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Survivor to Thriver: Women Building Bridges to Prosperity & Peace

Building livelihood opportunities for displaced women and their communities in northeastern Nigeria.

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Explain your project idea in two sentences.

This project will help displaced women build livelihoods in northeastern Nigeria. Through a human-centered design process, they will have improved access to assets, food, and essential basic services.

What is your organization name? Explain your organization in one sentence.

FHI 360 has over 40 years of experience implementing projects, and has worked in Nigeria since 1986.

Is this project idea new for you or your organization? If no, how much have you already executed on?

FHI 360 operates safe spaces that provide psychosocial services for displaced women and girls who are at risk for, or have survived, GBV. ‘Survivor to Thriver’ will offer women pathways to improve the livelihood of their families and communities, while laying the scaffolding for peace in the future.

What is the problem you aim to solve with this idea? How would you define this problem as urgent and a priority in your target community?

As the acute needs of thousands of displaced people are met, many are looking to fulfill more long-term needs. Women have expressed their interest to build livelihoods — which can protect them from GBV and alleviate poverty — and identify lack of opportunities to do so currently as an issue.

What is the timeline for your project idea? What are the key steps for implementation in the next 1-3 years?

In year 1, women at FHI 360’s safe spaces will be recruited to join women’s groups and co-design a training program, and then will be trained and supported while they apply their skills. This training and continued engagement will occur in groups, to build social support along with expertise. The training could be in tailoring and weaving for some, or producing local pasta or making soap for others. In years 2-3, the project will be expanded to include other sites and iteratively improved.

Describe the individual or team that will implement this idea (if a partnership, please explain breakdown of responsibility).

The local FHI 360 team that is already providing services will implement. This includes experts in gender, health, livelihoods, and security who have relationships with local leaders and national agencies. Key staff include the protection officers, who currently work with women in these communities.

What do you need the most support with in this project idea?

  • Business Development/Partnerships

What is your primary goal over the next 6 weeks of Refinement?

  • Get exposure to design thinking and IDEO

How do you currently measure (or plan to measure) results for this project?

Integrating with the monitoring system already in place, this project would measure the outputs of the training through women’s qualitative experience with the training and the number of women who have applied their skills post-training. This project would also work to build the ‘livelihoods in conflict-affected settings’ evidence base by measuring the change in livelihoods and resilience over time — evaluating access to food, basic goods, and income, with validated tools for this context.

How has your project proposal changed due to your user research during the Beneficiary Feedback Phase?

FHI 360 staff conducted four focus groups with 25-30 women using the safe spaces. The user research focused the livelihoods opportunities that women have basic skills in, want to continue to develop, and see a need for in the camps. The research also highlighted the importance of the group format for training and continued engagement to provide social support, unity, and long-term peace.

(Optional) What are some of your still unanswered questions or concerns about this idea?

The future for many of these women and girls is still uncertain, and the time that they will spend displaced from their homes is not determined. How this state of limbo will affect their participation in this project is an open question, although the co-design element of the project will attempt to address this issue by ensuring that the women have input at every stage, and focusing on activities that women can use both now, and when they return to their homes in the future.

Note that you may also edit any of your previous answers within the proposal. Here is a great place to note any big final changes or iterations you have made to your proposal below:

This iterative process has allowed us to hone our proposal, while gaining valuable insight into what is vital for the community we serve. Our initial concept detailed a human-centered design process that included livelihoods programs as the probable outcome, given conversations our staff had already had with these women; however, this process is open-ended by design, and there could have been other interests that the community wanted to address. Now that we have begun a human-centered design process with women who access services at FHI 360 safe spaces in Borno, they have narrowed the focus to livelihood activities that they have a vested interested in, and that are valued in the community. We can now move forward with the consultative process with these women, with a more specific end in mind. We have also clarified here how this grant would feed into our work beyond this single award. There is a need for models to build livelihoods activities that are context-specific and sustainable in conflict-affected settings. FHI 360 is uniquely qualified given our extensive development expertise to help develop a model that serves this purpose. Given a successful iterative process, we hope to use and apply this model elsewhere. As FHI 360 expands work in conflict-affected settings, this model could serve other people outside those being targeted today in Borno state. Finally, we have also added a group component to this work. Through the beneficiary feedback, and continued work with women in these communities, it became clear that in order to promote peace, along with prosperity, these needed to be an emphasis on community building as well as livelihoods training. The group format works well for livelihoods programs in many different contexts, and can build relationships and social cohesion. More importantly, women have said they are interested in building groups, but do not have the forum to do so at this point. This project would therefore be serving multiple needs that this community has designated as important for their long-term prosperity and peace. The iterative process paired with the group format will also allow us to better address issues that crop up in groups, by continuously working to solicit feedback and improve.


