Our 2024 projects
Through four Innovation Funds, the Innovation Service supports creative solutions to complex challenges facing forcibly displaced communities. Projects endorsed in 2023 will be implemented through 2024.
Digital Innovation Fund
Digital arts for youth and community wellbeing – Multiregion
Challenge: Forcibly displaced youth face many challenges that significantly impact their mental health and wellbeing, including stress, trauma and social isolation. This is compounded by linguistic and cultural differences, and limited access to education, basic services, and psychosocial support.
Solution: An innovative, psychosocially informed digital solution, designed in collaboration with displaced youth and artists, to actively involve their peers in digital arts literacy, engage in community projects for artistic and emotional development, and connect across regions through virtual reality meet-ups.
Expected results: 100 young refugees connect with each other and gain digital, creative, and emotional literacy skills, for greater social connection, self-expression, and overall wellbeing. A further 2,500 individuals benefit indirectly as a result of enhanced community resilience.
Refugee-led observatory to optimize digital information access for refugees with disabilities – Poland
Challenge: Refugees with disabilities, particularly those with visual impairments, struggle to access critical information via online channels extensively used by humanitarian and governmental actors, undermining their ability to access social and protection services.
Solution: Establish a refugee-led observatory to advise humanitarian and other actors on how to improve online community engagement – with a particular focus on refugees with visual impairments – based on best practices and current information accessibility as experienced by refugees.
Expected results: 38,000 Ukrainian refugees with visual impairments in Poland could benefit from improved access to digital information and, as a result, services. Evidence-based tools developed and shared will ensure accessible communications going forward.
Digital accountability to communities through AI-supported communications – Jordan
Challenge: UNHCR receives a high volume of communications and requests from forcibly displaced and stateless persons, which are currently processed and answered manually. This is labor intensive, time consuming, and not conducive to providing timely assistance.
Solution: Develop an efficient mechanism to process requests using digital petition boxes equipped with AI-supported processing and analysis of text and audio submissions, leading to improved response rates. The centralized system will identify duplicates and extract data that could help UNHCR respond more efficiently.
Expected results: Improved response time to requests, resulting in more effective delivery of services, potentially directly benefiting 650,000 refugees and asylum seekers. Enhanced data-driven decision making provides broader benefits to communities we work with and for.
Labor mobility pathways through digital skills and internships – Indonesia
Challenge: Refugees can struggle to access traditional employment due to their legal and documentation status. Digital livelihoods offer opportunities for economic empowerment, but refugees often lack the necessary skills, experience and digital access to take advantage of these opportunities.
Solution: Establish a phased digital livelihood strategy to facilitate learning-to-earning pathways, building on findings from a recent project. This will include training in IT skills, internships with identified partners that are crucial for future employability, and connections to work opportunities in third countries.
Expected results: 160 refugees benefit directly from the training programme, with greater access to livelihoods and labor mobility options. Peer-to-peer learning and acquisition of skills that are highly sought after in receiving countries amplify chances of success.
RefJam: Video games as an empowerment tool – North Macedonia
Challenge: Despite the huge audience and relevance of video games worldwide, humanitarian organizations have very limited engagement with video games as a potential tool to empower and include forcibly displaced and stateless people both socially and economically.
Solution: Unlock the potential of gaming as a vehicle for digital livelihoods, wellbeing, and integration through game-design workshops, a game-development festival, and an incubator programme for selected teams to develop prototypes.
Expected results: Informed by an existing feasibility study and robust community engagement, the “RefJam” project will empower around 500 displaced and stateless gaming enthusiasts to tell their stories, build community, develop digital skills, and access digital livelihoods.
Cybersecurity for refugees by refugees – Panama and the Americas
Challenge: Displaced people are at high risk of exposure to mis/disinformation, cybercrime, and cybersecurity risks, due to the increased collection of identifiable personal information, data breaches, and targeted attacks. Capacity among humanitarians and displaced communities to mitigate these digital risks is lacking.
Solution: Develop an educational programme (available as a web app) to build the capacity of humanitarian actors, refugees, and migrants in the areas of cybersecurity, cyber threats, and digital protection. These cybersecurity champions will cascade learnings across communities.
