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The main market street in Al Za'atari refugee camp, Jordan, nicknamed the 'Champs-Élysées' © Humanitarian Innovation Project
The main market street in Al Za'atari refugee camp, Jordan, nicknamed the 'Champs-Élysées'

This week some of the team from the Humanitarian Innovation Project (HIP) are in Jordan exploring refugee-led innovation. This visit is part of a short study supported by the World Humanitarian Summit, and will feed into discussions around the theme of ‘Transformation Through Innovation’ at the Summit, to be held in May 2016 in Istanbul.

The study is based on the understanding that communities affected by humanitarian crises around the world are using their skills and creativity to improve the lives of their families and surrounding communities every day. This kind of bottom-up innovation is itself a form of humanitarian action, although it is often poorly understood by the international humanitarian community.

The team have spent time at one of Jordan’s refugee camps, Al Za’atari, currently host to nearly 83,000 Syrians. Despite not having easy access to work permits, informal economic and social innovation in the camp are thriving and keeping people busy day to day. Syrian innovators have adapted the camp themselves in many ways, using the limited resources available. For example removal men have created wheels to move the ‘caravan’ homes, provided by the international community, around the camp – a market demand created by families and former neighbours who want to live close together again.

HIP has spent the last two-and-a-half years researching and learning more about the capacities of refugees to help themselves. Having already uncovered some remarkable examples of product and process innovation among refugee communities living in Uganda, this recent short study aims to capture more examples from Jordan, Kenya and South Africa. The results of the study will be available in a report due to be launched in July this year.

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