Alianza Shire: Energy access to refugees and host communities

The alliance seeks to bring sustainable energy access solutions to vulnerable populations.

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Introduction to the project


Shire, northern Ethiopia.



Project can be extended as new ideas and focus areas are being developed towards the continuity of Alianza Shire’s work.


Alianza Shire aims to ease pressure on host countries by promoting a common approach to refugee populations regarding the use of resources. This reduces consumption, making it more efficient and less of a burden.

It also enhances refugee self-reliance by improving access to energy, which allows a correct provision of basic services. This reduces dependency of the refugee population on external aid and equips them with the capacities to develop their own means of livelihoods, have a decent life and enjoy basic human rights.

The overall goal is a more efficient use of resources and a real operational multi-stakeholder approach. This includes a successful public-private partnership with public funding and partial private sector implementation. Alianza Shire is the first multi-stakeholder partnership for humanitarian action in Spain. It works as a platform in which five entities from the public, private and academic sectors collaborate to develop energy supply technical solutions that improve the services and quality of life of refugee populations.

The partnership has the vocation of seeking solutions with the following characteristics: sustainable on the long term, adapted to other contexts of humanitarian crisis, and active participation from the project’s users. Refugees need to understand and respond to their needs and preferences. We try to ensure that once the project is completed, they have the tools and experience to maintain and improve it. This will improve the sustainability and impact of energy interventions as well as promote a sense of ownership of the facilities for refugees.

The selection of Shire refugee camps was led by the Humanitarian Action Office of the AECID and UNHCR as a collaborating entity. The fields of Shire have a major problem of energy access, as do other camps. The partnership works with and approach aligned with the recent changes in this area at international level, making it especially relevant in the economic dynamics. It has a great potential to make a significant socioeconomic contribution.

Project aims

The project has been focused on the improvement and extension of the electricity grid in the camp and the connection to communal services. These include a primary school, two communal kitchens or markets hosting 36 small businesses and the installation of protection devices and rehabilitation of equipment. Furthermore, 63 LED luminaries have been installed as public street lighting covering over 4km.

Resources used

The partnership’s pilot project was financed by the Spanish Agency for International Cooperation and Development (AECID) through two public grants.

In-kind contributions through human resources, technical knowledge on electrical networks and renewable energies, capacity building and project management for the pilot project came from partnership members.

The implementation is possible due to the coordination with partners on-the-field, as well as implementing and facilitating actors that have infrastructure and personnel in the refugee camps. AECID’s Technical Cooperation Office (OTC) in Addis Ababa has been highly relevant for the project’s deployment.

Furthermore, new solutions and strategies have been co-designed and implemented with partners on the field: Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) and the Ethiopian Agency for Refugee Affairs (ARRA). As collaborating partner, UNHCR also played a key role on these processes. 


  • Spanish Agency for International Cooperation and Development (AECID)
  •, the Water and Energy Foundation
  • Iberdrola S.A.
  • Signify
  • Innovation and Technology for Development Centre at Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (itdUPM)
  • Collaborating partner: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)

How challenges were overcome

Although members have access to the fundamental documents of the partnership, which have been co-created by all of them, the homogeneous understanding and interiorization of these is not guaranteed at an individual or departmental level for each organization.

Coordination problems and delays in the application of decisions are due to the management complexity of five different actors from diverse sectors, added to the intricacies of the field context and the norms and methodologies of on-the-field partners. This can hold up the whole project. The partnership’s governance is structures into three management committees with equal participation: steering, management and communication. A brokering entity, Universidad Politécnica de Madrid, leads the mediation between all parties and works towards co-creating a single understanding. It must facilitate the work of the committees and conduct all all innovation and knowledge management.

All members of Alianza Shire have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (responsibilities, commitments and motivations of each member, structure of operation of the partnership).

Solutions of context-applied technology need to be better adapted to the specific situation and available resources on the field e.g. equipment, tools, materials and installations.

The identification of solid solutions that can be easily set up and simply maintained is essential in order to guarantee the sustainability of a project with these characteristics. Refugees were trained to form a group of technicians able to repair the equipment and do maintenance work. This highlighted the added value of this partnership to the main humanitarian actors we are working with on the field. In the particular context of camps becoming longer term settlements, integration of livelihoods strategies and the promotion of income generating activities are now prioritized.

Results of the Good Practice 

  • The electrification and expansion of the electrical network has improved the quality of education, cooking, safety and protection or health services.
  • 4km of public lighting, including 64 lighting pots
  • Interior lighting of seven communal kitchens
  • Connection of community kitchens, an elementary school, a business center and a wellness center for women and girls.
  • Installation of protections in 14 community services
  • The participation of the private sector has been key for planning and implementing multidisciplinary training sessions with refugee population. 19 people have received specialized training sessions on electrical networks maintenance.
  • People’s lives and security conditions have been improved in the camp. Money was saved in diesel consumption and reducing the collection of firewood and CO2 emissions has created a better natural environment.

Next steps:

The overall objective of the new 2018-2021 action is to improve living conditions in the host and refugee communities by creating livelihood opportunities, enhancing local capacity building and improving access to energy services. For this new phase, Alianza shire has got the financial support of the European Union through the Spanish Agency for International Development Cooperation (AECID).

The geographical scope of the action is in Shire district, Tigray Region. It involves the host communities living in Embamadre, Maitsebri and Hitsats woredas and the four refugee camps in this area Adi-Harush, Hitsats, Mai-Aini, and Shimelba, sheltering a total population of 38,3092 refugees.

We are also working in a new space, LABSHIRE, that complements the projects and focuses mainly on knowledge management and innovation. Its three complementary scope areas are: research and innovation; training; knowledge transfer and new narratives. It will take advantage of the second phase of the project. Its goal is to develop transdisciplinary processes in Shire camps, systematize experiences and generate new narratives to share with the international community. It will generate evidence in order to influence decision making processes and public policy creation regarding the management of refugee crisis as well as the need for boosting partnership work.