Expected results: 200 humanitarian staff members and more than 1,000 refugees and migrants directly benefit from strengthened digital skills and awareness to prevent and mitigate online risks like fraud, extortion, phishing, and more, spreading skills and awareness more widely.
Strengthening UNHCR human rights due diligence with digital technology – Global
Challenge: There is no comprehensive internal guidance or tool for human rights due diligence in UNHCR’s use of digital technology, which results in gaps or inconsistencies in applying UNHCR’s existing policies and tools and may lead to human rights risks not being adequately identified or mitigated.
Solution: Strengthen guidance and explore, in partnership with the Global Digital Service, how a user-friendly, efficient digital tool can support UNHCR colleagues to apply strengthened human rights due diligence processes to digital projects, by identifying risks and treatments as well as pointing colleagues toward relevant resources and support.
Expected results: A digital human-rights due diligence tool and stronger guidance to help all digital projects meet the principles of UNHCR’s Digital Transformation Strategy. This streamlined and standardized approach will effectively identify potential adverse human rights impacts, enhance protection outcomes, prevent/mitigate risks of harm, and support innovation.
Generating evidence to inform digital solutions to legal needs – South Africa
Challenge: Forcibly displaced and stateless people often struggle to access legal services. Delivering such services to these scattered communities is tough in a context of limited resources and challenging protection needs. Civil society legal actors’ digital endeavors have not necessarily been guided by the needs of the legal community and refugees.
Solution: Assess the needs and challenges of forcibly displaced people, in remote and urban areas, in accessing legal support, as well as the needs, capacity, and digital expertise of legal actors. Insights will inform future work on digital tools to enhance access to legal services and strengthen an emerging regional network of practitioners.
Expected results: Robust evidence generated to shape digital solutions addressing the identified needs and gaps, ensuring the trustworthiness, efficiency, and contextual appropriateness of these solutions. Access to legal services enhanced, and capacity of legal practitioners boosted.
Digital bridges for Afghan scholars – Iran
Challenge: Document requirements, financial constraints, language barriers, complex application processes, and identifying appropriate scholarships all present hurdles to refugee students – including Afghan women and girls – in accessing education pathways. For UNHCR, community engagement and communications are also challenging in this context.
Solution: Bridge information gaps to empower Afghan refugee students to access overseas study opportunities, through online sessions with successful scholarship holders and a digital mentorship programme. The online modality will enhance outreach to these communities.
Expected results: Around 600 refugee students benefit directly from information dissemination and mentorship, helping them better prepare for scholarship applications to postgraduate programmes abroad and opening up education pathways.
Bookkeeping app to boost refugee business’s financial management – Rwanda
Challenge: As part of efforts to enhance the self-reliance of refugees and host communities in Rwanda, huge investment has been made in start-up grants for entrepreneurs. Thousands of refugees have started small businesses, but they often rely on manual bookkeeping tools which can hinder productivity and slow growth.
Solution: Adapt and roll-out a digital financial management tool designed specifically to help refugee-owned businesses streamline their operations, with features like cash-flow tracking, inventory management, customer credit book, analytics, and more. Training provided for refugee users.
Expected results: Around 2,000 refugees who own small businesses benefit from streamlined digital management of their finances. Implementation via existing local partners Inkomoko and Kayako enhances chances of app uptake and success.
Bridging mental health gaps through digital innovation – Rwanda
Challenge: In Rwanda, refugees and members of other vulnerable groups often suffer from significant mental health issues. UNHCR and local authorities struggle to provide the necessary services, while also facing outreach challenges due to the social stigma around mental health.
Solution: Develop interactive mobile campaigns and pioneer online platforms for mental health services. Wanji Games, an interactive audio adventure, will deliver mental health information via mobile phones without the need for internet connectivity, while an interactive voice response (IVR) system will offer tailored mental health support to callers.
Expected results: This initiative could benefit more than 113,000 forcibly displaced people (80% of the displaced population in Rwanda), in addition to many host community members, with improved access to mental health services and, as a result, better outcomes.
Exploring sustainable digital solutions for more inclusive financial services – Uganda
Challenge: Safe and easy access to financial services is a significant challenge for refugees in the Bidibidi settlement, which is one of the least banked settlements in Uganda. More information is needed to understand whether smart agent banking and digital financial tools could be feasible solutions.
