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Innovating the Development Response to Forced Displacement

June 20, 2016

Development organizations have a significant role to play to manage global forced displacement crises with long term solutions, with a great urgency for new ideas and approaches.

The global forced displacement crisis has provided impetus to think differently about how to address this enormous challenge. As UNHCR announced today, there are now an estimated 65 million people who have fled their homes due to conflict. Among these are 21.3 million refugees, 1.8 million more than in 2014.

But what is less known is that the majority of the top countries of origin for these refugees have been on the list for at least five years, including Afghanistan — a major country of origin for over 33 years.

This means development organizations have a significant role to play to manage these crises with long term solutions, with a great urgency for new ideas and approaches to transform the response.

Through the Global Program on Forced Displacement (GPFD), the World Bank Group has been working to support the displaced and their hosts from this perspective. There’s much room to innovate in this area, drawing from development experience. As one way to make a contribution, the GPFD sponsored a competition calling for proposals to help catalyze new ideas that can be realized on the ground to improve the development response to forced displacement, engaging practitioners from development agencies, the private sector, civil society, academia and others who are exploring different development approaches.

The response was overwhelming. The GPFD received almost 500 proposals, many riding on the momentum to think outside the box. The three winning proposals looked at ways to address the vulnerabilities that displaced have that hinder their ability to take advantage of opportunities that may exist — such as access to affordable healthcare, or ways to earn a living so they can become self-reliant.

The first idea proposed universal health care for refugees, which would have been unthinkable not too long ago. Today, when humanitarian and development actors are working together much more closely, new pathways are opening up. Instead of investing in parallel and costly health systems for refugees, funding could be channeled into strengthening and expanding existing health systems. This could lead to cost effective health care for refugees when an emergency occurs, while improving national health care coverage in host countries struggling with overburdened and weak systems.

The second winner aimed to tackle one of the main concerns for the displaced — their inability to earn an income and become self-reliant. The proposal looks at growing demand for services to convert documents into digitally accessible formats, and suggests training refugees as well as youth in host communities and matching them with available work using cloud-based systems to provide "digital livelihoods."

The third idea focused on the skills that refugees have, but are often unable to apply in their host countries. By setting up a center to provide information on available migration opportunities, skills and employment matching, language, etc., and setting up a fund to provide loans covering migration costs, refugees might have the opportunity to move through existing and legal economic migration routes, where they can rebuild their lives. 

Of course, forced displacement has complexities unique to each situation that cannot be ignored in efforts to resolve them. The displaced, who are fleeing conflict, have suffered a tremendous ordeal and it will take time and support for them to rebuild their lives. If the volume of ideas that were received for this competition are any indication, development organizations have a good chance of doing better, exploring innovative and transformational ideas to bring them to scale and help improve the lives of the displaced and hosts alike.