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Even under the most challenging constraints, people find ways to engage in creative problem solving. Refugees, displaced persons, and others caught in crisis often have skills, talents, and aspirations that they draw upon to adapt to difficult circumstances. Although ‘humanitarian innovation’ has been increasingly embraced by the humanitarian world, this kind of ‘bottom-up’ innovation by crisis-affected communities is often neglected in favour of a sector-wide focus on improving the effectiveness of organisational response to crisis. This oversight disregards the capabilities and adaptive resourcefulness that people and communities affected by conflict and disaster often demonstrate. This report focuses on examples and case studies of ‘bottom-up innovation’ among different refugee populations. Whether in the immediate aftermath of displacement or in long-term protracted situations, in both urban and rural areas, refugees frequently engage in innovation. By definition displaced across international borders, refugees face new markets, a new regulatory environment, and new social and economic networks in their host countries. Being adaptive and creative is often necessary in order to meet basic needs, to develop income-generating activities, or to keep long-term aspirations alive. Even where there are legal constraints on the right to work or freedom of movement, the capacity of refugee populations to engage in iterative problem-solving is nearly always evident.

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Refugee Studies Centre

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refugees innovation