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Donkey Ripples: Income-generating solution enabling refugee families to support the impact and sustainability of early childhood education

iACT aims to bolster agricultural activities for families to address sustainability of early childhood education in refugee camp Goz Amer.

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What problem does your innovation solve?

More than 14 years after arriving to Chad, over 360,000 refugees from Darfur, Sudan live in 12 camps along the border of eastern Chad and still struggle to gain access to livelihood opportunities and quality education. Most refugees rely on farming to generate income and feed their family. However, few refugee families can afford donkeys and plows, both of which are essential tools for increasing their yield. While 31% of the population are children under-five, preschool is heavily under-funded

Explain your innovation.

Our innovation is called Donkey Ripples (DR). Donkey Ripples is a refugee-initiated idea and managed solution that empowers families to contribute to the cost of the daily nutritional meals and foster sustainability of Little Ripples (LR), a refugee-led early childhood education program reaching children ages 3-5 in their camp. DR provides a donkey and plows to families who live in the homes and the “block” immediately surrounding LR School and Ponds in camp Goz Amer. Each family take the donkey and plow to their plot of land, uses the set for tilling, planting, and harvesting for the duration of the summer agricultural season, and brings them back to camp afterward, utilizing the donkey to carry the family’s yield. Families then give back a portion of their yield to support LR. Little Ripples refugee cooks then use the crops for the meals prepared and provided daily to students at LR, or trade or sell the crop for other ingredients. Further, Goz Amer has a peanut oil-producing economy. DR will purchase an oil-producing machine as an income-generating tool for families and LR. Donkey Ripples addresses both the ongoing food insecurity in the region and the sustainability of an early childhood education program. The upfront investment of donkeys and plows for families attending LR increases crop yield and food for the entire family, contributes to the essential daily meal at LR, and builds refugee self-reliance in a region with little economic opportunity

Who benefits?

The beneficiaries of DR will be refugees living in camp Goz Amer, eastern Chad, and include: - 670 children ages 3-5 attending Little Ripples, 12 refugee families per LR School and Pond, and 16 female LR cooks. Typical beneficiary: Kadija is the mother of four boys, all under the age of eight. Two of her boys will be attending an LR Pond near their home. The two younger boys have not attended any preschool before. Kadija has been in camp a refugee camp in eastern Chad since 2004. She does not work; she mostly stays home. The family eats two meals a day of porridge and sorghum. During the rainy season, she goes to her field to tend to her crops. After implementing DR for one year, iACT aims to scale the program to refugee camps Djabal, Mile, and Kounougou, eastern Chad. iACT will measure: - use and impact of the donkey and plow, the amount of crop grown, how the families are using the increased yield, and the resulting contributions to the cost of sustaining LR.

How is your innovation unique?

The humanitarian system so far lacks a good model of facilitating and nurturing innovation by refugees and other crisis-affected communities, particularly in hard-to-reach and under-resourced environments. Donkey Ripples will be successful because it was a sustainable solution to addressing food insecurity designed by refugees from the community, who are the experts on their environment and economy. Furthermore, we piloted the idea with four families in 2016 and as a result, families increased their yield and gave back 25% of the crop to Little Ripples. iACT has been working alongside refugees in eastern Chad since 2005, successfully facilitating refugee-led education, sports, and human rights programs. In 2014, iACT’s Little Ripples program was selected by OpenIDEO as one of seven most innovative refugee education solutions and we completed a one-year design-thinking process in collaboration with IDEO experts to improve specific refugee-led components of Little Ripples.

What are some of your unanswered questions about the idea?

- While Donkey Ripples was designed and initiated by refugees, from an expertise standpoint, we may not know the exact harvest that individual families will produce. Families typically grow peanuts, sorghum, and millet. Could they be harvesting other crops to help with the LR meal program? - How can donkeys be utilized during the non-agricultural season in the camp? Can they be part of a larger sustainable solution? Can they carry water for the health and hygiene program? - What will the impact of having an oil-producing machine owned by LR be on both the individual families of students and the meal program at the School and Ponds? Will other families not in the program sell their peanuts to the school to help sustain it?

