Social-Enterprise Groups for South Sudanese Refugee Survivors

The project supported refugee survivors of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence and torture living in settlements in Northern Uganda to establish and run social-enterprise groups.

Social-Enterprise Groups for South Sudanese Refugee Survivors

The project supported refugee survivors of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence and torture living in settlements in Northern Uganda to establish and run social-enterprise groups.
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Bidi Bidi social enterprise group demonstrating their financial records

The project in brief

Implemented by

Coventry University and Clinical Lead for Refugee Well-Being, Coventry & Warwickshire NHS Partnership Trust 


Northern Uganda 


November 2018 - November 2019


The social enterprise projects established identified gaps and opportunities for refugee employment creation and income generation. It carried out an analysis of the gaps in protection and needs for South Sudanese refugee survivors of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) and torture that remained unmet through earlier British Academy research (Liebling et al. 2019).

It further improved the emotional well-being and socio-economic outcomes for the women and men refugees we worked with and their families. The project supported sustainable economic growth which provided access to safe businesses and entrepreneurial opportunities for refugees. It further expanded employment opportunities for refugees through livelihood support.

In this way the projects strengthened Refugee Status Determination (RSD) capacity through increasing opportunities for self-reliance through livelihoods, income-generation and emotional well-being.


It also created a more positive community environment and attitude towards refugees and encouraged other refugees to join the social enterprise projects. It gave refugees who had experienced the traumatic impact of SGBV and torture positive activities to engage with that increased their resilience, levels of dignity, confidence and empowerment. 

In terms of gender issues, the decision of the men and women’s groups to combine as two mixed gender groups in two of the settlement locations provides evidence for the benefits of increased impact and well-being for refugees and their host communities. Although we would argue it is important to have choice of the gender of social enterprise groups, the findings of our project also demonstrates the strength of men and women survivors sharing their experiences within a safe environment to increase their well-being and emotional resilience. We continue to disseminate the findings with government, international partners, participants and stakeholders and provided recommendations.

The project recommendations were taken forward in part through the establishment of the CLAMP (Community WeLl-being And Mental Health Project amongst Refugees in Uganda) project for urban refugees in Kampala which will further test the social enterprise model using the holistic approach the authors recommend and including trained refugees as peer counsellors. The success of this model and the CLAMP project will be evaluated in August 2020 and the research team recommend extending the social enterprise model to other refugee contexts.

Project aims

  1. To build the skills and capabilities of refugees to establish social-enterprise projects based on a participatory paradigm. 
  2. Provide training using groups to support emotional well-being. 
  3. Provide training on micro finance to develop a business plan. 
  4. Evaluate the social enterprises; in particular focusing on emotional well-being and resilience, and social and economic sustainability. 

Resources used

The project directly followed BA/Levehulme research undertaken in June 2018 by Dr H Liebling and colleagues, with refugees from South Sudan in Adjumani and Bidi Bidi refugee settlements in N. Uganda (Liebling et al. 2019). The research identified an urgent need for emotional support which would be helped by establishing sustainable livelihood options for men and women refugee survivors of torture and/or sexual and gender-based violence. 

Refugees interviewed felt that establishing groups and having meaningful employment would enable them to build resilience and start to overcome their traumatic experiences. Focus group discussions indicated refugees required training; including accounting, business and management skills, and the resources to make a success of the enterprises.

Refugees and key informants told us there was an urgent need for start-up capital particularly as most refugees had fled South Sudan with only the clothes they were wearing and had no collateral. In addition, they had significant physical and psychological injuries which left them unable to manage heavy work. The project utilised participatory methodologies for its aims and objectives and secured £20,000 funding from Coventry University. In November 2018, the team met with refugees to establish 6 groups (4 women’s groups and 2 men’s groups) and provide training on emotional support and problem solving and small business development and implementation. Following this all group participants completed a self-report questionnaire which assessed well-being and livelihood skills levels. The research team also met with their partners to discuss their involvement in the project. 

9 months later the team returned to evaluate the impact of the social enterprises on refugees’ emotional well-being and business skills.  


  • Refugee Welfare Councils in Mungula, Pagirinya and Bidi Bidi refugee settlements. 
  • Kitgum Women’s Peace Initiative, Kitgum. 
  • Refugee Law Project, Kampala. 

Challenges and how they were overcome 


  1. Lack of knowledge and skills in running a social enterprise and businesses. 
  2. Lack of skills in providing peer-to-peer emotional support. 
  3. Challenges with community cohesion. 

