African Business Leaders Commit to Support Economic Inclusion of Refugees

Large-scale international mobility of people is one of the defining characteristics of the twenty-first century and is a complex and growing global phenomenon. Out of the 80 million people who are forcibly displaced, almost half are in Africa. This includes refugees with talent, skills, and capacities that have yet to be leveraged to support the economies of the countries in which they live.

Earlier this month, the Amahoro Coalition, an African-led initiative that drives private sector leadership to advance economic inclusion for displaced populations, convened a first-of-its-kind conference in Kigali. The conference was titled, “36 Million Solutions,” a reference to the number of displaced people in Africa who should be enabled to contribute to their host communities.

The event brought together governments, companies, banks, UN representatives, INGOs, philanthropists, and refugees to discuss cutting-edge solutions for enhancing refugee economic inclusion through the private sector. Discussions were centered on problem solving with the private sector, and pathways for greater financial and digital inclusion, as well as opportunities around education, health care, art, music, and sports.

The conference was a historic moment in Africa and provided the opportunity for the #LetThemWork initiative and other stakeholders to highlight the role the private sector can play in providing employment, funding refugee businesses, facilitating financial inclusion, and supporting humanitarian programs.

For example, Africa Health Holding, a healthcare start-up that runs several hospitals in Kenya and Ghana, committed to provide financing for refugee start-ups and internship opportunities for refugees. They plan to use affirmative action for refugees as they award contracts, and pledged US$1 million over the next 10 years to support health care for displaced people in their 50 hospital facilities across Africa. 

Safaricom, a telecommunications company in Kenya, also committed to provide 500 internship positions for refugees in their accelerator program, saying it would expand internet access to refugee camps and schools in refugee-hosting areas. Additionally, the National Bank of Kenya, through their Social Corporate Responsibility Fund, promised to commit funds to finance refugee-led business start-ups in Kenya.

It is commendable to see the private sector in Africa, and especially in Kenya, making such positive commitments towards supporting progressive solutions for refugee inclusion. However, there are still existential economic and political barriers that hinder refugee participation in the labor markets, including refugees’ inability to access bank loans and even work permits due to policy and sometimes administrative bottlenecks.

But as Refugees International and the Center for Global Development (CGD) recently reported, the Kenyan private sector and the Government of Kenya could both benefit from enhanced refugee labor market inclusion. Greater inclusion and fewer regulatory restrictions could lead to an expansion of economic activity in hosting areas, greater private sector investment, and an increase in job opportunities for refugees and host community members.

This landmark event demonstrated that some countries have made major strides in refugee inclusion. Kenya, for example, has recently passed a new Refugee Bill, which will potentially create a better protection environment supported by its national legal framework, as well as enhance refugees’ rights to work, their freedom of movement, and their integration into national service delivery systems. Commitments like those made at the “36 Million Solutions” conference show what is possible when government agencies, donors, private sector, and the refugee community come together to champion refugee rights for economic integration.


David Kitenge is a migration and governance consultant supporting Refugee International and the Center for Global Development’s #LetThemWork initiative in Kenya.

BANNER PHOTO: A man seen in a shop in the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. Photo Credit: Sally Hayden/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images.