Supporting Entrepreneurship Opportunities for Uganda’s 1 Million Refugees

By Paul Green, Kampala-based data analyst & BizGees Volunteer

Uganda, a country of 43 million people currently hosts over 1.5 million refugees. The largest number in Africa and third largest in the world.

Despite a turbulent past, ongoing regional issues and a slowly changing political climate, Uganda has experienced relative stability for three decades.

The same is not true of its nearest neighbours experiencing some of the worst instability of any countries in the world. One million of the current refugees in Uganda are from South Sudan, 300,000 from the DRC with the others from Burundi, Somalia, Rwanda and others. The numbers are growing daily.

Despite the pressures on its borders and resources, Uganda’s policy of welcoming refugees provides a framework of opportunities for refugee entrepreneurship. In many other countries refugees are excluded from the workforce or from starting a business.

Why is Uganda Unique?

Both the World Bank and the UNHCR have hailed Uganda’s approach to managing refugees as a model for other countries to follow — but what makes it so special?

  1. Processing time: Rather than waiting in holding centres indefinitely, asylum seekers are processed quickly, often within a few days and are able to begin contributing to their host economy and building independence.
  2. Freedom to trade: Once granted refugee status refugees are allowed and encouraged to undertake employment and business activities.
  3. Freedom of movement: Refugees are not confined to camps like other countries. Many choose to live in settlements often near the border where food, water, energy, health care and education are available. Pressure on resources here is so much that many choose to migrate to nearby towns or to the capital Kampala and fully integrate into the Ugandan society.
  4. Land grants: Refugees are given a 30 X 30m plot of land to provide food for themselves and the surplus to sell. They are thus contributing to their host country and local community both as producers and consumers.
  5. Welcoming host communities: According to research conducted by International Rescue Committee 77% of local communities support, or strongly support, their local government providing services to refugees — 61% support integration into local communities. They are both consumers and producers but also attract services and infrastructure to the regions. Many local residents in these areas have been refugees themselves.
South Sudanese refugees queue at a reception centre in Arua, Source: UNHCR

BizGees — enabling refugee entrepreneurs

While beginning in tragedy and trauma, refugee status in Uganda can provide potential opportunities for entrepreneurship and self-sufficiency regardless inside or outside refugee settlements. Yet, one major obstacle remains — access to finance. Many refugees arrive with no savings or assets, no formal employment record in Uganda, no proof of running a business or credit history and often low levels of education. For these reasons they do not have access to the start-up finance necessary to start even the simplest business. Many are forced to remain in refugee settlements despite having the skills and motivation for independent living.

By working with international partners BizGees provides this final missing piece in the puzzle by awarding interest & collateral free micro loans as start-up finance. This helping hand provides the refugees access to entrepreneurship training, inventory to start a micro business and ongoing mentorship to reduce their risk of failure. Repayment of this microloan gives the refugee entrepreneurs the chance to build a lasting, internationally recognised credit rating. This helps them access the mainstream financial system.

BizGees undertakes a range of fundraising initiatives in the UK which provide the capital and training needed to start up a micro-business. The business works on a micro-franchising model by working with local partners such as WSV global — who organise ‘Right Light’ which rents solar lamps and ‘Petal’ which manufactures recyclable female sanitary products. As the business grows, the loan is repaid providing a credit history for the entrepreneur. The repaid funds are put back into the system to provide further loans to other refugees, so they too can benefit from this support as well.

Betty — Right Light Entrepreneur

Betty — Female Entrepreneur

Betty is one such entrepreneur — now based in the village of Ayuu Falls in Northern Uganda. She is married with four children, one boy and three girls. She has undertaken training and set up the Right Light micro business, renting solar lights to the local community residents supporting them migrate away from using kerosene oil

With BizGees’ support she has started her business and her users have already taken to her. Betty’s client base is growing as we speak. The impact on the community is significant. Lighting allows students to study at home and for businesses to trade for longer hours beyond daylight. There are also health benefits — the solar lamps replace the harmful use of Kerosene lamps which can have the same effect as smoking 40 cigarettes per day and consume as much as 20% of household income. You can support more refugees like Betty by engaging with BizGees campaigns here.

The flow of refugees is unlikely to change in the near future. However, the Ugandan ‘model’ stands out as an example of what is possible and available. This approach allows refugees to take ownership of their own lives while creating jobs for those around them as well. This example can be emulated by other host countries worldwide. In this environment, organisations such as BizGees and their local partners can empower refugees to take full advantage of entrepreneurial opportunities helping them build independence and financial self-sufficiency while supporting their host societies as they adjust to life among them.

We look forward to your support in transforming more refugees into entrepreneurs. Follow us on Twitter @Bizgees , FaceBook and join our fundraising campaigns here.