Delicate balancing act for refugees in push for inclusion in digital economy



he government backed Ajira Digital Program in partnership with the Amahoro Coalition, an initiative that advances refugee inclusion through education and income opportunities, is exploring ways to enable the refugee population in Kenya to work online and deliver business solutions for the private sector in Kenya.

The initiative now offers hope to young people bogged down by mobility and access limitations, to explore opportunities beyond the camps, promising them of local digital and digitally-enabled work regardless of gender, background, geographical, and physical conditions. 

During a round table event, private sector players among other actors discussed opportunities and the benefits of business process digitization and the outsourcing of talents and services online from marginalized youth in the Kakuma and Dadaab refugee camps located in Turkana and Garissa respectively.

Dr. Ehud Gachugu, project director, Ajira Digital Program and Youth Employment at KEPSA said a lot of talent is yet to be tapped among the refugee population in Kenya, thus the local private sector can do more than just offering of humanitarian aid to the estimated 500,000 refugee population in the country by advancing their inclusion in the digital workspace. 

“We have seen many examples of bright but marginalized young people delivering quality work to global clients through online platforms. Our aim is, therefore, to help grow and harness this talent to also deliver work for our local businesses, thus creating even more opportunities for refugees to add value not only in their local communities but also nationally,” said Gachugu.

Ajira program, which is being implemented by the Kenya Private Sector Alliance (KEPSA) with funding from MasterCard Foundation, has been at the forefront of popularizing the local digital economy and improving livelihoods by driving the adoption of digital and online work in Kenya. It offers digital skills training and mentorship free of charge, to ease young people’s transition to jobs in the digital space.

It makes the country a digital freelancing hub by engaging the private sector and public sectors to support digitally skilled youth to access quality jobs, has to date recorded over 1.9 million Kenyans working online up from about 600,000 in 2020. The 2022 Ajira Digital National Survey dubbed “private sector digital outsourcing practices in Kenya” also indicates that close to 9 million Kenyans are aware of online and digital work opportunities. 

The study further indicates that 59% of the private sector players in Kenya are already outsourcing digital services, with another 75% intending to outsource in the future. In addition to the creation of decent employment and inclusion for young people, other benefits of digital outsourcing for businesses highlighted in the study include business efficiency, reduction, and management of overhead costs, access to specialized, technical, and professional skills, as well as business agility, a core factor in improving productivity.

Valerie Karuwa, the private sector partnerships lead at Amahoro urged private sector leaders, in the spirit of inclusion, to explore the vast talent pool and digital skills available within the refugee communities. The partnerships, she said, will help unlock “inclusive” business opportunities eventually contributing to youth employment and economic growth. 

A study by the Amahoro Coalition and the International Trade Center (ITC) on “Kenya’s private sector digital outsourcing landscape and its potential to support refugee economic inclusion” revealed that a lack of awareness of the skills and potential available among the refugee community as the greatest barrier to companies working with refugees. 

Even so, companies that had previously worked with refugee freelancers expressed satisfaction with work outputs based on quality, timeliness, innovation, and cost-effectiveness. 

“Refugee inclusion brings countless benefits including dynamism in entrepreneurship, customer loyalty, and reliability as borrowers, thus providing both a source and consumer market for businesses and states that include them,” Ms Karuwa said, adding that the private sector, through innovative business models, can champion more sustainable and dignified ways for refugees to access economic opportunities while creating value for their own companies.

Mohamed Omar, chief executive officer of the Dadaab Collective, a digital work agency located in the Dadaab refugee camp urged the business community to believe in the potential of young people in the refugee camps to create economic and job opportunities for themselves through online and digital work. 

Mr Omar is behind an agency that has over 200,000 registered refugees and asylum seekers with many of them earning their income from international and local organizations, and small-scale business enterprises. This is a bulging population that require jobs. 

“We know that many of these refugees have the technical capacity and experience in digital and digitally-enabled work and we urge the Kenyan private sector to strongly consider extending these work opportunities to realize the shared value which will make a big difference in the quality of life of these marginalized communities,” Omar said in an interview.

It is at the back of this that the Ajira program intends to open up the various layers of business, jobs, and service opportunities that can be delivered competently by the refugee communities in the country through online work channels and platforms by harnessing digital technologies, exposing young people through training while influencing private sector adoption of outsourcing.  

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