Tell us more about you.

iACT is a Los Angeles-based international organization. All iACT programs are refugee-led. iACT forms deep relationships with refugees living in camps who are open, innovative, trustworthy, and concerned for the whole community. iACT programs are designed in collaboration with experts in various fields, then adapted, implemented and lead by refugees--ensuring community ownership and cultural relevance. iACT partners with Jesuit Refugee Service in Chad for in-country logistics and expertise.

What is the primary type of emergency setting where your innovation would operate?

  • Prolonged displacement

Emergency Setting - Elaborate

In refugee camp Goz Amer, and across all camps in eastern Chad, Darfur refugees remain in limbo as their services and rations are cut and UNHCR hurries to implement a strategy of integration to make up for the reduction in support for Darfur refugees. In 2014, WFP drastically reduced food rations from 2,100 calories per person, per day to 800. The ration cuts have been devastating for already vulnerable households, and livelihood opportunities in eastern Chad are hard to find.

Where will your innovation be implemented?

Refugee camp Goz Amer, eastern Chad

Experience in Implementation Country(ies)

  • Yes, for more than one year.

In-country Networks

- iACT has an existing partnership with Jesuit Refugee Service. JRS assists iACT with in-Chad program logistics and travel. - iACT employs 49 refugees in camp Goz Amer as leaders of our sports and education programs. We will work with our refugee colleagues to ensure the success of Donkey Ripples.

Sector Expertise

  • I've worked in a sector related to my innovation for more than a year.

Sector Expertise - Elaborate

iACT has been working alongside Darfur refugees in eastern Chad since 2015 and expanded to Cameroon in 2016. iACT is pioneering processes, programs, and education campaigns to improve the humanitarian refugee response globally. Personal relationships and teamwork are at the heart of our change model. We collaborate with experts and organizations across different sectors, and, most importantly, the refugee beneficiaries to design solutions at the forefront of humanitarian efforts.

Innovation Maturity

  • Existing Prototype or Pilot: I have tested a part of my solution with users and am iterating.

Organization Status

  • We are a registered non-profit, charity, NGO, or community-based organization.

Organization Location

Los Angeles, California United States


How has your Idea changed based on feedback?

Based on feedback from refugee beneficiaries and experts, Donkey Ripples will: (1) test and create an adaptable and impactful community-engagement model linking education and food security, (2) design a refugee repayment system that includes support for school meals and/or other general school needs, and (3) test other agricultural tools, such as “water generators” and “group farming,” that can be used during the entire year to support the nutrition of students and educational costs.

Who will implement this Idea?

iACT works directly with the refugee beneficiaries. An employed refugee Camp Coordinator (CC) in each camp facilitates the Little Ripples daily meal program. The CC purchases and distributes the agricultural equipment and partners with refugee families and Little Ripples cooks to manage the repayment to Little Ripples. Two iACT staff members, based in the U.S., travel to the camps to provide training and capacity building and document the refugee-led process, learnings, and iterations to the program design in order to create a replicable and scalable model for other refugee contexts.

What challenges do your end-users face? (1) What is the biggest challenge that your end-users face on a day-to-day, individual level? (2) What is the biggest systems-level challenge that affects your end-users?

Our end-users are Darfuri refugee adults living in camps in eastern Chad, whose children attend Little Ripples. (1) Day to day, our refugee end-users face challenges to meet their their basic needs (e.g. food, water, firewood, education, and healthcare). (2) Their systems challenge is equal access to culturally appropriate livelihood, professional, and educational opportunities within and outside of their camp to advance themselves and restore their dignity as individuals and as a community. After 14 years in camps, there has been limited investments in refugees’ self-reliance and resilience. Darfuri refugees face decreasing support from international aid agencies and reside in remote areas in which livelihood opportunities are scarce and access to basic services in host villages limited.

