Rebuilding Lives and Livelihoods: How a Community of Ugandan Refugees Became Entrepreneurs
Population: 47.1 million
People in Need: 15.7 million
People Helped Last Year: 1,084,743
Our Team: 247 employees
Program Start: 1995
Uganda hosts one of the world’s largest refugee populations. More than 1.5 million refugees have crossed the border seeking safety and assistance. Most of them come from South Sudan, which has been locked in a cycle of violence and civil unrest for over a decade. When refugees make their way over the Ugandan border, many know nothing about the country that awaits them.
Over the last few years, especially following economic shocks from the COVID-19 pandemic, persistent droughts, and the global spike of food and fuel prices resulting from the war in Ukraine, Uganda’s economy has taken a hit. It is one of the poorest countries in the world, with 8.3 million people (nearly one-fifth of the population) considered poor, and over 60% of people struggling with financial issues—even prior to the pandemic.
Yet despite low-income rates, Ugandans demonstrate resilience each day. Action Against Hunger and partners are facilitating income-generating activities and supporting Ugandans to kickstart their own businesses. Action Against Hunger’s work supporting livelihoods helps thousands of villagers earn money, thus allowing them to improve food security and stave off dangerous malnutrition. The program has reached almost 24,000 people directly and 120,000 people indirectly since its launch in 2019. Many, like Achille Emmanuel, have taken the lessons they’ve learned and become entrepreneurs.
Achille participated in an internship program that specifically targeted enterprising youth. He now lives out his dream of owning a barbershop in the country’s northern Arua-Terego district. With the help of Action Against Hunger’s start-up kit, his business is thriving.
“I’ve been able to buy and add two new shaving machines and a solar panel,” he says. “Besides this, I also bought a plot of land in the trading center, where I plan to build a structure that will house my salon business, including the barber-training service center.”
Now, Achille imparts his newfound wisdom on other young people in his village, and he’s currently teaching six other students from his community. His dreams have reached new heights, and he’s planning to one day expand his training school and continue to pass on his skills to other young refugees, just like how he started out.
“Using profits from this business, I have rented three acres of land where I’ve planted cassava, maize, and beans for food security, because I need to eat as I work. I never imagined in my life that I would ever own such a profitable enterprise,” says Achille. “The skills and property I’ve acquired will sustain me and my family for the rest of my life.”
The income generating activity project is simple. Villagers—both refugees and members of host communities—are identified and matched with their income generating preferences and personal skills set. Then, they’re given a cash grant and start-up kit to get their business off the ground. The businesses range from sewing to cooking, from haircutting to selling produce and clothing—and everything in between.
The project originally disbursed business start-up cash grants worth more than $120,000. More than 1,000 people used this money after completing technical and business management training and formulating viable business plans as the first step in starting to grow their enterprises.
“Before [the project] gave me money, they first trained me,” says Mansur Ida, a cook in the Adjumani district. “One of the trainings [included] record keeping. Before, I was only running one business. After I received the startup money and training, I have been able to establish three businesses.”
All the villagers responded very well to Mansur’s growing businesses. “When I was doing only one business, I employed no one,” he says. “But now the community is happy because I have employed people.”
Esther Tumaru has accomplished what she never believed she could. She’s a tailoring tutor in the Imvepi refugee settlement, and her business is booming. In December 2021, she received a small grant and used the money to buy “kitenge,” a traditional women’s dress, and second-hand clothes. Her business took off fast, and she now teaches dozens of students in the village how to sew.
“I am just going to open up my school, recruiting village people to come and learn more about tailoring and how to do business,” she says.
For the first time in years, farmers across Northern Uganda reclaim their livelihoods—and refugees have been empowered to start and sustain new ones in their new home.
“The biggest effect we have had on their lives is rebuilding hope,” says Charles Wabwire, one of the project coordinators. “And also, the desire to fight, the desire to move on, the desire to become self-sufficient, and the willingness to take responsibility for sustaining your own life.”
About the Project
The European Union Emergency Trust Fund (EUTF) Response to Increased Demand in Government Service and Creation of Economic Opportunities in Uganda (RISE) Project, organized by a consortium of nonprofit organizations and spearheaded by Action Against Hunger, launched the Income Generating Activities program throughout several villages in Uganda. Action Against Hunger’s partners include the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC), Welthunger Hilfe (WHH), PALM Corps, and local communities in the Arua, Adjumani, and Yumbe districts of West Nile, Northern Uganda. Since 2019, EUTF RISE has improved the lives of nearly 150,000 refugees and members of their host communities.
Click here to learn more about Action Against Hunger’s work to support refugees and communities in Uganda.
Action Against Hunger leads the global movement to end hunger. We innovate solutions, advocate for change, and reach 28 million people every year with proven hunger prevention and treatment programs. As a nonprofit that works across 55 countries, our 8,900 dedicated staff members partner with communities to address the root causes of hunger, including climate change, conflict, inequity, and emergencies. We strive to create a world free from hunger, for everyone, for good.