Since 2014, millions of people in northeast Nigeria have been robbed of peace, prosperity and the lives they once knew. The Boko Haram insurgency, coupled with the Nigerian military’s counter-insurgency efforts, has led to a severe humanitarian crisis in the region. The conflict has left 8.5 million people in need of emergency assistance, including over 1.8 million internally displaced persons (IDPs). At least 1.4 million of these IDPs live in the northeast’s Borno state in sub-standard informal settlements and resource-strapped host communities. Displacement, and its burden on host communities, has resulted in critically low levels of essential services and opportunities to sustain livelihoods.

FHI 360 humanitarian response professionals are providing gender-based violence (GBV), health care, water and sanitation services to the most vulnerable populations currently living in two Local Government Areas (LGAs) of Borno State. Specifically, in GBV, FHI 360 has set up safe spaces which deliver case management and group psychosocial support. FHI 360 case workers provide referrals to survivors of GBV for life-saving medical care and legal services based on their needs and wishes at FHI 360 operated safe spaces. The project further engages community members and traditional leaders in dialogue to increase knowledge on the negative consequences of GBV and advocate for support and non-stigmatization of survivors. This program is supported by local experts in gender, health, livelihoods, and security.

Through daily engagement with affected communities since project launch in January 2017, FHI 360’s response team has identified many IDPs as survivors of GBV, and that such women remain especially vulnerable. The need for livelihood opportunities, especially for female-headed households, is both imminent and crucial to bridging the gap between northeast Nigerians’ current dire circumstances and the peaceful, prosperous lives these communities seek.

Through focus group discussions conducted during the beneficiary feedback phase, FHI 360 staff have spoken to women about the many different areas in which they worked. This included making and selling food stuffs, embroidering, tailoring, working as hair dressers, farming, operating small businesses, and many other endeavors. In Borno State, men typically control all financial resources; thus women with husbands who would fund their wives had the advantage of access to initial investment for small businesses in the past. Many households are now female-headed due to the conflict, placing these women in a more vulnerable state, often lacking income and fully reliant on aid from humanitarian agencies. Female-headed households with no income are at a higher risk in a crisis setting of sexual exploitation or of engaging in transactional sex to meet family needs. Moreover, lack of resources and services undermines peace by increasing tension between men and women and IDPs and host communities, exacerbating risks of violence and abuse.

In a report by the Women’s Refugee Commission, evidence shows that when programs provide alternatives to dangerous livelihood strategies, they can decrease the overall GBV risk for the affected groups. Providing economic paths for these women through skills trainings in livelihoods and income-generating activities can offer them hope, financial security, and stability long-term. Livelihood opportunities can help increase self-confidence and feelings of empowerment and provide a bridge to prosperity when GBV-affected IDP women return to their homes in the future. They can also provide alternative opportunities to women who are at risk of falling into illicit activities to generate income, thus improve peace and security in vulnerable communities.

Although livelihood opportunities are vital for the recovery of individuals and communities post-conflict, there is a significant need to develop models that work better to deliver these services. A recent study by the Migration Policy Institute, “Building Livelihood Opportunities for Refugee Populations” identified barriers to effective livelihoods programming for refugees and displaced persons. Many programs do not use assessments of the local context, so the target population cannot use the skills they are trained in, nor do the skills match the capacity or knowledge of the community. A human-centered design process can serve as a mechanism to place the decision-making power back in the hands of the beneficiaries – the women in Borno state – who are most in need of these services.