How they were overcome 

  1. All of the refugees in the project received training in developing ideas and writing business plans. It also covered marketing and budgeting for the group using a participatory framework. 
  2. Training was delivered to the refugee groups regarding how to utilise their social enterprise groups to support their emotional well-being. This included the benefits of positive well-being, factors affecting their well-being, factors that increase vulnerability, tips for supporting each other and improving well-being and happiness. 
  3. The groups focused on enhancing the development of trust and well-being utilising democratic structures. Social enterprises were overseen by our Ugandan partners who provided support regarding well-being and group dynamics. 
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Results of the Good Practice

  • Refugees’ established and ran one women’s and two mixed gender social enterprise groups with 24 women and 12 men refugees. Activities included soap making, growing and selling mushrooms and a pharmacy.  
  • Statistical evaluation found significant improvements for all refugees in their ability to earn and provide income for family and self, and generate an income, after 9 months.  
  • Men and women refugees’ ability to care for their own emotional well-being and their ability to care for the emotional well-being of their families had improved significantly. 

How the project meets the GCR objectives 

1) Respond to identified needs and have tangible benefits for refugees and host communities: 

We established and developed partnerships and peer support social-enterprise projects with third sector organisations and civil society groups in northern Uganda which resulted in positive emotional well-being and livelihood skills benefits for South Sudanese refugees living in settlements who had experienced torture and/or SGBV. The emotional well-being and livelihood impact for refugees resulted from establishing social enterprise groups. We also built the skills and capabilities of refugees to run successful social enterprise groups using participatory action methods. The research team provided training in micro finance and developing business plans clarifying their aims and objectives, resourcing needs and the management and operation of the project including inclusive membership. 

2) Be developed and/or implemented in partnership with other stakeholders including refugees and host populations:

The social enterprises were implemented through working closely with the Refugee Welfare Councils in Mungula, Pagirinya and Bidi Bidi refugee settlements. Kitgum Women’s Peace Initiative, Refugee Law project and Women’s International Peace Centre in Uganda provided local emotional well-being and business support for the social enterprise groups.

3) Contribute to burden- and responsibility-sharing:

The social enterprises were developed through refugee groups sharing responsibility of roles to establish and run their businesses successfully as well as creating structures for the governance of the groups and for emotional support of all the refugees concerned. The burden of extreme poverty and high levels of trauma amongst the men and women refugees we worked with were addressed and evaluation of the social enterprises produced evidence of increased ability to earn and income for self and families as well as increased ability to run businesses and emotionally care for themselves and their families. The success of the social enterprise groups extended into the local refugee communities and several of the refugees involved in our project assisted other refugees within the settlements to establish further social enterprise groups. An interesting finding was that in Pagirinya and Bidi Bidi refugee settlements although single gender groups were initially established, refugees decided to combine men and women in their groups, and the evaluation supports the positive and sustained impact of this choice on the lives of refugees and their host communities. 

4) Make a sustained and positive difference in the lives of refugees and host communities:

The social enterprises were evaluated after 9 months of being established and demonstrated significant improvements in income generation as well as increased resilience and emotional well-being.  After training both women and men refugees had significant improvement in their perceived level of income generation skills. Using the Wilcoxon Signed Rank Test, this improvement was significant for both genders combined (p<0.001), and for women (p <.002) and men separately (p<0.018). The ability to earn income and provide income for family and self, had also significantly improved for both men and women after running their social enterprises for 9 months. After running their social enterprises for 9 months women’s and men’s ability to care for the emotional needs of their family as well as their own emotional needs was significantly different at (p <0.0001). After running their social enterprises for 9 months levels of resilience, empowerment and dignity had improved to 3.5 (good to very good, p<0.004) and 3 (good, p<0.027), respectively.   


The authors conclude that this model for social micro-enterprises, which is based on participatory approaches and is action focused and empowering that involves training and that combines livelihood and health and well-being is very beneficial to both refugee men and women. The quantitative and qualitative findings has demonstrated how action research can produce real societal impacts for refugee survivors of sexual and gender-based violence and torture living in refugee settlements.  The following recommendations are made: 

  • To roll out the social enterprise model to other refugee situations including for refugees living in non-settlement locations. 
  • Further investigation of the combination of livelihoods combined with group support for emotional well-being with different conflict-affected populations in different contexts. 
  • Building on the participatory methodology utilised in this study through improvements to areas for refugees that require further input for example: increasing levels of resilience, peace-building and peaceful communities, and Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) including menstrual health management. 
  • Building on enterprise training and training for group emotional support with conflict survivors of SGBV and torture in different situations and contexts would assist to strengthen the model’s applicability. 

Flexible use of mixed and single gender social enterprise groups increasing the positive well-being and financial impact on extended families and host communities. 

Next steps 

The projects are continuing within the two different settlements supported by our local partners. 


Reference:  Liebling, H., Barrett, H. & Artz, L. (2019, under review) Sexual and Gender-Based Violence and Torture Experiences of Sudanese Refugees in Northern Uganda: Health and Justice Responses. International Journal of Migration, Health and Social Care. 

Submitted by:  

Dr. Helen Liebling, Assistant Professor in Clinical Psychology and Associate Researcher with the Centre for Trust, Peace and Social Relations, Coventry University and Clinical Lead for Refugee Well-Being, Coventry & Warwickshire NHS Partnership Trust