This is a follow-up of Kampala Report 1. In this blog, I shall write on potential livelihood opportunities for refugees in the business sector in Kampala.

Highly skilled professionals or informal trader?

During the fieldwork in Kampala, I talked to several bilateral donor agencies, government organisations and NGOs which are involved in the private sector development. I discussed with them about potential areas where refugees can seek livelihood opportunities in the local business sector. Their responses normally fell into following two categories. First, they pointed to an increasing demand for skilled experts (i.e. financial analysts, ICT experts, language instructors, teachers and doctors/nurses). This is understandable since service sectors in Kampala have grown up rapidly for last several years. But how many of refugees have qualifications and skills for these jobs? Perhaps, not many.

Second, many of these interviewees indicated the informal trade sector as an area where refugees without specialised skills can seek business opportunities in Kampala. Informal markets nevertheless seem to be already saturated due to a large number of Ugandan vendors. Is there sufficient room to absorb thousands of refugees in these local markets? This question requires further investigation.

Innovative approaches for creating livelihood opportunities

Apart from finding jobs either in skilled labour market or informal trade sector, are there any ways to help refugees seek economic opportunities in the local business sector? To think about this question, we need to be creative. Let me introduce two innovative initiatives led by the private enterprises in Kampala.

The first example is proposed by the company named Technology for Tomorrow (TfT), which was established by Ugandan scholar at Makerere University. This company employs both Ugandans and refugees to produce sanitary pads called ‘MakaPads’ (see Photo 1) and sell them to UNHCR to be distributed in refugee settlements in Uganda. Previously, these sanitary pads for refugees were imported from China to Uganda. By producing them in Uganda, however, TfT has succeeded in making employment for both locals and refugees. What is insightful about this approach is that TfT has not created any additional business demands to employ them but generated new livelihood opportunities by changing the supply side of sanitary pads. This model might be applied to other imported necessities for refugees.

Photo 1: ‘Makapad’ by Technology for Tomorrow  

Another example is the business model presented by Green Bio Energy (GBE). GBE is a private company which aims to assist income-generating means of poor people through the production of briquettes from organic wastes or charcoal dusts. The participants of GBE’s programme can earn income by collecting organic wastes/charcoal dusts, carbonising them into briquettes, and selling them to GBE (see Photo 2 for final products). GBE will eventually sell these briquettes produced by participants to local vendors for profits. Currently, beneficiaries of GBE programme are poor Ugandan people in Kampala. But refugees in the capital and settlements could benefit from this business model. 

Photo 2: Briquettes made by participants of GBE’s programme

Future research agendas   

The preliminary fieldwork in Kampala gave me a lot of homework for future visits. First, as written above, while stakeholders in the private sector highlight high-skilled and low-skilled labour markets as economic opportunities for refugees, aren’t there any labour demands for semi-skilled refugees? If yes, what are these areas? Second, similar to GBE and TfT, there seem to be other social enterprises working on poverty reduction in Uganda (The magazine, African Business No. 388 did a feature on innovations in Africa including Uganda). It will be interesting to map out all of these companies and to examine the applicability of their business models for refugee contexts. Finally, it is important to understand whether there are any common livelihood challenges between refugees and local poor people in Kampala. If their problems are similar, we can think of assistance that can benefit the subsistence of both locals and refugees.  

Support from UNHCR and refugees during the fieldwork

Before finishing off Kampala Report 2, I would like to thank staff members of UNHCR and a number of refugees who assisted the fieldwork. Interactions with UNHCR staff members gave me a number of important insights about refugee livelihoods (see Photo 3).

Many refugees facilitated the fieldwork as research assistants and translators. Throughout the fieldwork, I frequently had conversation with them about my research questions and methodologies and their suggestions were extremely useful to me. They were more like my research ‘partners’ rather than research assistants.     

                                                                                                                                                                         Naohiko Omata

Photo 3: UNHCR staff members in Kampala  
robert hakiza
17/9/2012 02:36:15 am

Thank you very much Nao for the great work. this has been among the very important research about urban refugees in Kampala. I appreciate the innovative idea of Technology for Tomorrow and i support the idea of applying this modal to other imported necessities for refugees


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