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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:

Photo of Ashley Tillman

Hi Sara-Christine, thank you for sharing the work you are doing! I would love to learn more about a couple items:

1) For someone with less context on the specific situation in Chad, what was the process to come to this specific intervention vs. other agriculture support programs, was it brought to you by the community and then you support, did you co-design with the community, etc?

2) Would love to get a more flushed out sense of what the program you are prosing looks like. How do you select the individuals that benefit? Is there initial training and support/follow-on support? Is the school also run/support by your organization? Are you running the pilot currently?

Looking forward to learning more!

Photo of Ashley Tillman

Last question, is this your website? if so would love to learn how you got involved in this space

Photo of iACT

Hi Ashley,
1) The idea/solution for this agricultural intervention as a means to support our Little Ripples education program came directly from the refugee beneficiaries that we work with! The idea was presented to us. As a team, we discussed the feasibility of the intervention and return on investment, and decided it was worth exploring. We then co-designed what the implementation might look like and the actual implementation of the pilot was led by our refugee Little Ripples "Camp Coordinator".

2) Little Ripples is our (iACT) early childhood education program. We initially implemented Little Ripples in 2013 as a School--with six classrooms. Following one-year of implementation and evaluation, we found great improvement in the student's social-emotional, cognitive and physical health, as well as increased capacity for our female refugee staff to run the program. We wanted to expand the program to employ more women and reach more children (to fill the need), but building a school was too expensive and unsustainable for scaling. In 2015, we shifted to an in-home preschool model that we refer to as Little Ripples Ponds. iACT provides the training, expertise, and support, but in refugee camps, Little Ripples is lead entirely by an employed and trained team of refugee Camp Coordinators, Education Directors, teachers, and cooks. Donkey Ripples is a solution we're piloting to support the costs of Little Ripples, and in particular, the daily meal program we offer for every student.

Selected individuals/families to receive the donkey and plow and take part in this project will be those who live immediately surrounding existing Little Ripples School and six Ponds. So, essentially the neighbors. Starting nearest to each Little Ripples center, we will randomly select homes, visit families, and then circle out until we reach our quota of families to participate. Yes, there will be information meetings, documentation, and training for each family, co-designed and led with our refugee team, as well as follow-up interviews with families to garner user feedback, stories, the crops grown, and measure quantitative impact for the family and amount of support for Little Ripples. We tested a pilot in 2016 with four families and based on the success, we'd now like to expand the number of families of Donkey Ripples to further test the solution.

3) Yes! Our website is simply:

Let me know if I've clearly answered all your questions!? Thanks!