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How the holistic approach of refugee-led organizations leads to effective community impact

Refugee-led organizations (RLOs) are providing services as diverse as the community members they work with. RLOs are often praised as first responders, able to bring critical assistance to parts of their communities that international organizations and even national organizations cannot reach. However, evidence shows that they are far more than that: refugee-led organizations are providing holistic, mutually reinforcing services responding to the needs of diverse members of their communities. These services render both life-saving support and life-changing solutions for community members.

Listening and adapting to community needs

As part of the communities they serve, refugee leaders can quickly adapt to the needs they see arising from family, friends, and neighbors. They are also directly affected by the problems they are trying to solve, and are thus deeply invested in long-term solutions over bandaid responses. The resulting programs developed by RLOs, then, address a variety of needs as they emerge and help refugees to not only survive, but also thrive and support others in their communities.

Refugees and Asylum Seekers Information Centre (RAIC) in Indonesia highlights the range of services that refugee-led organizations provide for their communities. In an environment where refugees have no right to healthcare, work, or education, RAIC not only delivers humanitarian assistance and healthcare to community members, but also provides legal services, mental health programming, and a resettlement (private sponsorship) program.

RAIC’s most innovative programs were born of direct experience with community needs. While RAIC provides assistance to refugees applying for refugee status through UNHCR, RAIC staff know firsthand that this process is significantly delayed, and that the majority of refugees are thus left without protection or hope for resettlement. This situation has caused a mental health crisis among the community, including high rates of suicide. Thus began RAIC’s mental health program known as COPE and its private sponsorship program, both of which have been transformational for community members.

COPE has a sustainable, community-strengthening model: group therapy sessions are held online for 22 weeks for 2 hours per session. Participants not only are supported on their own mental health journeys, but are also prepared as community wellness facilitators, strengthening the overall ability of the community to address mental health needs. The private sponsorship program is life-saving: UNHCR is the only other body in Indonesia that facilitates resettlement, and summarily disqualifies many community members based on nationality or gender. For many community members, this is the only possibility they have to move to a country where they might have the right to move freely, work, and send their children to school. Importantly, evaluators found both of these programs to be “very impactful” based on program user experiences.

Addressing root causes through mutually-reinforcing services

As shown in the chart below, all of the refugee-led organizations studied in the metasynthesis that we commissioned similarly provided holistic services that addressed critical needs and promoted long-term solutions. Refugiados Unidos in Colombia, for example, provides humanitarian assistance such as food kits, hygiene kits, and assistance with rent “where people are most vulnerable and without legal protection or opportunity”. They then provide legal services to address the root cause of this vulnerability; their legal services include access to legal status as well as rights and support for entrepreneurs and other workers to promote the livelihoods of community members. This program is changing lives: 73% of program users reported a positive change in their lives from this program because they were able to access their rights or even access legal status enabling them to work, study, and move freely in Colombia. The remaining 27% had either not yet received services from a lawyer or had not had their cases resolved.

When solutions are developed and led by community members, they more effectively address the needs of that community. These solutions are more accountable to community members, too, as they are led by peers, neighbors, and friends who live, work, celebrate, and grieve alongside one another.

Holistic services addressing critical needs and long-term solutions are just a few of the many ways that refugee-led organizations have been found to be impactful. You can learn more by reading our metasynthesis, impact report, as well as other evidence generated about refugee-led organizations. You can also donate to help refugee-led organizations scale the impactful solutions they bring to their communities and reach out to learn more about how you can join us in the refugee leadership movement.


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