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An Inside Look at the Graduation & Refugees Initiative in Ecuador

By: Krishnan Raghavan


Trickle Up

Pictured above: Representatives from UNHCR, HIAS, Concern Worldwide, RefugePoint, and Women’s Refugee Commission explore the process of effective poverty targeting and program design

In August 2017, Trickle Up organized its first Exposure Visit for organizations interested in adapting the Graduation Approach to help refugees develop sustainable livelihoods. Participants from across the Americas and Africa traveled to Santo Domingo, Ecuador, for a three-day experiential workshop hosted by Trickle Up in partnership with UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, and HIAS, our implementing partner in Ecuador.

The visit kicked off with an in-depth, participatory orientation to the Graduation & Refugees Initiative and the various technical components of the Graduation Approach.
This exposure visit provided me with an immersive introduction to Graduation and its application to refugee communities. This was particularly timely as I had just begun my time at UNHCR, seconded by Trickle Up as a livelihoods specialist. It can be challenging for those new to Graduation, like I was, to understand how all the different components of the program fit together in practice. But the discussions with various implementers provided a good opportunity to understand Graduation from a practical perspective.

Though I focus primarily on North Africa, seeing how Graduation was put to use for refugees in Ecuador was extremely valuable. I learned a number of broadly applicable best practices, such as working with financial institutions to leverage their expertise, and the importance of selecting coaches with the right training and professional profiles.

Pictured above: Carmen Guevara from the World Food Programme kicks off the panel discussion on partner engagement, featuring representatives from Banco Pichincha, the Ministry of External Relations and Human Mobility, and local governmental officials.

Having the opportunity to visit the homes and businesses of current and former Graduation participants was particularly illuminating for me.
We were given the chance to see firsthand how Graduation positively impacts refugees in extreme poverty when we visited several participant homes. Meeting with refugees who had launched successful businesses showed Graduation’s multi-dimensional impact on poverty and vulnerability. On the other hand, visits to refugees who continue to struggle with extreme poverty or face challenges finding decent work helped highlight areas where further support was needed, a reminder of the specific barriers refugees face on a daily basis.

I felt truly energized and recommitted to my work as a refugee livelihoods specialist after visiting one woman whose small business had allowed her to build and furnish a beautiful home for herself and her family. But I also received a powerful reminder that the barriers refugees face are manifold and intersecting when we visited a single mother struggling to launch her business while coping with the trauma of witnessing violence during her flight from her home country. Psychological support can be just as crucial to success as access to finance or professional training, bringing the value of the Graduation Approach, a holistic, multi-dimensional intervention, into clearer focus.

Beyond giving myself and others a chance to see the personal impact of the Graduation & Refugees Initiative, the visit was an opportunity for organizations to learn more about the practical and operational side of this work.
UNHCR and HIAS brought together the various government agencies, NGOs, and private sector agencies providing Graduation-related support services to refugees, ranging from coaching and access to finance and vocational training, for a lively panel discussion with Exposure Visit participants. The panel included the World Food Programme, which provides cash assistance at the start of the project, and Banco Pichincha, which developed a savings product accessible to refugees. The panel discussed adapting their services to suit the needs of refugees, as well as cooperating with one another. This provided visiting organizations with insight into the support services and coordination needed for successful Graduation programs for refugees. Byron Romero, Undersecretary for Family at Ecuador’s Ministry of Economic and Social Inclusion, joined to share experiences from their program focused on people living in poverty.

Both in the context of these workshops and after hours during meals and traveling around Ecuador, the Exposure Visit also proved to be a fruitful platform for knowledge sharing and collaboration. Drawing upon their own experience as development practitioners who had worked with refugees or with livelihoods, visiting organizations were able to exchange ideas for advancing best practices and overcoming shared challenges in implementing successful Graduation programs for refugees.

Trickle Up hopes this Exposure Visit and future initiatives will serve as the foundation for building a broader community of practice around the Graduation & Refugees Initiative.