Beset with a civil war spanning over 25 years, Uganda’s neighbour in the North, South Sudan bears the common costs of a long difficult war which are; population drain, famine and an economy left in tatters. Conveniently placed at the border of South Sudan, is Uganda, a country with a friendly migration policy that has made her a destination for civilians fleeing from the political unrest in South Sudan. This influx of refugees into Uganda has earned her a reputation as the most refugee hospitable country and currently home to the second-largest refugee camp in the whole world, Bidi Bidi refugee camp that sits on 250 square kilometres. In 2018, UNHCR declared Uganda as the country hosting the largest number of refugees in Africa and the third-largest in the world.
Over the years, Uganda’s permissive policy has enabled a number of refugees to freely participate in community-based initiatives and commercial businesses that have contributed to the nation’s economic growth through transferring skills, developing services, providing large markets for existing businesses and paying taxes from their income.
In a 6-month immersive refugee-centred design accelerator run by the Innovation Village and UNCDF, it was appreciated that refugees have skills and talent that could earn them an income if they overcame a market access hurdle. This is where KumiKumi closed the gap.
Kumi Kumi is an online marketplace for premium handmade artisan products by refugee entrepreneurs, creating a digital social platform that connects them to the regional and global markets. Revenue earned is redistributed back to the entrepreneurs directly supporting their businesses and livelihood. This platform will ensure that the refugee communities become more included in Uganda’s formal financial service sector, and thereby contribute to the country’s economic growth.
In June 2019, under the Resilient Market Systems ReHope Bridge Project, The Village in partnership with Mercy Corps camped in Yumbe, Bidi Bidi zone 4 and Rhino refugee Camps for 7days carrying out an Eco-System mapping exercise. The exercise was geared towards identifying skills present in the settlements as well as challenges that businesses face so as to build the enabling environment where innovation can thrive.
From the study, we found that the main challenge encountered was related to the long distance between the business location and the wholesale markets where traders purchase their stock, limited knowledge on business operations, limited capital support and inadequate space for business expansion.
The Kumi Kumi platform is currently tackling the problem of skilling the refugees and linking them to wider markets outside of the camp. In the second phase, we hope to widen the variety of the products, services and skills that can be made/offered by refugees via the online platform. We hope to do this by tapping into other vibrant existing sectors to other sectors like agriculture, carpentry, building and construction, among others.
Ultimately we look to restore the hope and dignity of refugees so that they can feel at home, while away from home.