How is your organization considering sustainable growth in order to continue making an impact over time?

Sustainable growth is built into to our refugee-led model. To ensure long-term viability and feasibility, we invest time and resources in building capacity and facilitating the leadership of our refugee Little Ripples program staff and community members. This multi-year process is documented and measured in order to create a scalable and replicable community-engagement model. iACT also builds partnerships with NGOs and peers in alliance with education, nutrition, and food security, and with technical and financial actors to sustain and scale our programs.

Tell us about your vision for this project: (1) share one sentence about the impact that you would like to see from this project in five years and (2) what is the biggest question/hurdle you need to address to get there?

By 2022, we aim to scale our program, directly engaging thousands of refugee families in twelve refugee camps in eastern Chad and 2 refugee sites globally through our livelihood community-engagement model, and reaching approximately 4,860 children ages three to five with sustained preschool and nutrition. How do we adjust our model to account for diversity in livelihood activities and environments across different refugee contexts to ensure sustainable engagement of end-users and replicability?

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

Per camp: number (#) of refugee families and total family members) who receive agricultural equipment, size of land cultivated, # of crops planted per family, amount of yield per family, amount of repayment per family, increased household income, and resulting impact on program costs of Little Ripples. We will also measure the community-engagement process, attitudes of families towards education, attendance of students, # of meals served, and impact on children’s physical development.

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

Y1: Implement idea in 4 refugees camps in eastern Chad. Y2: Adapt livelihood solution model unique to a community in 1 additional refugee site, globally. Y3: Scale adapted livelihood solution to 2 refugee sites, globally. Key steps: Sustainable livelihood solution, expected growth and repayment identified by the local refugee community, connect refugees with global experts, document replicable community-engagement process for implementation, iteration, and expansion of elements to scale.

My organization's operational budget for 2016 was:

  • Between $50,000 and $100,000 USD

How many of your team’s paid, full-time staff are currently based in the location where the beneficiaries of your proposed Idea live?

  • No paid, full-time staff

Is your organization registered in the country that you intend to implement your Idea in?

  • We are a registered entity, but not in the country in which we plan to implement our Idea.

How long have you and your colleagues been working on this Idea together?

  • Between 6 months and 1 year

What do you need the most support with for your innovation?

  • Business Development / Partnerships Support
  • Business Model Support
  • Program/Service Design
  • Other Technical Expertise


Join the conversation:

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Hi iACT Team!

We’re excited to share feedback and questions from our experts with you. We encourage you to think about this feedback as you continue to improve and refine your Idea. You are welcome to respond in the comments section and/or to incorporate feedback into the text of your Idea. Your Idea and all associated comments will all be reviewed during the final review process.

Based on your knowledge and experience, is this a new approach or bold way of answering the Challenge question?
One expert stated: “Based on my experience, the project is both bold and innovative but the proposal does struggle to establish a clear link between the solution and education outcomes in emergencies.”
Another shared: “This is a really interesting new way to engage the community and try to foster a collaborative and mutually supportive relationship between families and community schools. My main concerns revolve around the sustainability of the approach (as outlined in the questions below). I think with further testing and community engagement, the team could address a number of these challenges.”

Is this idea human-centered and how does this Idea consider user needs?
One reviewer stated: “The project seems to have a very strong community centred design. It seems desirable but some questions remain over its viability and feasibility, particularly if it were to be scaled. The project seems to connect the dots very well between food, agriculture, security and education (all of which seem to have emerged from community based consultations).”
Another shared: “I really like that this is a refugee-initiated Idea formulated from community needs. What's more, research has clearly shown the correlation between school lunches and improved educational outcomes. That said, I wonder the following: (1) Do the community members who will benefit from the donkey/plow actually WANT those items? Or would another agricultural innovation better suit their (potentially diverse) agriculture needs?; (2) Given this Idea was only piloted with 4 families, how do we know a broader group would give their additional yields to Little Ripples (as opposed to selling the donkey/plow and taking the money, for instance)?; (3) What if the donkey/plow doesn't increase yields?”