Solution: Initially, run a feasibility study to explore whether solar-powered kiosks (operated and eventually owned by refugee entrepreneurs) could effectively provide a range of digital financial services to customers, with accompanying trainings on using digital financial services and identifying and mitigating digital financial risks.
Expected results: Key information gleaned from the feasibility study to inform implementation of activities that could ensure refugees and host community members enjoy easier and safer access to digital financial services, while benefiting from skill acquisition and enhanced livelihoods.
Greater healthcare access for Indigenous communities through interpretation app – Brazil
Challenge: In Brazil, Warao refugees often face linguistic and cultural barriers to accessing information and essential services, including healthcare. A lack of specialized interpreters at clinics can result in workarounds that compromise security and confidentiality.
Solution: Expanding and enhancing interpretation services provided by the mobile app LUA (developed by Nacional University of Brasilia with the support of UNHCR and partners) to cover Belém municipality’s health sector. Enlarge the pool of Warao interpreters and build the capacity of health workers to improve intercultural dialogue.
Expected results: By addressing both linguistic and cultural barriers, the project aims to ensure displaced Indigenous communities can safely enjoy their rights and access essential services, resulting in improved health and social protection outcomes.
Exploring virtual tools for women’s solidarity and services – Afghanistan
Stay tuned for more details!
Enhancing online protection and accountability with generative AI – Hungary
Challenge: UNHCR Hungary faces challenges in addressing the increased activity within online communities of Ukrainian refugees. Current manual monitoring methods are resource heavy and prone to errors and language issues. As online-generated content increases, a more efficient approach is needed to engage with voices of refugees in online communities.
Solution: Explore, in collaboration with refugees, ways of using AI to follow online conversations, and gather and analyze information shared by/targeted at forcibly displaced people. Finding ways to use generative AI safely and ethically will help identify patterns and keywords, enabling UNHCR to accurately detect emerging needs and potential threats.
Expected results: Enhanced digital engagement and inclusion with refugee communities online, ensuring timely and effective intervention strategies. By working with 150 refugees directly and potentially reaching up to 11,000 more, the project will find ways for UNHCR to gain understanding of refugees’ needs and challenges based on their digital interactions.
Digital storytelling for resilience – Nigeria
Challenge: The 2 million internally displaced people living in Nigeria’s northeast states of Borno, Adamawa and Yobe are increasingly affected by misinformation, disinformation and hate speech. They, like other people forced to flee, experience a lack of agency in the narratives told about them.
Solution: Equipping young internally displaced Nigerians with digital storytelling skills, specifically in photography and videography, to boost their media literacy, empower them to tell their own stories, and enhance social connections, improving their mental health and wellbeing.
Expected results: 30 young people with lived experience of displacement receive digital storytelling skill-building. Through a training-of-trainers model, these skills are cascaded to up to 150 people within one year, boosting resilience and social cohesion across these communities.
Kakuma Flicks: Digital content creation for online livelihoods – Kenya
Challenge: Young people in Kakuma camp face high unemployment and are eager to build their digital skills to connect with the outside world, share their stories, and access online livelihoods. Youth have specifically identified a need for enhanced content creation and digital marketing skills to compete in this growing sector of the digital economy.
Solution: Upskilling young refugee and host community members in the areas of digital content creation, marketing, entrepreneurship, and employability skills, as well as providing them with access to necessary infrastructure and devices (for instance, cameras and editing software), and pathways to job opportunities in creative industries.
Expected results: Led by two local partners, Film Aid Kenya and Kakuma Ventures, this training and mentorship programme will support 300 young people to grow their skills and access opportunities in the expanding digital media market of Kenya and beyond.
Gamified communication with communities for enhanced protection outcomes – Iran
Challenge: The scattered distribution of displaced people, along with restrictions on humanitarian organizations, connectivity, and online platforms, make it challenging for UNHCR to share vital information that can easily be consumed by users in Iran. This, in turn, hinders the protection and empowerment of refugees.
