Technical webinar: Addressing key issues of the transition from informality to formality in forced displacement contexts

On November 5th, the ILO organised its first technical webinar on the key issues on the transition from informality to formality in forced displacement contexts in the framework of the PROSPECTS partnership.

News | 27 November 2020

The aim of the webinar was to initiate a continuing discussion on the prevalence of job and enterprise informality in forced displacement contexts and how resulting decent work deficits aggravate existing challenges that refugees and host community members are confronted with. Examples of ongoing interventions from Kenya and Uganda were provided and possible pathways to address the multiple dimensions and drivers of informality were discussed.

Nicholas Grisewood, Global Manager of ILO PROSPECTS, opened the discussion with a brief introduction of the PROSPECTS partnership and its knowledge-sharing component. The series of technical webinars is part of the learning agenda of PROSPECTS. This first event marked the beginning of various technical discussions around the need for both refugees and host communities to access enhanced economic opportunities, but also for labour market institutions and services to facilitate integration of these communities into the labour market.

ILO technical specialists delivered introductory presentations to set the ground for the practical insights presented by the speakers. They explained the definition and global incidence of informality and of the overall policy frameworks embedding the support for the transition to formality. The root causes of informality (see the graphic below), meaning of formalization for different people and businesses, and the policy areas to address when designing coherent interventions have been introduced by the ILO technical specialists working on informal economy and formalization. The presentation is available here.

Following the introduction, four speakers from Kenya and Uganda took part in the webinar. Each speaker represented distinct groups of stakeholders involved in supporting the formalization of jobs and enterprises in forced displacement contexts, thus symbolizing the integrated approach needed to design effective and sustainable interventions.

Ms. Caroline Njuki, Chief Technical Advisor of PROSPECTS in Kenya, provided an insight into how the overall approach to the transition to formality translates into the practical realities of forced displacement in Garissa and Turkana Counties in Kenya. In both regions, Ms. Njuki stressed, one of the key drivers of informality is the lack of formal employment opportunities and the lack of awareness of both the regulatory environment and the benefits of formalization

Mr. Pius Ewoton, Chairman of the Turkana County Chamber of Commerce and Industry, then explained the Chamber’s approaches to reach out to refugee-led businesses in order to provide a better access to formal business development and financial services. He explained how this support increases significantly businesses’ productivity. He reminded that local community also face similar constraints and challenges and called for adopting an inclusive approach beyond the targeted outreach to forcibly displaced persons.

These remarks were followed by a presentation from Ms. Nyaruiru Ndungi, Project Coordinator for the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) based in Kakuma, North Western Kenya. Ms. Ndungi coordinates and provides information, counselling and legal assistance to displaced people. As a concrete example of support to formalization, she shared the areas in which the NRC operates to address barriers to formality and explained how it facilitates improved and sustainable livelihoods. Ms.Ndungi also highlighted that their support includes the registration of community-based organisations and self-help groups led by refugees, the inclusion of persons with disabilities and some advocacy work to ease freedom of movement restrictions to enable employment and entrepreneurship. The presentation is available here.

Mr. Stephen Opio, Chief Technical Advisor of PROSPECTS in Uganda, reflected on various interventions that support the transition to formality in forced displacement contexts and the need to be effectively coordinated to tackle the multiple root causes of informality. He started by highlighting that, in Uganda, where most of the economic activity in forced displacement contexts happens in the agricultural sector and is characterised by low productivity, a range of services must be synergised. He further elaborated that these interventions and services may consist of the creation of apprenticeship opportunities, the formalisation of businesses, financial education training or the strengthening of cooperatives and other social and solidarity economy groups.

During the webinar, participants raised several important questions that showed the relevance of the informality issues. An example is the question on facilitation of the access to national health insurance of forcibly displaced persons in practice, especially amidst the additional challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Another contribution inquired about existing dynamics between refugees and host communities regarding the access to employment and entrepreneurship, in contexts with high level of informality, such as Kenya. The webinar is only a beginning of knowledge exchanges on the transition from informality to formality in forced displacement contexts which will be followed by technical briefs and will contribute to the PROSPECTS learning agenda.