New year, new project: in January, Konexio will launch a new pilot in Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya. The pilot will train 60 refugee women in digital literacy and online freelancing, and is part of Konexio’s global Digital Inclusion Program (DIP). The pilot is an expansion of Konexio’s partnership with the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS); with joint projects already running in Jordan and Malawi, Kakuma is the third location where the DIP will be implemented by the two organizations. The project will begin with site setup and an 8-week training of trainers, followed in the spring by the six-month DIP course.
The Kakuma refugee camp is situated in the North-West of Kenya. Together with nearby Kalobeyei settlement, Kakuma hosts approximately 188,800 refugees. The vast majority of them are from South Sudan. Other frequent countries of origin include Somalia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Ethiopia. The UNHCR estimates that about 2,500 informal businesses are active in Kakuma and Kalobeyei - a huge wealth of talent that can be reoriented into formal employment through digital freelancing. Formal employment has many benefits, including worker protections, potential for higher earnings, and an employer pool that transcends the opportunities immediately available in the camp. Most importantly, beneficiaries themselves express a desire to engage in digital work.
The World University Service of Canada recently published a report assessing digital employment opportunities for refugee youth in Kakuma/Kalobeyei. Kenya’s ICT sector is growing, as is investment into the digital infrastructure in Kenya: ICT has the largest amount of direct foreign investment of all sectors in the country. According to the report, digital employment sparks interest among young refugee people in Kenya because of its flexibility and the promise of earnings, as well as a desire to future-proof skills. However, barriers to digital employment for refugees still exist, including skills and opportunity knowledge gaps. Refugee women are also faced with the additional challenge posed by traditional gender norms.
The Digital Inclusion Program addresses these barriers by empowering refugee women to achieve employability and access the digital job market. The DIP consists of a first training of trainers phase, in which members of the local community are trained to autonomously implement the DIP, and a second phase in which program beneficiaries are taught digital skills which enable them to pursue further training and in-person jobs, as well as digital freelancing. Many DIP students start earning before the program is over; the aim of the program is for beneficiaries to be able to earn at least the equivalent of Kenyan minimum wage through digital freelancing.
Konexio’s model is designed to be adaptable to each of the local contexts it is deployed in. Konexio serves as a facilitator, enabling members of the local community to become trainers in the programs and gain the skills to earn a livelihood and support others. Most of all, the DIP centers refugee initiative and agency. As Kenya’s digitization accelerates, it is key that refugees have the opportunity to participate in it and leverage their talents.