Solution: Enhancing discoverability and accessibility of information by incorporating gamification mechanics into non-game settings – such as websites, online communities, local platforms, networks or information sharing activities – to facilitate greater engagement with content essential for forcibly displaced people.
Expected results: The project will strengthen information sharing for improved protection outcomes, with the direct engagement of more than 600 refugees and asylum-seekers, and the potential to benefit a wider public audience.
Data Innovation Fund
Indigenous women mappers for the environment – Panama
Challenge: Local Indigenous communities lack capacity and infrastructure to support the thousands of displaced people who travel through the Darién jungle every day, leaving a highly visible footprint. No study has examined the environmental impacts of this mass movement.
Solution: Engage Emberá-Wounaan Indigenous communities for a participatory mapping that will enable them to use digital tools to map places, services, and socioecological risks in their communities. Using the data, the communities can design a strategy for solid waste management.
Expected results: Improved environmental mitigation measures, based on knowledge gathered and produced by local communities, to support human and environmental health. Enhanced capacity among community to use digital tools to advance local knowledge.
Proactive data-driven disease detection in wastewater – Malawi
Challenge: Dzaleka camp has limited capacity and resources to clinically test forcibly displaced persons for infectious diseases. Meanwhile, refugees are especially vulnerable to such diseases, given their poor healthcare access and living conditions.
Solution: Pilot the use of wastewater-based epidemiology (WBE) at the camp, to identify pathogens of concern, estimate their prevalence, and improve and accelerate the response. WBE has been shown to predict some disease outbreaks days before clinical testing.
Expected results: Proactive detection of and response to infectious disease outbreaks, driving improved health outcomes.
Automated cash assistance to support small businesses – Paraguay
Challenge: Paraguayan financial regulations require all cash transactions to be accompanied by an invoice, but most forcibly displaced people cannot generate legally recognized invoices. Cash assistance beneficiaries must travel to sign a paper invoice. For entrepreneurs, the creation and review of paper-based business plans is an additional barrier.
Solution: Implement an e-invoicing system and a standardized tool for UNHCR’s cash assistance delivery and selection of business grant recipients. This will enable individuals to submit proposals online and sign e-invoices remotely.
Expected results: Greater objectivity, transparency, and standardization in the selection of seed capital recipients in Paraguay. Reduced environmental impact by removing the need for paper-based transactions and travel for beneficiaries of multipurpose cash and business grants.
New privacy technologies for better data sharing – Global
Challenge: UNHCR and the Joint Data Center on Forced Displacement launched the UNHCR Microdata Library (MDL) in 2020, to safely share microdata with external researchers. But, due to the data’s sensitivity, statistical disclosure control often allows only a small subsample to be shared, limiting its utility.
Solution: Test the use of artificially generated data, differential privacy, and other privacy enhancing technology techniques to generate dummy data from the MDL that could be safely shared with external researchers while maintaining a good level of utility.
Expected results: Researchers have access to useful datasets that accurately convey the content of the MDL without breaching privacy. An improved evidence base drives improved initiatives to protect, empower, and include refugees.
Data-driven insights into migration across the west Indian Ocean – Multiregion
Challenge: There is a lack of data on the emerging mixed-migration sea route from Comoros to Mayotte, but there are indications that a significant number of lives are lost at sea. Figures from UN agencies are inconsistent. Greater collaboration across relevant UNHCR regions is needed.
Solution: Conduct research and gather datasets through an interactive mobile platform to identify motivations of those forced to flee as well as gaps in the responsibilities of pertinent states in relation to rescue at sea, non-refoulement, and asylum access. The project may also explore predictive modeling along this route.
Expected results: The data collected will enhance UNHC’s understanding of the situation and needs of those crossing the west Indian Ocean, supporting advocacy within relevant countries and driving an improved humanitarian response along this route.
Behavioral analytics to boost social inclusion through sport – Global
Challenge: UNHCR lacks an understanding of what excites sports fans about our communications content, and therefore how best to engage this audience and inspire their support for those forced to flee through future communications.
Solution: Design a behavioral analytics project that unpacks the motivations and drivers of the sporting public in engaging positively with content focused on displacement and refugees, to inform more targeted sports-related communications products and engagement.
Expected results: Communities of sports fans and players could be powerful advocates for the cause of forced displacement. This project will identify how to turn this potential into action.
