Entrepreneurs 'Out of Africa'

Successful African entrepreneurs are in Oxford for a launch conference of the 'Humanitarian Innovation Project' (HIP), which will examine ways of helping refugees set up and grow their own businesses.

The project, based in the Refugee Studies Centre at the Oxford Department of International Development, is led by Dr Alexander Betts and funded by Stephanie and Hunter Hunt, Dallas-based philanthropists and founders of the Hunt Institute for Engineering and Humanity.

Refugees are often confined to refugee camps or closed settlements for many years, often without the right to work or move around freely.  However, in Uganda the situation is much freer for refugees, who have been given the right to work. This has meant that the entrepreneurial spirit of refugees living in its camps has been able to thrive. At today's event are entrepreneurs who are working with refugees in Uganda, which both benefits the refugees and the host country's economy.

The HIP project focuses on ways of transforming how governments respond to refugees by recognising and building upon their skills, aspirations and entrepreneurship. In short, they hope other governments will follow the lead taken by Uganda.

A new website, Humanitarian Innovation Project,   has been launched that provides advice on microcredit, mentoring, partnership with the private sector and innovative ideas for other refugees to pick up and adapt in their own locality.

Dr Betts will track and document how refugees in progressively minded countries like Uganda can thrive when given the right to work and use their entrepreneurial skills.

He said: 'Humanitarian responses often rely upon old ways of doing things and often these responses are inefficient, unsustainable, and lead to dependency. What we don't recognise sufficiently is that refugees are natural survivors with the determination and drive to become fantastic entrepreneurs.  

'Despite growing academic work on refugee livelihoods, there has been little coherent methodology for capturing and evaluating existing practices, looking outwards to identify alternative approaches to livelihood development, and piloting alternative ways to develop greater self-sufficiency for refugees.'

Speaking at the Oxford conference is Dr Moses Musaasi, who is based in Kampala, Uganda, and whose business has developed the 'Makapad'. This environmentally responsible sanitary pad made of papyrus leaves is manufactured by refugees in the Kyaka II refugee settlement and distributed by UNHCR. The company now plans to increase production and sales.

Also at the Oxford event is Vincent Kienzler from Uganda, who has a  business that recycles waste materials to create a fuel source, and is exploring how to involve refugees in its work. Non-governmental organisations working with refugees, private sector foundations and UNHCR staff (UN High Commissioner for Refugees) are also participating in the event.