RET's Digital Work Livelihood Programme for Refugee Youth

RET's digital work project equips refugee youth with the ICT skills to obtain online jobs and lead self-reliant lives.
Technology & connectivity

RET's Digital Work Livelihood Programme for Refugee Youth

RET's digital work project equips refugee youth with the ICT skills to obtain online jobs and lead self-reliant lives.
RET_Digital Work Programme1

RET: Refugee youth participants in RET’s Digital Work Programme in Dadaab, Kenya

Contact details 

Submitted by: Lauren Burns, Knowledge Management Manager


Introduction to the project 


Dadaab, Kenya 


September 2012 -  RET expects to attract the attention of other donors to continue investing on refugee youth sustainable livelihoods and personal development.  


RET, through this project, responded to the lack of access to the formal labour market for refugees in the Dadaab. The Digital Work Programme enables youth to acquire ICT skills and offered support to launch their careers online. 

Project aims

RET’s overall goal was to increase self-reliance of refugee families by building the capacities of youth with relevant professional training and digital work opportunities. The objective of RET’s Digital Work Project was to empower youth, providing them with the ICT skills to successfully enter the digital workforce to improve their livelihoods and self-reliance.    

Resources used 


  • US Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration funding.
  • UNHCR Generators, Computers. 
  • Connecting and making an agreement with local and international impact sourcing companies to link youth with possible digital work opportunities outside the camps. 
  • Increasing reach and decreasing cost of telecommunications.



  • UNHCR 
  • Appen, an Australian online company 
  • Cloud Factory
  • Daproim Africa 
  • Digital Divide Data (DDD)  
  • Samasource 
  • 2 Kenyen Internet Providers 

Challenges and how they were overcome 

When RET started the Digital Work Programme in Dadaab, there was no existing infrastructure to provide refugee youth a virtual job training programme as it had never been done before. 

Moreover, youth in Dadaab were unfamiliar with digital work, therefore, it was difficult for them to conceptualize how they would earn a living and be paid by someone they had never met.  

The digital work industry is competitive. There are simply more youth entering the digital workforce each year than the number of new digital jobs created. And many of these youth have computers, reliable electricity, and internet access.  

Legal permission to work was also a challenge. Kenyan laws, requiring non-Kenyan workers to have work permits, sometimes hindered refugees’ access to digital work with local companies. 

These challenges were overcome by:


  • Establishing Infrastructure: RET constructed Digital Centres, equipping them with desktop computers donated by UNHCR. Computers used N-Computing technology permitting three participants to share resources of one computer. RET procured internet and back up internet, outfitting Centres with reliable, consistent connectivity. UNCHR generators provided Centres’ power.  
  • Ensuring the most vulnerable youth, with household/working responsibilities also benefited from the programme/job opportunities. RET provided internet modems, enabling them to learn/work from home.  
  • Increasing Employability: RET ensured trainings equipped participants with the requisite knowledge and expertise to enter a competitive market. RET continued partnering with academies and companies, adding additional online trainings grounded in the work they would be expected to perform. 
  • Knowing impact sourcing provides employment to disadvantaged individuals RET worked with several local and international impact sourcing companies to link youth to digital work opportunities and bypass the work permit requirement. 
  • RET introduced a laptop support initiative to incentive participants to purchase personal laptops. Working youth could contribute 50% towards the purchase of their laptop. The initiative helped increased employability, reduce dependency, and encourage a responsibility towards their own life project. 
  • Raising Awareness: RET worked with participants that had acquired digital jobs and were generating income to encourage youth, sceptical of the industry, to participate in RET’s programme. Gradually participation and the numbers of youth obtaining employment increased.

Results of the Good Practice 


  • Youth obtained online jobs, opened businesses, and installed solar systems providing power to the wider community.  
  • 41% of participants secured online jobs, earning an average of KES 10,900/month with some earning up to KES 60,000/month. With 86% of income earned spent on supporting family needs, livelihoods were improving and families were becoming self-reliant.  
  • Youth attended universities, possible with proceeds from digital-work 
  • Youth formed digital working groups to train peers, expanding the benefits of the program. 
  • RET`s program proved to the refugee community they could shape their destiny and determine the lifestyle they, their family, and community would want to live.

How the project meets the GCR objectives 


  • Objective 1 and 2: Ease pressures on host community and Enhance refugee self-reliance.

Many refugees do not have access to safe and legal employment, yet self-reliant refugees are better positioned to care for themselves and their families. At the time, the encampment policy rendered 85% of the refugee population in Dadaab with no access to the formal labor market.  Additionally, refugees needed a work permits but the process was long and tedious, also hindering opportunities to acquire livelihoods.  Consequently, a sense of hopelessness resided in camps, leaving youth vulnerable to dangerous activities, exploitation, and abuse. 

RET's Digital Work Programme was in direct response to the reality that refugee youth were hopeless and idle but were tech-savvy.  RET's Digital Work Programme presented refugee youth an opportunity to acquire the critical ICT skills necessary to successfully enter the digital workforce and obtain digital jobs in the global economy.  Digital work can be accessed and performed from almost anywhere in the world, therefore offering youth the opportunity to earn a livelihood while in the camp, sidestepping the barriers of work permits and restrictions on movement.  Digital work is open to individuals irrespective of nationality or social status therefore offering a great option for both male and female youth to obtain safe, stable livelihood.  RET’s programme empowered refugee youth and the community by helping open the door to opportunities to improve their livelihood and self-reliance.  Ultimately easing the pressure of the host community 

The programme engaged female and male refugee youth that possessed a secondary education and some level of computer training and equipped them with the knowledge and expertise to successfully enter the competitive digital market.  RET carefully selected trainings to develop both critical technical and professional skills. RET partnered with academies and digital companies, enabling participants to access virtual campuses and trainings focused around the work they may be expected to perform. 

The programme commitment to the welfare of young people called for extra effort to connect participants to employment opportunities.  The programme helped participants identify appropriate employment sites based on interests and expertise.  RET established business groups, creating a foundation for mentoring participants on sources of employment, business ideas, and on saving and taking loans. RET made agreements with local and international impact sourcing companies linking their participants to possible digital work opportunities. 

Many participants secured work but lacked the infrastructure and internet to do their jobs. RET constructed and equipped a Digital Business Centre enabling them to perform their work. Youth earned between 200 and 1,000 USD a month. Payments via Skrill transferred to Mpesa, a mobile phone-based money transfer system, made accessing money directly from the camp possible. Eventually, RET introduced a laptop support initiative to working youth, incentivizing them to purchase a personal laptop to reduce their reliance on RET’s support and pursue their own life project.  

RET’s Digital Work Programme presents an excellent opportunity for interventions that resonate with the current generation to build realistic livelihoods and be both sustainable and scalable.

Next steps 

Project ended due to lack of funding. Donor’s priorities no longer include youth livelihoods. Changes in Kenyan policies regarding encampment, closures of some camps, and transferring refugees also disturbed plans to continue the programme. 

RET developed methodology, lessons learned, and the systematisation of this successful approach to replicate the programme in similar contexts (crisis/fragile contexts) as soon as funding becomes available.