Generative AI resource on refugee law to support protection – Global
Challenge: UNHCR’s Rights Mapping & Analysis Platform (RiMAP) is a global platform to record and analyze laws and policies driving, under a common analytical framework, access to rights for refugees, asylum-seekers, internally displaced and stateless persons. UNHCR’s protection staff need support in structuring the analysis of this high volume of legal data.
Solution: Explore the potential of providing UNHCR staff with an ‘AI co-pilot’ (virtual assistant) for law and policy analysis to assist faster research, understanding, and presentation of access to rights of forcibly displaced and stateless populations.
Expect results: UNHCR colleagues at country, regional bureaux, and headquarters level have readily accessible and updated legal information regarding the rights of the people UNHCR works with and for, which will support policy dialogues and improve protection outcomes.
NLP for more effective analysis of qualitative data from communities – Iraq
Challenge: In the Kurdistan Region, UNHCR receives a lot of information from communities via unstructured text and voice data in Kurdish and Arabic (depending on the collection resource). These have to be manually processed and assessed, which is time consuming – so the data is often not fully analyzed.
Solution: Test ways that natural language processing (NLP) tools – such as translation, summarization, question response, categorization, transcription, and more – could be used to support the processing and analysis of unstructured data in languages used by communities.
Expected results: Quicker and more comprehensive processing and analysis of this AV data, freeing up UNHCR resources and enabling more effective responses. The proposed Kurdish NLP methods could also be integrated into KoboToolbox, expanding that tool’s capabilities.
Data-assisted automated water distribution and treatment systems – Zimbabwe
Challenge: In and around Tongogara Refugee Settlement, more than 15,000 residents and 1,500 host community members get water from solar pumping systems connected to reticulation networks. Expansions of the networks over the past decade and manual handling of valves result in unoptimized water distribution, posing a risk of infectious disease.
Solution: Procuring hardware for an automated distribution and treatment system (PLC automated valves, automated chlorination system, pumping rate controllers, water quality monitoring devices, water flow meters, pressure sensors) and developing algorithms to control this system.
Expected results: The automated distribution and treatment of water provided to residents, as well as an online monitoring dashboard to provide oversight of this system. Improved population health and more equitable water access, as well as local capacity building to maintain the system.
Using AI to spot inefficiencies in ASD asylum systems and determination section – Global
Challenge: Processing times for Refugee Status Determination (RSD) cases vary greatly, often for known reasons, such as different operational contexts, processing strategies, and caseloads. However, even when all known variables are controlled for, there remain discrepancies in processing time, as well as bottlenecks, that are not easily explained.
Solution: Leverage artificial intelligence to analyze the process flow, taking into account multiple variables, to identify patterns impacting the case processing time. Understanding systematic bottlenecks could help inform effective solutions.
Expected results: Major bottlenecks and their root causes in the RSD process identified, helping to shape potential solutions. Reducing delays and inefficiencies allows for better UNHCR resource management and ensures refugee applicants secure the rights associated with this status more quickly.
Optimized data collection and app integration to streamline aid distribution – Ukraine
Challenge: Various errors, inconsistencies, and gaps in data collection – due to insufficient training for partners and the use of multiple tools to collect information – limit the optimization of UNHCR’s distribution of non-food items (NFIs) in Ukraine.
Solution: Improve UNHCR’s ability to integrate and compare relevant data by developing an app that efficiently stores and uses information from local authorities, tracks all entities involved in NFI distribution, and automatically generates essential documents, like waybills and stock requests.
Expected results: Improved understanding of the number and needs of forcibly displaced people across Ukraine drives more effective planning while automated documents streamline processes, improving overall operational efficiency and enhancing monitoring capabilities.
AI-supported lawsuits to boost refugees’ access to justice – Republic of Korea
Challenge: Of the more than 10,000 refugee applications annually in Korea, only 2% are successful. Those denied are not given legal representation when they appeal the nonrecognition of their refugee status, leading to virtually zero chance of success.
Solution: Increase access to justice by developing an AI-based system that drafts submissions to court for refugee lawsuits, helping to argue for the illegality of nonrecognition decisions.
