Connecting Refugees to the Global Economy

February 2019-
July 2020
World Economic Forum
Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya


The Kakuma Refugee Settlement is home to over 196,000 people who represent more than 15 nationalities, making it the de facto seventh largest city in Kenya. According to the International Finance Corporation, Kakuma has an entrepreneurial economy worth at least $56M a year. In the summer of 2019, a group of World Economic Forum Young Global Leaders (YGLs) went on a learning journey to the Kakuma Refugee Settlement, in northwestern Turkana County, Kenya. They met refugees, members of the host community, and learned first-hand about the challenges and opportunities people living in Kakuma face.


A group of Young Global Leaders representing international organizations, private sector organizations, civil society, and academia were asked to identify non-traditional approaches to help Kakuma realize its economic potential and share the global benefits of refugee talent.

On the Ground

Collaboratively, the YGL group designed an executive-style module to provide certified business, leadership, and entrepreneurship training to 30 young rising leaders and small business owners in the Kalobeyei and Kakuma Refugee Settlements.

In July and August 2019, prior to the YGLs arrival in Kakuma, Henrik Sheel, Founder & CEO of Startup Experience Inc., led an Entrepreneurship Bootcamp. Over the course of two days, Scheel guided the 30 project participants through the foundations of entrepreneurship. The group learned about topics like conceptualizing a business, pitching a business idea, and marketing a business once started.

After the completion of the Bootcamp—and in partnership with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), Aliko Dangote Foundation, and Oxford University Refugee Studies Center— the YGLs arrived in Kakuma and led the Executive Leadership Education Module. This was a five-day intensive project. The eleven delegation-YGLs  delivered courses relevant to their expertise such as managing an enterprise.

Through the Bootcamp and the Module, project partners developed three initiatives to promote the inclusion of displaced people into the digital economy while encouraging new policy approaches on the economic integration of refugees.

“I had the privilege to be a member of Mahmoud's delegation to Kakuma and experienced his extraordinary leadership daily throughout the trip. Mahmoud has an incredible ‘can do – attitude.’ He is a man focused on both the details but also the big picture and the purpose of a project at all times. He is always positive, even in the face of adversity. He is generous and kind and has an intercultural sensitivity which is one of a kind. He is an invaluable asset as a leader, particularly in an international context.”
Insa Klasing
Co-Founder and Co-CEO


Upon completion of the Entrepreneurship Bootcamp and Executive Leadership Education Module, each Kakuma project participant received a certificate from Oxford University stating their completion of the course.

A twelve-week virtual mentorship program also commenced at the project’s end. Each Kakuma participant was paired with a mentor from the YGL community to whom they could seek guidance and advice on the idea they conceptualized during the course. iamthecode hosted this program on their platform and also partnered with Mastercard to scale the mentorship program.

Additionally, Mahmoud designed and moderated a virtual panel to highlight project outcomes and identify new champions on the topic of connecting refugees to the global economy.

Now, approximately five years after the Module's completion, there exists:

  • an Oxford-founded, refugee-led, research hub that employs 48 refugees and 12 refugee research fellows (4 of whom have been offered spots at Oxford for Master’s Degrees).
  • an Oxford online, educational program, modeled after the Young Global Leader-led module. It will reach 1000 refugee students in 2022.


And as a result of the project:

  • 3500 young women have received coding training, and 150 people have received refugee mentor trainingall by iamtheCODE.
  • Turkana has seen a 40% increase in surgical care available to its children.
  • 12 junior doctors in Turkana were trained by YGL Neema Kaseje, a surgeon with Médecins Sans Frontières.

Additional Resources

The Wealth of Refugees
The Wealth of Refugees: How Displaced People Can Build Economies

Professor Alexander Betts, a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader (YGL), was one of the eleven YGLs who went to Kakuma and was an integral part of the education module. In his latest book, Betts discusses refugees’ potential as economic stimulators and provides practical solutions to improving refugee welfare and social cohesion within host cities.

Doing Business in Kakuma
Report: Doing Business in Kakuma: Refugees, Entrepreneurship, and the Food Market

Since 2015, an innovative approach called Bamba Chakula (BC) - ‘get your food’ in Swahili - has been operating in Kakuma as a transitional arrangement between in-kind food assistance and cash-based assistance. This report analyzes the Bamba Chakula model and its impact on the food market in Kakuma.

Kakuma as a Marketplace
Report: Kakuma as a Marketplace

This report by the International Finance Corporation (IFC) notes Kakuma’s multitude of shops, traders, and daily economic activity that indicate that the camp and town present a significant market. The IFC estimates the total consumption to be $56 million, with the camp contributing 29 percent (KES 1.7 billion, or $16.5 million).

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