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UNHCR Exchange: Bridging the gap between practitioners and refugees.

UNHCR Exchange is a tool for the collaboration and sharing of knowledge between UNHCR Staff, Refugees and other fellow organisations.

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UNHCR Exchange - a unique tool and methodology that enables a two way communication between refugees and practitioners and sets them up to run new social entrepreneurship projects.

At the heart of UNHCR Exchange is an ethos and methodology aiming to transform the nature of interactions between UN practitioners and persons of concern. In a human centered design approach, on Exchange, persons of concern take part in collaborative innovation and community leadership projects. With the knowledge acquired in the Exchange Social Entrepreneurship Trainings, they co-design and carry out effective empowerment solutions, to achieve self reliance and gain problem solving skills.

Methods include Social Enterprise coaching, Leadership training, Training the trainer, as well as a variety of skills training, adapted to the needs of each context.

Firstly, applying Open Education and social learning technologies for continuous learning progress, coaching and remote collaboration between refugees, IDPs and UNHCR practitioners.

To apply the ethos and methodology of UNHCR Exchange, we identify active and potential community leaders. They form the initial cohorts of blended training - collaborative learning both face to face and online. The new community leaders are encouraged and trained to become partners in the solutions design process. Besides a core curriculum of Social Entrepreneurship, business literacy and confidence development each learning programme is enriched with specialist skills training that ensure a route to income generation through employment or entrepreneurship.

In a first pilot in 2014, the specialist skillset was focused on media creation skills, educationalist skills and journalism. Our first cohort was 20 strong participants, all with refugee status in the Nakivale Settlement, Uganda. The group, self-entitled ‘Entrepreneur 20+’ (E20+), was trained in the Core Curriculum, as well as in the creation of Educational Resources to meet their community’s learning and sensitisation needs. The training covered storytelling, script writing, directing, filming and editing, but most prominently, effective methods of collaborating with specialists and experts in different subject matters to achieve the transmission of valid, high quality information. The content produced by the E20+  is peer reviewed by their coaches from UNHCR and Fuse Foundation, before being published to the public on the UNHCR Exchange platform and in an offline experience to their community in Nakivale and beyond.

Through a ‘training the trainer approach’, the E20+ were also trained in delivering blended learning experiences to their peers, a basis for the passing on of skills and for the E20+ to gain an income. For the digital component of the learning blend, Exchange provides online communities of practice and learning as the matching digital component of face to face learning and collaboration projects. Communities of practice on UNHCR Exchange can be used to run the online components of:

  1. Capacity Building Projects, including continuous peer to peer coaching

  2. Learning programmes for refugees

  3. Collaborative Learning experiences between refugees and practitioners

  4. Exchange of Best Practice

  5. Innovation projects and idea generation

  6. Staff training (for UNHCR staff and implementing partners)

The system runs on computers (in browser), tablets and smartphones (in the app). Besides allowing for easy access to content, Exchange emphasises user-generated content: Users can upload any type of media and comment on each other’s content to further ideas in collaboration.

The Exchange experience works best when combining online and face to face experiences. The platform then becomes the assistive learning Tool to enhance a specific learning programme.

The programme’s future will be to refine the methodology, and scale it to serve populations most in need. We are starting with a new, exciting project in Iraq in 2015, where the specialist skillset conveyed will help make Syrian refugees more ready to earn an income and to pass on skills to each other. Both the refugee participants and the UNHCR practitioners and professionals from their implementing partner organisations have demonstrated passion, open mindedness and commitment in exploring the benefits of a partnership with creative partners that so happen to have a refugee status. The ethos, methods and tools are built on and for this respectful, flexible and accessible programme allowing for easier communication and collaboration between staff members and refugees worldwide.

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