Refugee entrepreneurs create jobs in Rwanda

UNHCRs partner in Rwanda, Inkomoko, trains refugee entrepreneurs in business skills. The results are striking: The refugees become more self-reliant, improve their living conditions and, in addition, they create jobs and economic growth.

© UNHCR / Hector Perez.

Jacqueline Muhimpundu came to Rwanda in 2015, fleeing the insecurity and violence in her home country Burundi together with her children. Her husband was left behind, and she doesn’t know if he is alive or not.

“I have had no news from him since January 2016. I don’t know where he is,” says Jacqueline who lives alone with her four children and supports them on her own.

Back in Burundi, Jacqueline was selling fabrics in the market, but in Rwanda she has created her own business, building on skills she was taught with help from UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, when she was forced to flee to Kenya years ago. Now, Jacqueline has become a refugee for the third time in her life – but she is also an entrepreneur, growing her own soap production business.

“When I arrived in Rwanda, that was the first thing I thought about, because I knew that I already had the skills,” Jacqueline explains.

“We believe that with their skills and a business mindset refugees can really contribute to the development of the country. And they can become self-reliant.”

She is one of many refugees in Rwanda who have benefitted greatly from the training programs offered by Inkomoko, a partner to UNHCR. Inkomoko is the Rwandan affiliate of the African Entrepreneur Collective and they work with both local and refugee entrepreneurs.

“When refugees arrive, they come with a skill set. They are here because they need security, but we believe that with their skills and a business mindset they can really contribute to the development of the country. And they can become self-reliant,” Lydia Irambona, director for Special Projects and Government Relation at Inkomoko, explains.

Last year, 1.699 refugee entrepreneurs graduated Inkomoko’s program – thus completing training in all aspects of running a business: From book keeping and sales to marketing and customer care.

“We basically teach them how to do business in Rwanda including the ‘dos and don’ts’ of being an entrepreneur. We are working with businesses from all kinds of sectors – agriculture, retail, wholesale, restaurants and fashion,” says Lydia Irambona.

 

Jacqueline Muhimpundu fled Burundi in 2015 with her children and came to Rwanda. She produces soap, and since she joined the program with Inkomoko, her business has seen big and positives changes. She has been able to move into a bigger house with her family, and she now has 5 employees, including locals.

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UNHCR’s partner Inkomoko in Rwanda is training local and refugee entrepreneurs, enabling them to grow their businesses thus improving their own situation as well as creating jobs for others. Last year, the refugee entrepreneurs graduating Inkomoko’s program in total created more than 2.400 jobs. Photo © UNHCR / Hector Perez.

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“We believe that with their skills and a business mindset refugees can really contribute to the development of the country. And they can become self-reliant,” Lydia Irambona explains. She is director of Special Projects and Government Relations at Inkomoko. Photo © UNHCR / Hector Perez.

 

The program is free of cost for the refugees – the funding comes partly from UNHCR and partly from other donors and partners such as Master Card. But the value speaks loudly in the results. The growing businesses create jobs – in 2017, a total of 2.492 jobs were created by refugee entrepreneurs – and they experience major increases in revenue and growth as well, the statistics from Inkomoko show.

According to Lydia Irambona, the recruitment of approximately 1.600 new refugee entrepreneurs to enroll in the training in 2019 is well underway – and in addition, Inkomoko is soon to expand their activities to Kenya, opening a new branch in Kakuma Refugee Camp.

“With the influx of refugees in many countries, and the refugee crisis being worldwide, expanding Inkomoko’s services in other countries will be a way of showing that refugees are dignified people who can be self-reliant if they are given the opportunities like any other citizens,” she says.

“My hope for the future is that I can grow my capital and my business, so that I can open more branches.”

For Jacqueline Muhimpundu the training with Inkomoko has left a significant mark on her business – and hereby her ability to improve the living conditions for her family and herself.

“Since I joined the program I can see a big difference in my business. I started out alone producing the soap in a small room next to the room where I slept with my children. Now that I have grown my business, I have been able to employ staff to support me in the company, and I can afford a bigger house for my family,” says Jacqueline.

She currently has five employees, two other refugees and three local Rwandese, but her ambitions don’t stop here:

“My hope for the future is that I can grow my capital and my business, so that I can open more branches. I want to expand outside of Kigali and to other countries. I want to open my business in Burundi, when peace comes back.”

With UNHCRs refugee response in Rwanda being seriously underfunded, the activities and operation are highly dependent on the unearmarked funding, coming from donors like Denmark. In 2017, Denmark was UNHCR’s 6th largest donor of unearmarked funding.