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What is the Graduation & Refugees Initiative?

The Graduation & Refugees Initiative is an effort to ensure that refugees living in extreme poverty graduate into self-reliance. Trickle Up launched the initiative to equip governments, UN agencies, and international organizations to utilize the Graduation Approach to bring about sustainable, positive change.

As part of this initiative, Trickle Up has been providing technical assistance to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) since 2013 to adapt and integrate the Graduation Approach into its livelihoods programming. Graduation is a household-level intervention developed to help people living in extreme poverty and vulnerability achieve sustained income, social engagement, and resiliency by engaging in sustainable livelihoods.

Trickle Up works with UNHCR’s global livelihood team to test and implement Graduation worldwide, adapting the approach for each of the contexts in which refugees live: camp, rural, and urban.

There is no one solution that meets the distinct needs of the diverse refugee contexts where UNHCR works, and each country context requires a tailoring of the Graduation Approach to both utilize best practice gleaned from implementation in many countries and meets the specific needs of the local conditions. With Graduation programs underway in Costa Rica, Ecuador, and Egypt, and planning and preparation in Burkina Faso, Mozambique, Sudan, Zambia, and Zimbabwe, UNHCR and Trickle Up, with support from US Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, plan to scale the approach to 22 countries, reaching up to 200,000 refugees and other persons of concern in the next three years.

We are eager to engage other organizations and institutions in this learning process and actively seek Graduation practitioners interested to learn how to modify the approach for displaced populations and organizations working with refugees interested in Graduation’s solid evidence base with vulnerable populations.

What is the Graduation Approach?

The Graduation Approach addresses issues of protection, economic inclusion and livelihood development through a carefully sequenced, multi-sector intervention that targets the poorest and most vulnerable households. The approach will help refugees sustain self-sufficiency by engaging in a series of overlapping steps:

  • Initial consumption support for basic needs and access to savings will reduce the incentive of people recently displaced to sell off their remaining assets to help meet those needs.
  • Access to coaching, networks of peers and community organizations, and local safety nets including social services available to host communities will help build social capital and integrate refugees into the local community.
  • Access to opportunities to work and start businesses can foster resilience and self-sufficiency among refugee populations in cities, rural areas, and refugee camps, and enable them to lead dignified, independent lives.
  • New technical and financial literacy skills can prepare refugees to successfully rebuild their lives in a new country, or even after returning to their home country.

The intervention is time-bound (generally 24-36 months) to avoid long-term dependence, but activities during the intervention set participants on a positive growth trajectory that continues after the end of the program by ensuring participants have access to and knowledge of markets, a savings buffer to support in case of future shocks, and a support system to ensure a longer-term pathway beyond poverty. For refugees, participation in Graduation means an improved financial position, greater ties to their community and connection to organizations and institutions that can be helpful to them even after they graduate from support.