In refugee situations, refugee leaders have the capacity to meet the needs of the most vulnerable and set ambitious, integrated development strategies for their communities. In East Africa, a thriving sector of refugee-led organisations (RLOs) are taking a lead in the humanitarian response to refugee situations.
Cohere, a new organisation (formed at the beginning of 2022 by Xavier Project and Urban Refugees uniting) who work to advance education opportunities for refugees, are working with a network of RLOs across East Africa to strengthen capacity and capability to further elevate the role of RLOs in the humanitarian response. They have designed a model to elevate and shift power and funds.
The model has four long-term goals based on coordination, capacity strengthening, funding, and advocacy.
Coordination – strength in numbers
A key tool for coordinating work between organisations is Cohere’s platform, Reframe, through which RLOs are able to showcase their work and connect with international donors and networks and find new funding opportunities. The platform provides a searchable database of RLOs and funding opportunities, with a verification process for all organisations featured. The verification helps to build deep trust in grassroots organisations, in order to facilitate the global power shift towards the communities they represent. Through partnering organisations, the platform enables better collaboration, strengthening the collective opportunities of RLOs across the region.
In collaboration with RLOs and community partners – and with funding from international donors – Cohere have produced a Capacity Strengthening and Sharing Course, a manual for RLOs and Community-Based Organisations (CBOs). Comprised of 18 modules, the course aims to strengthen organisational capacity through sessions in leadership, management, resources, finance, and proving impact. It encourages sharing of experiences to enrich learning, and has a customisable structure, enabling RLOs to choose modules based on their needs. One of the benefits of this training programme is that it gives RLOs and other organisations the tools they need to ensure they have the governance structures and financial systems in place to stand up to the due diligence processes many donors have in place, opening them up to a wider pool of funding opportunities. The course won UNHCR’s Innovation Award in 2019, under the Partnerships category.
Xavier Project's video for UNHCR's Innovation Award 2019
Securing sustainable funding
The course is key in helping achieve the goal related to funding. Due to the strict processes that many donor entities have in place, securing sustainable and flexible sources of funding can be difficult for RLOs. By coordinating with Cohere, RLOs are working to increase the amount of direct funding they receive and can also benefit from pooled funding raised via the Reframe platform.
Advocating for self-determination
The final goal – advocacy – works to promote refugee leadership and locally-led initiatives to donors and the response sector more broadly. Cohere is working to strengthen humanitarian and crisis response by advocating for increased refugee representation and participating in decision-making and programme design, enabling them to have the power to lead the change in their communities.
Looking to the future
Of course, the model is based on securing sustainable self-reliance for refugees. The model is centred on equitable partnerships with RLOs and is designed to reduce Cohere’s role over time, shifting power and funds to RLOs. Activities are being implemented in two phases, with successful RLOs from the first cohort graduating to lead on ideas in the second phase. The overarching aim of the project is that by 2030, 300 RLOs will be impacting more than 2 million refugees in six countries, through continuation of the model.