Humanitarian innovation project

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.

Alexander Betts
Professor of Forced Migration and International Affairs
Naohiko Omata
Senior Research Officer (Social Sciences), Humanitarian Innovation Project, RSC
Josiah Kaplan
Research Associate, RSC
Stephanie and Hunter Hunt