Kenya + 4 more

An Assessment of Kenya’s Private Sector Digital Outsourcing Landscape and Its Potential to Support Refugee Economic Inclusion


Executive Summary

According to the UNHCR, Kenya has one of the largest refugee populations in Africa, hosting over 520,000 refugees and asylum seekers. This includes more than 278,000 people from Somalia and close to 133,000 from South Sudan, some

Market-based livelihood activities represent one such example of a durable solution that can empower displaced persons to cater for their own basic necessities such as food, water, shelter, and clothing², thus enabling such vulnerable persons to reduce or break free from reliance on external assistance over time.
Ultimately, they also create opportunities to include refugees in the local economy.
In Kenya, a challenging policy environment, which includes mobility restrictions requiring refugees to reside in camps, poses a barrier to refugee economic inclusion. However, this situation also creates an opportunity to find alternative and tailored approaches to creating employment for, and promoting entrepreneurship among, refugees and their host communities.

Digital livelihoods are a viable pathway for leveraging this opportunity. The potential of digital livelihoods to advance refugee economic empowerment and inclusion in Kenya is underpinned by the global rise of the gig economy and the digitalization of work through online platforms. These platforms enable organizations and firms to source freelance work from around the world, thus creating an opportunity for displaced persons to participate as freelance consultants working from remote locations, including refugee camps.

Locally, Kenya’s private sector, which accounts for about 70 percent of total formal employment and 80 percent of GDP, is also already outsourcing work through digital platforms to freelancers. However, survey respondents and interview participants in this study who have previously outsourced work online to freelancers were unsure whether the freelancers who had completed the outsourced tasks were refugees or whether it is legal to outsource work digitally to refugees. Refugees interviewed as part of this study also reported limited awareness of, and engagement with, domestic businesses. Most of the digital work refugees do is from international, often US-based, entities such as companies contracting freelancers through platforms like Upwork. To create stronger linkages between refugees and the private sector, there is a need to bridge the awareness gap on both sides while tackling additional barriers to digital livelihoods for refugees and their hosts.

The recommendations outlined in this report (box 1) are therefore geared towards increasing private sector awareness of the opportunity to hire refugee freelancers, expanding visibility for refugees and their skills, and strengthening the entrepreneurship ecosystem. They are further designed to address digital barriers such as a lack of access to digital devices and affordable internet for refugees, while tackling the restrictive policy environment in Kenya.

To achieve progress on any of these objectives, there is a need for deep collaboration between development and humanitarian agencies, the private sector, and the government. Such collaboration around the implementation of this report’s recommendations could lead to the creation of important economic opportunities for refugees and their hosts, the reduction of refugees’ reliance on external assistance, and the promotion of sustainable economic development in Kenya.