Building Inclusive Markets for Refugees and Hosts in Ethiopia

Testing the ILO-UNHCR Approach to Inclusive Market Systems (AIMS), which works to sustainably enhance the livelihoods of refugees and hosts.
GCR Objective 2: Refugee Self-reliance

Building Inclusive Markets for Refugees and Hosts in Ethiopia

Testing the ILO-UNHCR Approach to Inclusive Market Systems (AIMS), which works to sustainably enhance the livelihoods of refugees and hosts.
Building Inclusive Markets for Refugees and Hosts in Ethiopia _ Pic from video.JPG

The project in brief

Implemented by

International Labour Organization


Jijiga, Ethiopia 


2018 - March 2019. 


Approach to Inclusive Market Systems (AIMS) works to enhance the self-reliance of refugees and hosts by facilitating access to economic opportunities. This involves working on two sides: the ability of the target group to seize economic opportunity and the availability of economic opportunities in the local market system. The former is achieved through “push”-interventions that build market-relevant skills of the target group while the latter is addressed through “pull”-interventions that improve market functioning and enhance economic opportunities.  

In terms of easing the pressure on host countries (and donor governments), the AIMS approach focuses on sustainability, i.e. ensuring that the changes initiated by the interventions persist beyond project duration and without development funding. To achieve sustainability, AIMS – building on market systems development principles – foresees that on the basis of solid market systems analysis, development actors (in this case the ILO) play a facilitative role in building inclusive markets.  Concretely, in this project, for example, a “push”-interventions sought to improve refugees’ and hosts’ business skills to strengthen their entrepreneurial endeavours. The ILO facilitated the implementation of a business skills training by building the capacity of local institutions, such as the TVET Centre and the Jijiga University, to deliver such trainings. Even though the ILO project has closed, the institutions continue to offer the training to refugees’ and hosts’, thus easing the burden on host countries and donor governments through sustainable implementation modalities. 

In terms of scale, AIMS is now being implemented by the ILO in several countries across Africa (Niger, Uganda, Kenya, Sudan, Ethiopia) and the Middle East (Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt). In collaboration with UNHCR, 17 AIMS assessments have been conducted to transition UNHCR’s livelihoods work to a market-based approach. 

Project aims 

The project tested the ILO-UNHCR Approach to Inclusive Market Systems (AIMS), which works to sustainably enhance the livelihoods of refugees and hosts. AIMS is based on market systems development principles and employs a push-pull approach to equip the target population with the necessary skills to seize economic opportunities (“push”) and simultaneously create or enhance economic opportunities by improving market functioning (“pull”). In Jijiga, Ethiopia, the project focused on the small ruminants sector to improve the livelihoods of refugee and host communities. 


VIDEO: Market-based livelihoods intervention for refugees 2018 edition

Resources used 

With relatively modest financial means ($320 000) the project was able to achieve results through novel and innovative approaches to refugee and host community livelihoods development. 


  • UNHCR 
  • Ethiopian Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs (ARRA)  
  • Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GiZ) 

Challenges and how they were overcome 

Although policy change in Ethiopia is imminent, during project implementation the political environment remained restrictive in terms of refugees’ rights to access economic opportunities. 

The project focused on working through the host communities (regional traders, local livestock herders), as well as with UNHCR and implementing partners to ensure that interventions would benefit both, refugees and hosts. 

Three interventions were implemented:  

  1. Enhance linkages between refugee/host livestock herders and a newly opened abattoir as well a regional traders.  
  2. Strengthen market organizing among livestock herders. 
  3. Improve business skills among refugees/hosts. 

Given the short project duration (15 months), only initial evidence is available which shows that livestock herders are now selling their animals to regional markets (intervention 1) and have improved their market organising (intervention 2). 

Roughly 60 refugees and host community members have benefited from the SIYB entrepreneurship training programme (intervention 3) and 600 are expected to receive training by end 2019

Results of the Good Practice

  • This one-year pilot project tested the Approach to Inclusive Market Systems (AIMS), jointly developed by ILO and UNHCR, in the Jijiga region of Ethiopia. The project employed the market systems development approach to improve access to livelihoods opportunities for refugees and local host communities. 
  • The project focused on the livestock sector. It improved linkages between livestock herders, a local abattoir, and regional livestock markets, and enhanced market organising and improved the target groups’ business skills.  
  • The project improved the livelihoods of refugees and hosts by enhancing their bargaining power and resilience in the livestock value chain and improving their business skills, thus enabling refugees and hosts to improve their economic outlook. 

Next steps 

Globally:The successful implementation of the AIMS approach in Jijiga has created the basis for implementation of AIMS in 7 countries (East Africa and Middle East) through the Dutch-funded Prospects Partnership. 

In Jijiga: Local institutions have the capacity and continue to implement the SIYB entrepreneurship training program. 


Submitted by: 

Nadja Nutz, SIYB and AIMS Global Coordinator at SME Unit - International Labour Organization

Marlen de la Chaux, JPO on Refugee Livelihoods and Enterprise Development at SME Unit - International Labour Organization