Why invest in refugee autonomy?

54% of the world’s refugees are in protracted situations, and the average time in exile is 26 years.

Displacement is not a short-term problem. In a crisis, refuge and aid are the immediate needs, but, unfortunately, this is often where the focus remains, creating dependency and trapping families in a perpetual cycle of poverty. At Seed Effect, we believe…

Refuge isn’t meant to be the end goal. Restoration is.

“As soon as we recognize the assumption that refugees will go home quickly is a fiction, then it becomes imperative to embrace a development-based approach as early in a refugee crisis as possible.”1

As such, we must shift our focus from long-term aid towards sustainable solutions that include refugees in the local economy and promote their autonomy.

Uganda is one of the friendliest and most inclusive refugee-hosting countries in the world. And yet, in a recent publication, the World Bank reported that efforts to include refugees in the economy have only been partially successful. They state,

“Despite having the right to work and obtaining land, many refugees remain poor and fail to gain economic independence. There is potential for refugees to do better… lower ownership of land and its small size, along with limited access to credit are obvious obstacles to productivity.”2

We have found that not only is there potential for refugees to “do better” but that when given access to spiritual discipleship, Christ-centered community, and critical financial tools, they actually do better.

When Betty, a South Sudanese refugee, first joined Seed Effect, her family was eating only one meal a day. She had no electricity and no livestock. At the end of her second year of saving, Betty reported her family was eating three meals a day, had solar electricity, and owned 25 cattle and 5 chickens.

We’ve seen thousands of members, like Betty, improve their lives in every sector we measure, thus reducing their dependence upon humanitarian aid.

With the right development-based interventions, refugees in Uganda are primed to reduce their need for humanitarian assistance. And it’s not only the refugees who benefit when they are empowered to access financial tools and earn income. The World Bank summarizes,

“When a development approach to hosting refugees is followed and refugees earn incomes, there are two key beneficiaries. Refugees themselves gain dignity, financial autonomy, and pathways to self-reliance. And the international community, which has to provide less humanitarian aid.” 2

Betts and Collier, Refuge: Rethinking Refugee Policy in a Changing World, 54.,  Atamanov, Hoogeveen and Reese, The Costs Come Before the Benefits, 2024.


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