Expected results: Refugees in Korea are better able to present their cases in court as they seek recognition of their refugee status, improving their access to justice and their chances of socioeconomic inclusion on the basis of that status.
Leveraging appeals data for more accountable and timely assistance – Global
Challenge: There is no automated system to facilitate a triage of incoming appeals for joint targeting/prioritization exercises by UNHCR and the World Food Programme (WFP). Available capacity to follow up on appeals is limited and must be carefully managed.
Solution: Leverage data – and strengthen its visualization and presentation – to enable informed decision-making on appeals. By combining appellants’ grounds for appeal with existing proGres data, the project will predict each appeal’s chances of success, enabling UNHCR/WFP to prioritize follow-up on those most likely to succeed.
Expected results: UNHCR and WFP are able to more effectively leverage appeals data to improve follow-up and decision-making on appeals – ultimately improving outcomes from appeals while ensuring data protection.
Evidence-based advocacy for effective refugee family reunification – Global
Challenge: The lack of clarity and data on family reunification hinders policy making, systems design and internal planning, and makes it hard for UNHCR to achieve goals laid out in the Global Compact on Refugees. More information on needs, successes, and challenges in this space is required.
Solution: Closely examine 2–3 countries of current asylum and/or transit along a mixed migration route, plus 2–3 countries within the European Union, to develop a more holistic understanding of the family reunification process, taking a phased approach that leverages data science methodologies for data collection and analysis.
Expected results: Framework of tools developed for the collection and analysis of data on needs, outcomes, and gaps regarding family reunification processes, to inform more effective and strategic advocacy.
Environment and Climate Action Innovation Fund
Pay-as-you-go LPG for cleaner energy – Mauritania
Challenge: Most refugees in Mbera camp cook with firewood or charcoal, which contribute to deforestation but can be acquired in small, affordable increments. LPG – a cleaner fuel – is cheaper over time, but a full cylinder, its only available format, is a high upfront cost, as is equipment to make the switch.
Solution: Create a more affordable pay-as-you-go solution by enabling local providers to refill LPG cylinders up to smaller requested amounts. Providers will receive hand pumps and training, while households will receive cash assistance to purchase LPG stoves and refillable cylinders.
Expected results: Diminished health and environmental impacts of charcoal use, benefitting 5,000 individuals directly and 3,500 more indirectly. Local businesses are supported and households save money with a sustainable supply and demand link. Awareness raising campaigns boost already high potential for uptake.
Biofencing to boost agricultural production and biodiversity – Zimbabwe
Challenge: Fields and gardens essential to livelihoods of refugees in Tongogora Refugee Camp are often damaged by animals, requiring extensive fencing. Crop damage has led to tension between agricultural and pastoral households, while fencing needs have sped up deforestation.
Solution: Collaborate with communities to grow local plants as natural barriers around crop fields. This will reduce the need for wood, create a carbon sink, boost biodiversity, and improve social relations. The plants can also provide other benefits, including food and resources.
Expected results: The solution, which was identified by host and refugee farmers, will benefit 2,610 individuals directly and 6,000 indirectly. It will grow local capacity, enhance livelihood options, provide sustainable resources, promote social cohesion, and contribute to biodiversity.
Connecting with nature for healthier, more resilient communities – Poland
Challenge: Among Ukrainian refugees’ critical needs is mental health support to manage stress, adaptation, trauma. Few have accessed specialized care, due to lack of availability and stigma and, although Poland’s solidarity toward Ukrainian refugees has been exemplary, signs of compassion fatigue are starting to emerge, leading to increasing tensions.
Solution: Based on emerging evidence of the impact of green spaces on mental and physical wellbeing, UNHCR will establish diverse, multigenerational nature and gardening clubs, implement quick-impact green projects with local stakeholders, and hold citywide activities that foster human connections and build more inclusive communities.
Expected results: This approach will harness the potential of community gardens as a vehicle for protection, bringing together 650 refugees and hosts from diverse demographics to improve wellbeing, strengthen resilience, and grow support networks. It will green urban spaces, promote dialogue, follow a skills-for-psychosocial-recovery strategy, and monitor impacts.