Expert Feedback on a model for sustainability long-term?
One reviewer stated: “The Idea has an interesting and innovative funding model for improving access and sustainability of education. However there remains some serious questions on its scalability. The refugee population that the project deals with are mostly rural, long term settlements. If the project were to be applied to conflict situations, I am not sure it would work. Moreover, there does not seem to be enough explanation about the education program itself and its learning outcomes, as that is a critical component in addressing the question.”
Another shared: “I think it is a great Idea to develop a symbiotic relationship of support between the community and the local learning centers. But I'm curious if food for school lunches is the most sustainable way for the community to support the school. Might you think about multiple channels for "repaying" the Little Ripples schools beyond just food donations to meet some of the other school needs?”

Final questions and comments:
“1) great work linking food security, nutrition, agriculture and education - the interlinkages are critical for addressing the challenge questions. 2) great story - puts the program in perspective and provides context. 3) The education program itself needs more explanation. Who creates the content? how accessible is it? how does it ensure safety? how does it improve outcomes?”

Looking ahead in the development of your Idea, the following are some questions that may be helpful to consider and integrate into your contribution.
How will extraneous risks be accounted for? What if there is an extenuating circumstance such as drought, or injury, that prevents a beneficiary from fulfilling their obligation for repayment?
What does the next phase of testing look like? How might this team scale up their tests to generate an additional round of feedback from beneficiaries?
What are the environmental implications of this approach?
Is a donkey and plough the best tool in all regions / emergency settings? What alternative resources or tools could fill this role? How will this team determine the most effective tools for any given situation?

In case you missed it, check out this Storytelling Toolkit for inspiration for crafting strong and compelling stories: Storytelling is an incredibly useful tool to articulate an Idea and make it come to life for those reading it. Don’t forget - August 6 at 11:59PM PST is your last day to make changes to your Idea on the OpenIDEO platform.

Have questions? Email us at

Looking forward to reading more!

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Overview of Little Ripples
Donkey Ripples is a refugee-initiated idea and refugee-managed solution that empowers families to contribute to the cost of daily nutritional meals and foster sustainability of Little Ripples (LR), a refugee-led early childhood education program reaching refugee children ages three to five living in camps.

iACT partners directly with refugee beneficiaries to establish, adapt, and implement Little Ripples in their community in order to improve the social-emotional, cognitive, and physical health of children ages three to five.

Little Ripples was initially a school-based model. In 2013, iACT established a Little Ripples School in camp Goz Amer, currently reaching 400 refugee children annually. However, in order to create a more community-centered and cost-effective model, iACT shifted LR to an in-home-center model. LR is now hosted in the home spaces of refugees across each camp, and this has drastically reduced the cost of construction and barriers of access for young children. Refugee families have compounds consisting of one or more mud and thatched-roof structures and open space, surrounded by thatched fencing. A simple structure, consisting of two adjacent cement walls, a cement floor, and a covering, is built inside a refugee’s home space, along with a latrine, hand-washing station, and safe kitchen area. This is the Little Ripples “Pond” or classroom. Children between the ages of three and five from the surrounding homes and who live in the same “block” as the Pond are enrolled and walk only a few hundred yards to attend preschool six days a week.

The Little Ripples curriculum is a pre-established outline of evidence-based, quality early childhood education designed to improve the social-emotional, cognitive, and physical development of refugee children by guiding teachers in a daily structure and lessons that promote play-based literacy and numeracy, development of fine and gross motor skills, social-emotional skills, hygiene practices, mindfulness, and empathy building. The curriculum was designed by iACT Technical Advisors—experts in early childhood education and development, trauma recovery, and mindfulness. The state-of-the-art components of the curriculum provide daily guidance for refugee teachers but also leave room for adaptation. Little Ripples teachers infuse the curriculum with stories, games, and songs that reflect their culture. Research has shown that learning cannot be separated from a child's social and cultural context; additionally, empowerment occurs when a community contributes to solutions.