Human-centered design has been practiced in low-resource and post-conflict settings around the world to create innovative solutions and services to the challenges of global poverty. This approach has scaled sexual and reproductive health service delivery, increased women’s safety in accessing water points, improved uptake of sanitation practices, and resulted in many other social innovations in a variety of settings. The tools and techniques of human-centered design level the playing field between the donor and the beneficiary by putting them together in the drivers’ seat to co-design a program. Through this approach, FHI 360 will facilitate the co-design process to build a livelihoods program that is created, and ultimately owned by the women, to lay the scaffolding of a bridge to better, more peaceful and prosperous lives.


Goal: To equip GBV survivors in Borno state with the resources and skills to co-design livelihoods programs for themselves, ultimately providing these women with pathways to prosperity in the short-term and peace in the long-term.


  • Co-create livelihood programs with women affected by GBV through an interactive, human-centered design process;
  • Impart the requisite skills and training identified through the process that will enable the women to build livelihoods and prosper;
  • Facilitate understanding, reconciliation and relationship-building between women through the group-format identified as key in beneficiary feedback to promote social support, unity, and long-term peace.

Explain your idea

FHI 360 is currently implementing an integrated, multi-sector humanitarian assistance project in two LGAs in Borno State that include activities in water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH), gender-based violence (GBV) and primary healthcare. We will leverage the existing GBV program to identify women who would benefit from livelihood skills, and provide a more holistic set of services to these women. The current services being offered are only a first step towards recovery; women identified livelihoods opportunities as essential and lacking during the beneficiary feedback portion of this challenge. With that focus, FHI 360 staff will facilitate a co-design process to create livelihoods curriculums that serves the diverse needs of this community of women. This project will include: 1. Working with existing GBV program to identify vulnerable women who would be interested in and benefit from a livelihoods program; 2. Working with women to co-design a livelihoods program that serves their skills and the needs of the community; 3. Setting up and equipping a training center for women in FHI 360 safe spaces; 4. Implementing skills training in a group setting, and linking beneficiaries to markets to access inputs as well as sell their products; and 5. Continuing to ensure women have access to markets and inputs (and any other necessary materials), and iteratively improve the model while expanding to other sites. The specific activities will be greatly influenced throughout the project by the women. For some, developing small kitchen gardens with available land is an excellent way to both improve the diets and nutrition of their households, as well as sell extra produce in local markets. For others, making soap to use for better hygiene and sell in local markets is a feasible option. For yet others, training in tailoring or another skill can offer valuable options. This also provides an opportunity to add pieces of the curriculum on sectors the women are also interested in – like peacebuilding – which can be incorporated through educative sessions conducted on conflict management, diversity and peaceful coexistence. FHI 360 staff, using a human-centered design approach and informed by market assessments, will provide the scaffolding; the women themselves will design the bridge and identify where it will lead them. Finally, FHI 360 is also committed to building evidence. Working within the existing monitoring system, the team in Nigeria will track the outputs of the training, conduct rapid assessments and monitoring of businesses, evaluate changes in livelihoods and resilience, and iteratively improve the model through the human-centered design process of feedback from beneficiaries.

Who Benefits?

The proposed solution directly benefits women affected by GBV by contributing to their healing process and long-term prosperity. Secondary beneficiaries of this project include the households and children of the women through improved income and diets. Tertiary beneficiaries include the entire community. By providing alternative livelihoods to women (and secondarily their children), who are vulnerable to illicit or insurgent activities, security and peace can be sought long-term. Advocacy efforts will also reduce future acts of GBV within the community and mitigate conflict between communities when the conflict has stabilized, allowing for communities to reconcile. FHI 360 is also committed to sustainability and scalability. While this grant will not be able to provide services to every woman in need, it can help develop a model that can be applied elsewhere. In this way, this grant could have ripple effects for many communities outside those directly impacted by this first step.

How is your idea unique?

FHI 360’s approach bridges compassion and hope to build a pathway towards greater prosperity. Traditionally a development actor, FHI 360 is bringing its expertise in evidence-based programs integrated across sectors in Nigeria to address long-term barriers to stability and peace in a humanitarian response setting. By taking a human-centered approach, FHI 360 is emphasizing empowerment, dignity, and capabilities of the women GBV survivors and other IDPs. The opportunity to co-design the services that bridge their present circumstance with their future reality speaks to a belief in hope, a belief in the possibility of reconciliation, a belief in the possibility of peace, and in doing so honors the dignity and worth of Nigeria’s incredibly resilient women.