Nature-based solutions to combat erosion – Tanzania
Challenge: Environmental degradation has driven gully formation around Nyarugusu refugee camp, posing an immediate danger to Congolese and Burundian refugees. Up to 3m deep, the gullies increase the risk of further erosion and flash floods, threatening infrastructure and ecosystems.
Solution: UNHCR will replace the current approach to control erosion – costly stone-pitched gabions – with a community-led nature-based solution whereby refugees nurture barriers composed of various native species to support soil stabilization, prevent further erosion, and boost biodiversity.
Expected results: Community members are trained on plant care to ensure longevity, and nurseries are established to grow plants for use to prevent gully formation. More than 2,700 households are expected to benefit directly, while the entire camp benefits from a safer, healthier environment.
Community-based solar minigrids for locally tailored clean energy – Multiregion
Challenge: The transition to solar energy has faced diverse challenges across different contexts, including a lack of linkages to national grids, high up-front costs, limited viability of market-based models, limited community ownership, low capacity for repair and maintenance, among others.
Solution: An aligned but contextualized approach across multiple countries to experiment with different forms of community-based models for the design, establishment, tariff setting, management, and financial sustainability of solar mini-grid systems, accompanied by robust monitoring for potential scalability.
Expected results: This approach to several linked pilots is an opportunity to systematically support operations with technical design and optimize processes while enabling locally relevant, flexible implementation in collaboration with communities. Diverse approaches will produce essential learnings about effective shifts to sustainable energy.
Grassroots eco-friendly shopping bags and recycled building blocks to address pollution – Uganda
Challenge: In Nakivale Refugee Settlement, plastic-bag use remains high, despite Uganda’s ban on plastic production and consumption. Available recyclable and biodegradable bags are more costly, less sturdy, and less versatile. Waste management is limited, with few recycling options.
Solution: SEEDS, a refugee-led social enterprise employing youth with disabilities, will partner with UNHCR to ramp up production of waterproof, biodegradable paper bags. SEEDS will use profits to purchase raw materials for a community seedling scheme to sustain production and conduct routine waste collection to produce recycled building blocks.
Expected results: The project will reduce the cost of eco-friendly options, help clean up the camp environment and reduce carbon emissions. UNHCR’s partnership will amplify the reach of grassroots innovation, supporting livelihoods for refugees with disabilities.
Local agents of change for climate action – Bangladesh
Challenge: Many solar powered systems have been installed across camps in Cox’s Bazar to provide essential needs, but limited repair and maintenance support and lack of local capacity means many do not function adequately, contributing to e-waste issues.
Solution: Develop and train young energy ambassadors to lead energy infrastructure repair and maintenance as well as community-based learning to promote behavior change on sustainable energy use. These ambassadors could potentially be remunerated through CBI approaches.
Expected results: Awareness raised across the camp to encourage environmentally friendly choices, and local capacity built to maintain solar energy systems, improving energy efficiency and longevity of energy infrastructure. 5,000 individuals directly benefit.
Beehives for livelihoods and peaceful coexistence – Bangladesh
Challenge: Human-elephant conflict has increased significantly since the mass arrival of refugees to Cox’s Bazar. This has led to fatalities, injuries, crop loss, and livelihood limitations, while also exacerbating tensions between refugee and host communities – particularly given the limited success of efforts to manage this challenge in local settlements.
Solution: With a focus on host farmers, test the introduction of beehive fencing and crops that are unappealing to elephants to create natural barriers, reduce human-elephant conflict, and create alternative livelihoods options for host communities, facilitating peaceful co-existence.
Expected results: 385 individuals from host communities directly benefit, with a further 30,000 individuals, from both host and refugee communities, indirectly benefited through improved relations, reduced elephant-human conflict, and enhanced food security.
Repurposing plastic for reduced pollution and healthier settlements – Lebanon
Challenge: Plastic sheets distributed to Lebanon’s tented settlements are often layered thickly to reinforce shelter roofs. Old sheets that destabilize shelters should be removed, replaced, and responsibly disposed of, but local recycling options are scarce and limited resources constrain options for maintenance and settlement improvements.
Solution: Remove and replace old sheets in Northern Lebanon, while stabilizing and reinforcing structures. Retired sheets collected and sold to local recyclers to help cover costs. Test different methods to process plastic into useful, necessary items and train residents on their production, creating livelihood opportunities.
