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Researching the role of technology, innovation and the private sector in refugee protection

The Humanitarian Innovation Project (HIP) undertakes research on the role of technology, innovation and the private sector in refugee assistance. The project takes a ‘bottom-up’ approach, attempting to understand and build upon the skills, talents and aspirations of refugee communities. It has both academic and practical aspects, contributing to ways in which we understand the political economy of refugee protection and assistance, while also contributing directly to policy through partnerships with UNHCR and other organisations.

The initial focus of the project is on refugee livelihoods in Uganda – a country that allows refugees the right to work and a degree of freedom of movement, providing a context in which meaningful research can be undertaken. A team of local and refugee researchers have assisted in the collection of data in Kampala and in the Nakivale and Kyangwali refugee settlements. The project has developed numerous qualitative case studies on refugees’ entrepreneurship, innovation and connection to the private sector, and it is also undertaking a large-scale quantitative survey, which will offer more representative data on how refugees adapt their economic and livelihood strategies.

The results so far fundamentally challenge conceptions of refugee assistance. They show communities with thriving and complex economies, offering insights into the conditions under which sustainable livelihoods innovation takes places.

Far from being isolated, refugee communities have strong connections to local, national and transnational networks. The project has also explored the different modes of engagement of international and national private sector actors, showing how and why companies and social enterprises are motivated to engage refugees as customers, employees, producers or beneficiaries.

As the work has evolved, we have held a number of consultative workshops, including most recently, one in Kampala, in which our refugee research assistants were able to present their own research in the presence of representatives from UNHCR and the Government of Uganda. Meanwhile, we have presented this research at numerous international policy meetings in order to reorient the global humanitarian innovation debate to recognise the potential of an alternative, ‘bottom-up’ approach to innovation.

Selected publications

HIP2015: Humanitarian Innovation Conference

The second Humanitarian Innovation Conference took place in Oxford in July 2015. The theme for #HIP2015 was ‘facilitating innovation’. In the lead up to the World Humanitarian Summit in May 2016, conference participants worked together to explore the challenges of creating an enabling environment for humanitarian innovation. Full details can be found here >>

The report of the inaugural conference, HIP2014, is available here >>

Impact Case Study: Humanitarian Innovation Project

The Humanitarian Innovation Project (HIP) has a dual research and policy engagement mission. It is working not only to engage with a fundamental rethinking of the political economy of the refugee experience, but also to directly inform the work of humanitarian actors.

Read the full case study >>

Impact Case Study: Refugee Economies in Uganda

The report Refugee Economies: Rethinking Popular Assumptions was launched on World Refugee Day 2014. Drawing on research in Uganda, the report sought to explore the economic lives of refugees. It has had a significant impact on policy, practice, and public debate.

Find out more >>