How Do We Address the Displacement Crisis? Let’s Start by Partnering with Those Who are Affected

Akuol de Mabior, Filmmaker and Rights Activist at the Africa Forum on Displacement 2023

Akuol de Mabior, Filmmaker and Rights Activist at the Africa Forum on Displacement 2023

What comes to mind when you hear the word “refugee”? No doubt, a range of images conjures a myriad of ideas and emotions.

What if we started by seeing forcibly displaced people, particularly young people, as holding the key to solving the displacement and other crises?

That premise was the starting point for Solutions Day—a first-of-its-kind event at last year’s Africa Forum on Displacement hosted by UNHCR and our partners Inkomoko, who we work with to support entrepreneurs, micro and small business owners in refugee and host communities, and the Amahoro Coalition who engage the African private sector to accelerate economic inclusion for displaced populations on the continent. The event brought together 60 young refugees and Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) to explore 360 problems affecting displaced communities—like access to quality education and climate change—and to debate and demo their solutions.

In Africa – where 44 million people are displaced – every issue is, de facto, a youth issue, given that 70 percent of the population is under the age of 30. Meanwhile, with Africa getting younger and younger in an aging world, and one in four people worldwide scheduled to be African by 2050, African youth have a significant stake and leadership to offer toward all global issues.

As we at the Foundation work toward enabling 30 million young people in Africa to access dignified and fulfilling work by 2030—with a particular emphasis on those facing the highest hurdles to accessing opportunity, including young women, forcibly displaced youth, and young people with disabilities—we see young Africans not just as the beneficiaries of our work but as collaborators; the protagonists of Africa’s unfolding story. Across the spectrum of our programming, we champion progress through partnerships with those who have the greatest stake in it, namely African institutions, communities, and, yes, young people. Our goal is to elevate their voices, vision, and leadership, using our power and platform to strategically position them to drive impact on their terms.

Our Refugees and Displaced Persons (RDP) work is focused on three key pillars that we believe are integral to providing sustainable, long-term solutions for young people who have been displaced: (i) improving access, retention, and holistic quality secondary education for displaced youth especially girls and young women (ii) enhancing transition pathways to facilitate access and scale to economic opportunities, and (iii) supporting policy implementation to enable dignified livelihoods for refugee youth and host communities.

While this work is not new to the Foundation, it has taken on new urgency, ambition, and focus in recent years. Since 2019, we have supported refugees and displaced youth through the Mastercard Foundation Scholars Program, investing in technical assistance with our partner, World University Service of Canada (WUSC), bridging, education and entrepreneurship programs, and research to fill critical gaps in practice-relevant knowledge. We are now striving to ensure that 25 percent of all those who benefit from the Foundation’s higher education programs are refugees and displaced youth—a pledge that was formally announced at the Global Refugee Forum in December 2023.

As part of that commitment, we recently co-created a new initiative with the African Higher Education in Emergencies Network (AHEEN) to provide displaced students and teachers with access to accredited higher education. The program includes an unprecedented rapid response mechanism so that recently displaced students and teachers may enter AHEEN from their new location, gain recognition of their prior learning and teaching credentials, and resume their education or career. Meaning, for example, that displaced students or teachers who have fled a country in crisis can resume their learning or teaching in a participating institution in their new host country.

As we advance the three pillars of our RDP-focused work, supporting Refugee Led Organizations (RLOs) is one of our key modes of delivery. Refugee Led Organizations are chronically underfunded, having received only $26.4 million of the over $6 billion that went to refugee response plan funding in 2022. We invest directly in these organizations, enabling them to grow and lead program implementation. We believe that in order to adequately identify and address the needs and circumstances of young people who are refugees or displaced, RLOs need to be front and center in the conversation and enabled to provide solutions. Together with other philanthropies and development institutions, we are actively seeking to address the shortfall in funding for RLOs, particularly those that are youth-led.

Partnerships that empower and enable young people are essential to our RDP work. In stepping up our efforts to address Africa’s displacement crisis, we need to listen and continuously learn. As the young people at Solutions Day so aptly identified, meaningful change requires us to centre young people’s voices and lived experiences and partner with those who know the context best.

Learn more about our pledge to Refugee and Displaced Persons.

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