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Economically Empowering Refugee Girls and Women in Nairobi, Kenya [Updated: 9/29]

This project will provide economic empowerment and case management support to refugee women living in Nairobi, Kenya.

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Our proposed idea will employ our expertise and knowledge to expand our programs to financially empower refugee women in Nairobi and to provide for their basic needs. The project will provide refugee women with economic support and stability through loans, financial literacy and vocational training, as well as with case management services to ensure their basic needs are met. Specifically, this project aims to provide: • Economic Empowerment– Participants will be provided with financial skills trainings, including savings, budgeting, and business management skills; vocational training based on their interests, including tailoring, hair dressing, and computer literacy; and microloans and repayable grants combined with support to initiate and run their own businesses. • Case Management– To ensure the women are able to realize their potential and are empowered to earn an income, their basic needs must be made a priority. We will link participants to medical and psychosocial care, provide each with food, material, and monetary support. Caring for basic needs will reduce anxiety and depression, ensuring individuals have the ability to maximize their financial and vocational skills.


The targeted beneficiaries are the most vulnerable refugee women in Nairobi. To qualify, the individual must be a SGBV survivor, a single elderly refugee woman raising young children, a single young refugee mother who has been through violence and trauma, or a young refugee woman turning 18 with no family. The project will work within our existing Women's Ambassador Groups that were established by Heshima Kenya in 2011 and includes nearly 200 women from the refugee community in Nairobi.


In 2014, we received a 6-month grant from UN Women to economically empower refugee women in Nairobi to reduce their exposure to violence and abuse. Their entrepreneurial successes would then empower them to proactively participate in the general economic improvement of their communities. This project supported 62 refugee women and girls with seed grants and financial literacy training to enable them to engage in business activities that would both boost their income and reduce their vulnerabilities and risk for gender based violence. Some participants had reported the need to rely on survival sex work in the past; this project allowed them to earn an income through their businesses and quit the sex work industry. Beneficiaries developed business proposals, enacted business plans, and eventually expanded and diversified their successful ventures. We worked with these women at every step, providing additional in-depth training as needed, follow-up support and advice, and case management support to assist with personal, medical, and social roadblocks to success. Businesses reflected the individual needs and interests of the women; they invested in the sale and supply of clothing, food stuffs, jewelry, perfumes, etc. Participants reported a 30% increase in income, leading to increased self-confidence, the ability to provide for their families, stronger negotiation skills, and decreased violence in homes. Given the success of this pilot, we wish to expand the project.


Beneficiaries who participated in the pilot/prototype reported feeling empowered to engage in entrepreneurship activities and are now contributing positively to their households and communities. Participants reported that they have seen their life change from being dependent on others to becoming the breadwinners of their families. Many noted that they can now meet their daily expenses easily, including buying food, paying house rent, school expenditures, medical bills, etc. They would have struggled to pay for these expenses if they had not received the grants from Heshima Kenya. One participant said, “I was sick for several days and I was able to pay for medicine with profits of my hard work. My business continues to grow as I save more in chamas (savings groups).” Beneficiaries reported they no longer engaged in survival sex work and had the knowledge and confidence to deal with sexual and gender based violence issues in their community by seeking appropriate health care and reporting to the relevant authorities. The project has contributed to gender empowerment as the women reported that they felt competent to engage in community activities as members of the community who were equal to the men and not subordinates. The project also enhanced community relations between the refugees and the host communities, acting as a possible source of generating employment for both the local communities and the refugees. The project also enhanced credit ratings of the women.


In Nairobi, there are very few programs seeking to economically empower refugees and none that mainly focus on tackling gender inequality by specifically catering to the most vulnerable refugee women. This proposed idea affords SGBV survivors and other extremely vulnerable women the opportunity to overcome the trauma and difficulties they have faced through case management support and further reduce their vulnerabilities through economic empowerment. This will also lead to increased confidence and the ability to take on leadership responsibilities in the community. By providing grants to women who have already established a rapport with us, we distinguish ourselves from other organizations.


The previous project included an end-of-project evaluation where conductors compiled recommendations for the next phase, including best practices and challenges. Recommendations that we hope to implement include a mentorship/support program, increased seed grants, inclusion of a business case manager and expanded financial and vocational training. We plan to utilize these suggestions, but also, due to changing circumstances, to conduct a current needs-assessment to help the project succeed. The funds will support additional case management staff to support the women, funding of the repayable grants, materials for financial literacy courses, and basic needs support (food, clothing, etc.).


Refugees are faced with a multitude of limitations: economic, educational, social and cultural. Often due to cultural conditions, women in particular lack education and have very limited opportunities in their new host countries. Most refugee women, particularly vulnerable women, cannot raise capital to start income-generating activities and, if they do, their basic needs eat into the capital, causing their business to collapse. Our project provides the needed funds to start a business and combines this with financial literacy and support from our staff to ensure business strength. In addition, case management support provides for basic needs to ensure women are able to succeed.


Our Unique Program: We are the first organization in Kenya devoted to protecting this refugee population. Our program operates holistically and prioritizes the immediate needs of the women, ensuring protection and treatment for long-term success. We also provide basic material needs so initial income can be reinvested into business and used to repay loans. We work with women who are currently in our Women’s Ambassador Groups, giving us the advantage of an established rapport with loan recipients. (For more on the WAGs, see response below to Amplify question). Prototypes, Feedback, Needs Assessments: The Feedback section (above) summarizes the evaluations, stories, and recommendations we gathered after our 6-month prototype program. Review participants included beneficiaries as well as staff. Looking forward, Needs Assessments will give us a baseline for what our Women’s Ambassador Groups identify as most important in the ever-shifting political and cultural situation in Nairobi. We want to prioritize early-stage programming: language courses, case management support, food, supplies, etc. We also will review the feedback we received at the end of the 6-month program to see if anything should be updated. Case Management and Holistic Support: We will improve our holistic support to expand case management services to all women who will receive our grants. Participants will be assessed when the project starts to determine which services they most need. Each woman will be provided with a range of services focused for SGBV survivors, including referral/accompaniment to medical and psychosocial services, home visits for material needs (i.e. food, furniture, clothing, rent), and follow up services to ensure all needs are being met. We recognize that our support for these issues creates a stable base for women as they begin and run their businesses. Each participant will also have a specific case manager who will mentor and conduct assessments about behavior, leadership skills, conflict resolution skills, mental and physical health at specific points throughout the program. This contributes additional value to the caseworker’s efficacy and to the overall success for each individual beneficiary.

SKILL SHARE (optional)

We would specifically like feedback on: - Methods to support refugees’ businesses in fragile economies for refugees where they often face discrimination. How have other groups addressed these challenges? - How to improve safety and security in xenophobic communities? - We are also seeking potential partners we may connect with for vocational training opportunities and potential business options.


Heshima Kenya was founded in 2008 to close protection gaps and to establish a safe community for the young women we empower. Today, we are proud of the many successes of our girls and young women, of our staff, and of our organization overall. We look forward to expanding this project.


  • Yes, and we are implementing/operating partners of UNICEF or UNHCR.
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Attachments (3)


Prototype exercise, based on our pilot grant program.

User experience map.pdf

User experience map for the project


Join the conversation:

Photo of Lilias Makashini

This is a very good and practical idea. Keep up the good work! It really takes someone with a good heart to see the pain in others and choose to do something about it. And I particularly love the idea that it has targeted refugee women and is empowering them to make better decisions for their families. If only the world could become a better place so that we eradicate terms like 'refugee'! Great Job!

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