Expected results: Improved shelters for at least 300 households. Income generated thanks to a recycling profit of 80 USD per tonne of plastic. Livelihoods boosted due to capacity-building activities and hiring for labor needs. Useful infrastructural materials more readily available, and a viable plastic recycling system established.
Sustainably produced traditional mats for better shelters and livelihoods – Ethiopia
Challenge: More and better shelters are needed in Ayasita refugee camp, but its remote location and the cost of materials makes building durable housing difficult. High temperatures and low rainfall make the current, poorly insulated shelters uncomfortable and limits local livelihoods.
Solution: Support the production of traditional debora matts from locally available materials, including date palm fibre, to provide insulation materials. Local women will be trained on mat production while sustainable date palm farming will be promoted, creating income opportunities.
Expected results: More than 2,000 women artisans and farmers will be linked to each other to facilitate smooth supply and demand. Improved housing and livelihood opportunities, as well as more environmentally friendly farming techniques.
Climate-smart agriculture and insurance for preparedness – Malawi
Challenge: Dzaleka camp is overpopulated and exposed to significant climate change impacts. Restricted land access and freedom of movement limit opportunities, with most residents dependent on food aid. There is an urgent need to build resilience and expand options for self-reliance.
Solution: Parallel investments in climate-smart agriculture and development of skills and knowledge as key tools for longterm self-reliance of refugees to manage future shocks, to complement investment in parametric insurance to provide life-saving support to refugee communities if risk thresholds are met.
Expected results: Improved resilience and food security, enhancing preparedness. The twin tracks of practical resilience-building and parametric insurance will provide both the financial resources and capacities for effective responses to impending crises, reducing the vulnerability of displaced communities.
Community-led mangrove restoration for durable solutions – Colombia
Challenge: The port city of Turbo is highly transited and houses a large informal settlement. Its mangrove ecosystem is highly impacted by the settlement’s waste management issues. Land rights are being sought to ensure durable solutions for forcibly displaced people, but limited local opportunities contribute to onward movement.
Solution: Building on the legalization process, create an environmental committee and train community members to promote community-led restoration and sustainable management of the mangrove. The committee will investigate commercial opportunities for sustainable livelihoods.
Expected results: Diverse community members gain capacity to undertake restoration and waste management work. Improved environmental health and possible commercial avenues for livelihood opportunities – selling seedlings, scientific research, academically focused eco-tourism – explored in collaboration with local stakeholders
Community-based waste management for inclusive livelihoods and health – Colombia
Challenge: Outlying areas of Medellin, where forcibly displaced people often settle, lack adequate waste management, leading to pollution, water contamination, and resource over-extraction, affecting environmental and human health. Vulnerable groups often engage in informal waste picking for income, which is dangerous, undignified, and poorly remunerated.
Solution: Establish a community association to collectivize and formalize waste pickers, developing – with the support of an NGO and an academic institution – an elderly- and disability- inclusive community-based waste management system with value-addition activities for enhanced income, improved health standards, and community empowerment.
Expected results: 100 people from refugee, internally displaced, and host communities, with vulnerable groups represented, benefit from improved livelihoods and working conditions. Best practices developed in terms of waste processing and value addition (e.g., urban composting for sale of fertilizer).
Strategic support for a refugee-led green economy – Ecuador
Challenge: Most forcibly displaced people in Ecuador work in the informal sector and live in areas with few income-generating opportunities. The green economy could offer a solution, but opportunities and methods to successfully leverage it have not been fully explored or understood.
Solution: Work with refugees, host communities and stakeholders to identify and test how they could successfully develop green products and businesses not only for income, but to address key local challenges, such as food waste in wholesale markets, and associated negative environmental and human health impacts.
Expected results: 128 refugee entrepreneurs will directly benefit from capacity-building and other support, with further benefits derived from improved livelihoods, greener practices, and a method to follow with other refugees. Evidence generated on the viability of transitioning to green economies presented to local stakeholders and relevant actors.
Refugee-led Innovation Fund
The Fund has not yet finalized endorsements for 2024. Check back in soon!