Idea Proposal Stage

  • Piloting: I have started to implement my solution as a whole with a first set of real users.

Tell us more about you

Working in over 70 countries, FHI 360 has over 30 years of experience and extensive programming in the health, nutrition, gender, economic development and livelihoods, civil society, and peacebuilding sectors. FHI 360 has been working in Nigeria since 1986, with a presence across 36 states including Borno. The organization is well-positioned to build upon its existing project in Borno and relationships with local authorities, communities, and development and humanitarian actors. FHI 360 has a strong bench of local technical experts in gender, health, livelihoods, economic development, security, and peacebuilding in Borno, and supporting Nigeria from the US. Currently FHI 360 has 6 projects operating in Borno (including the project that this proposed project would expand), and are familiar with working in complex, and sometimes difficult circumstances in this particular context and in others. We are looking for opportunities to expand activities among this highly vulnerable population, and bring our integrated, gender-sensitive, and context-specific approach to support long-term stability for households in Northern Nigeria.

Expertise in sector

  • 7+ years

Organization Filing Status

  • Yes, we are a registered non-profit.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Kate Rushton

Hi Brittney!

Thank you for sharing the great work you are doing.

Is this the website for your organisation -

Can you tell me what you project would include over 3 years? What sort of funding are you requesting for the project?

Photo of Brittney

That is indeed the website for our organization. I have included a summary of activities below. Since the proposed activities are being conducted under a human-centered design process, they will be influenced by the needs and wants of the community throughout the entire process. Furthermore, the demands we have already identified are in the livelihoods sector. Most of the funding would go towards trainings including inputs for those trainings (i.e. materials, facilitation, etc.) and inputs for the products and commodities required.

Summary of Activities
1. Working with existing GBV program to identify vulnerable women and girls
2. Conducting a livelihoods assessment and a market survey during the ‘beneficiary feedback’ portion of the Bridge Builder Challenge
3. Conducting a skills assessment of the target beneficiaries during the ‘beneficiary feedback’ portion of the Bridge Builder Challenge to identify pervasive and demanded skills
4. Setting up and equipping a training center for women in safe spaces, including provision of inputs for initial work
5. Implementing skills training and linking beneficiaries to markets to access inputs as well as sell their products
6. Providing input materials required to vulnerable women for their chosen livelihood production.
7. Continuing to ensure women have access to markets and inputs (and any other necessary materials)
8. Continue GBV risk-mitigation strategies by increasing advocacy efforts among community members, traditional leaders and national-level agencies, and reduce risk for GBV due to women and girls’ new access to assets and mobility to markets.

The specific activities will be greatly influenced throughout the project by the women. For some, developing small kitchen gardens with available land is an excellent way to both improve the diets and nutrition of their households, as well as sell extra produce in local markets. For others, making Vaseline or soap to use for better hygiene and sell in local markets is a feasible option. For others, training in tailoring or another skill can offer valuable options. Each individual’s desired skill will help rebuild their life now and in the future. Using a human-centered design approach, informed by market assessments, will ensure that people are trained in feasible but useful skills.

Photo of GYST Fermentation Bar

Hi Brittany, just wanted to let you know I am deeply inspired by your organization and project proposal. I used to work at Instituto Promundo in Rio de Janeiro - you may be familiar with some of their GBV programming. In any case, I believe that providing women and girls' new access to assets and mobility to markets is key to reducing GBV. No doubt, investing in women and girls to develop their own "value-added" products will greatly enhance success.

We are currently working on a project that uses lacto-fermentation of vegetables as a way of both preservation, health promotion and product development. For example, youth in North Minneapolis are interested in fermenting green beans and/or making a fermented hot sauce. You can read more about our project by looking up Appetite for Change.
If you think any of the women that develop small kitchen gardens in your project may be interested in the value of lacto-fermenting vegetables (definitely nutritious and can even be developed as another "value added" product from their land) please contact us! Good luck with all of your important work.

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