Little Ripples offers a daily, nutritious meal to every attending student. The daily meals are sourced, prepared, and served by two refugee women trained and employed as Little Ripples cooks. One cook is a woman from the household hosting the Pond, and the other is a neighbor. Together, the women learn how to manage meals for a large group of children, source the ingredients from families and the local refugee market, create weekly meal plans, and ensure that health and hygiene standards are met. The LR School employs four female cooks.

A nutritious meal is imperative for the cognitive and physical development of young children. Offering a daily meal at preschool, in a refugee setting—in which the majority of families report eating only two meals a day—does not create dependency. Rather, a meal at school increases school attendance, improves students’ ability to focus, learn and develop, diversifies their nutrition intake, and creates pride for the program among community members at large.

Little Ripples is currently operating in two refugee camps in eastern Chad. Refugee camp Goz Amer has a Little Ripples School and six in-home centers reaching a total of 850 children and employing 48 refugees as camp coordinators, education directors, teachers, guards, and cooks. In camp Djabal, two Little Ripples in-home Ponds currently serve 90 children and employs nine refugees. These numbers will increase to 135 children and thirteen refugee employees after the 2017 rainy season ends and the third Pond is built. Program feedback in both camps from teachers, parents, refugee leaders, and UNHCR has been very positive. Caregivers feel more connected to their child’s education experience, and teachers feel more ownership of their “classroom” space. More children are consistently attending due to the proximity to their homes, and UNHCR has requested that the solution be scaled in eastern Chad.

In fall 2017, Little Ripples will be scaled to two additional refugee camps in eastern Chad, initially employing fourteen refugee women and reaching 270 children. iACT is also preparing to scale, implement, and test the Little Ripples refugee-led preschool model in contexts outside of Chad.

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The idea for the provision of the specific items of a donkey and plow, in addition to the idea of the purchase of a peanut oil-producing machine, came directly from refugee families. During the feedback phase, the refugee camp coordinator in camp Goz Amer conducted additional household interviews to further assess whether this idea would be accepted by families in the community. The idea received very positive feedback: families welcomed the idea and valued the opportunity to use a donkey and plow, and many expressed hope that the program would be quickly scaled to include more families. Additionally, the refugee beneficiaries say there is not a lot of diverse agricultural needs in their region, and all families typically plant and grow the same (limited) variety of crop.

The eastern Chad agricultural season is vulnerable to variable weather patterns. Too much rain or too little rain can affect crop growth and yield, and, in turn, may affect Little Ripples families’ ability to contribute to the costs of Little Ripples. In order to address this, iACT will work with refugee beneficiaries and experts in livelihood in Chad to design and test year-long solutions for livelihood to support Little Ripples.

The majority of refugee families are currently away from the camp and at their plot of land, farming. We have increased the number of participating families from four to twelve for this summer rainy season. Our next phase would be to learn from the experience of these families over this summer, and spend the next school year (October to May) testing, iterating, and finalizing the program design to scale the program with hundreds of Little Ripples families in four eastern Chad refugee camps during the summer of 2018. Some families also farm small plots during the year. Through the leadership of our refugee staff and beneficiaries, iACT will identify and work with families that farm year round to learn about their agricultural practices and yield, barriers and needs, and opportunities.

iACT will determine the most effective tools for any given situation by speaking with stakeholders in agricultural activities and livelihood, including refugee families, experts, and local actors in the agricultural sector, government officials, and NGOs. In order to scale this solution, iACT will incorporate experts and NGOs working in developing sustainable agricultural activities in the region.

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