these initiatives. 

Partnering with refugee-led organizations to deliver key aspects of our programming

In Kenya, WUSC is implementing our Learning through Education and Access to Skills for Employment (LEAP) project, which focuses on increasing the empowerment of adolescent girls and young women through improving learning outcomes at primary and secondary school level, and increasing equitable participation in the formal and informal workforce. For this project, we are partnering with Solidarity Initiative for Refugees (SIR), a local community-based organization established by a group of young refugees with the goal of using technology to equip refugees in Kakuma with the skills and tools to create a better future for themselves. The organization combines access to education and livelihoods training with digital learning methods to empower youth in Kakuma. SIR is supporting LEAP by managing the digital hub. 

Including refugee voices through our new DREEM project in East Africa

The Displaced and Refugee Youth Enabling Economic Mechanism project – or DREEM – is a new and exciting partnership between the Mastercard Foundation and WUSC in East Africa that is working to facilitate an enabling environment for the inclusion of refugee and displaced youth, especially young women, to fully participate in society. Refugee and displaced youth play a central role in ensuring the DREEM project remains relevant, impactful, and responsive to the needs of the communities it works with. The DREEM Youth Advisory Team is made up of 12 diverse young leaders from East Africa with lived experience, who provide overall strategic guidance and feedback regarding the design and delivery of different initiatives. Read some of their reflections here.  Currently women comprise more than 50% of the members of the Youth Advisory Team, many of whom are leaders in their communities. 

Hosting an exciting upcoming virtual event: State of Play on Refugee Leadership: Young Refugee Leaders in Conversation with Allies

On November 17, 2021, WUSC is hosting a virtual roundtable discussion, in collaboration with the Global Refugee Youth Network (GRYN), on refugee leadership, bringing together young refugee leaders from Africa, the Middle East, and South America. The virtual event will examine the state of refugee youth leadership globally and explore key trends, existing partnerships, best practices and emerging actors. With a focus on moving from rhetoric to action, it will also generate fresh ideas on how to meaningfully engage refugee youth participation in their work. Stay tuned for the outcome of this roundtable! 

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