Promoting refugees’ empowerment and livelihood through volunteerism

Promoting refugees’ empowerment and livelihood through volunteerism

Contact details

Submitted by: Ms. Ouarda Derafa, Portfolio Specialist, UNV Regional Office for West and Central Africa

Email: [email protected]            


Social: Twitter: @UNV_ROWCA

Introduction to the project


West Africa (Senegal, Ghana, Niger and Nigeria)


Since June 2018


In West and Central Africa, many of the 350 recent DAFI (Albert Einstein German Academic Refugee Initiative) graduates struggled to enter the job market. The UNHCR-UNV DAFI Initiative seeks to expand the success of the DAFI programme by addressing these difficulties and giving DAFI graduates an opportunity to gain professional experience as UN Volunteers, where their unique background and perspectives can contribute to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.

DAFI is a UNHCR programme that plays an integral role in enabling refugees to access higher education in their country of asylum and contribute to their reintegration upon repatriation. Since 1992, the DAFI programme has given scholarships to over 15,500 refugees studying at universities in over 50 countries of asylum.

Project aims

The aim of this initiative is to empower young refugee graduates in West and Central Africa by offering them the opportunity to serve as UN Volunteers.

Resources used

Funding from UNHCR RO in Dakar

Main activities of the Good Practice

A total of 14 selected DAFI graduates were deployed as UN Volunteers in Senegal and Ghana between June 2018 and June 2019, serving with various UN Agencies (IOM, UNCDF, UNDP, UNFPA, UNICEF, UNIDO, UNU-INRA and UN Women). Areas of assignment were project development, inclusive finance, communications and public relations, governance and women's political participation as well as human resources.

Host UN agencies coached, mentored, and empowered UN Volunteers during their assignments. UN Volunteers took part in training (benefiting from the UNV training mechanism) and volunteering activities.


UNHCR (West Africa Regional Representation)

Challenges and how they were overcome 

The integration of refugees into the workforce of UN Agencies is time consuming as all practicalities need to be explained and the necessary clearances need to be obtained from managers, which often led to delays. To address this, UNV is developing an Information Note for hosting UN entity Country Offices, to familiarize them with the Initiative.  

Secondly, refugees do not always have access to the internet to register in the UNV Talent pool, but the UNV Field Units help them apply for opportunities.

Results of the Good Practice

The 14 UN Volunteers expressed high satisfaction about their experience. The host UN Agencies praised this innovative initiative as forward-thinking and highly relevant to helping the UN system remain fit-for-purpose.

The leadership skills that DAFI graduates develop through their UN Volunteer assignments turns them from “passive” beneficiaries to active agents of change for the benefit of other refugees, displaced people and host communities, making the UN system more inclusive.

As the pilot is coming to an end by the end of 2019, six UN Volunteers have been retained by their host agencies for a second year as UN Volunteers (now funded by the host agency rather than UNHCR). Some of these UN Volunteers are now being given UN staff contracts, as was the case with one female UN Volunteer with IOM.

One of the main benefits of the UNHCR-UNV DAFI Initiative is that it reduces the economic and psychological dependence of educated refugees, improves their self-reliance and livelihood and offers them long-term solutions.

The Initiative was expanded from Senegal and Ghana to Niger and Nigeria, with a total of 22 DAFI graduates currently serving as UN Volunteers in these four countries.