Approach to Inclusive Market Systems (AIMS) for Refugees and Host Communities


About us

The Approach to Inclusive Market Systems (AIMS) was developed in collaboration with the UNHCR, with whom the ILO has been partnering since 2013. This website presents the work of the ILO-SME Unit on promoting market system development for entrepreneurs, small and medium enterprises in forced displacement settings.

AIMS applies the "Making Markets Work for the Poor” (also known as M4P or market systems development) and the Value Chain Development for Decent Work Approach to forced displacement settings with the aim of developing holistic and market-based livelihoods strategies for refugees and local hosting communities.

Click below to find out more about the ILO’s areas of work in this domain:             

  1. The Approach to Inclusive Market Systems (AIMS)
  2. ILO collaboration with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) on refugee livelihoods
  3. Capacity Building and Guidance         

The Approach to Inclusive Market Systems (AIMS)

The ILO applies the “Making Markets Work for the Poor” approach to contexts characterized by forced displacement. Whereas traditional approaches tend to focus on “refugee livelihoods” and strengthening skills and competencies of refugees (e.g. through vocational training), the ILO introduced the “push-pull approach” that seeks to work on both, the demand and supply, sides of the labour market. AIMS therefore offers a holistic and market-based framework for livelihoods strategies.

The approach is based on the assumption that, in order for anyone to build sustainable livelihoods, two conditions must to be fulfilled:
  1. There need to be opportunities in the market, either for self-employment if a certain good or service is demanded on the market, or for salaried employment if employers are looking for employees
  2. People need the necessary skills and competencies to access such existing market opportunities.
The push-pull approach foresees two sets of separate but interlinked interventions. On the one hand, targeted push interventions aim developing the skills and capacities of the target group to engage with the market, for instance through technical or entrepreneurial skills development, strengthening social networks or transfer of assets. On the other, the ILO’s market systems development approach is used to develop sectors and value chains with potential to expand and diversify the market opportunities available to the target group and the host community.

For an example of the Approach to Inclusive Market Systems (AIMS) in practice, read more about our recent work with Somali refugees and host communities in Jijiga, Ethiopia.

The ILO disposes of a variety of tools and approaches that can be utilized for push and pull interventions, many of which have recently been adapted and used in contexts characterized by forced displacement. To develop skills and capacities of a certain target group (i.e. the push), the ILO can deploy its dedicated “Start and Improve your Business (SIYB)” entrepreneurship training programme. With a network of over 300 Master trainers and 65,000 trainers in over 100 countries, and over 15 million end beneficiaries trained, SIYB is one of the largest entrepreneurship training programme globally. In addition, the ILO also offers a targeted entrepreneurship training for women, Get Ahead.

In order to develop markets and particularly sectors and value chains with potential, the ILO uses the Value Chain Development approach that seeks to develop sub-sectors and value chains with a view to promoting small enterprises. The approach studies market dynamics and relationships between different actors in the chain with the objective of strengthening the market system as a whole – enterprises, business relationships, financial networks, supporting functions, rules and norms, and the business environment – in a way that ensures greater benefits for the poor through economic growth and development. The ILO’s approach to value chain development is summarized in the “Value Chain Development for Decent Work”.

Collaborating with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) on Refugee Livelihoods

As part of its Integrated Livelihood Promotion Plan, the UN Refugee Agency UNHCR is partnering with the ILO to implement market systems analyses in selected countries. The objective of the ILO-UNHCR cooperation is to integrate the results and recommendations of an ILO market systems analysis into UNHCR livelihoods programming in order to inform and strengthen the impact and sustainability of UNHCR livelihoods interventions for refugees and host communities. The strategic goal of livelihoods programming in UNHCR is to enable the self-reliance of refugees.

The UNHCR Global Strategy for Refugee Livelihoods and Economic Inclusion (2019 – 2023) sets out specific results that the organization aims to achieve in order to effectively support and protect the livelihoods of refugees, and to enable their self-reliance. With a view to operationalizing the Global Strategy for Livelihoods, the UNHCR recently updated the Operational Guidelines on the Minimum Criteria for Livelihoods Programming (UNHCR/OG/2015/4), which emphasize data-driven and market-based approaches to improve livelihoods programmes across the globe.

To support UNHCR in designing and implementing market-based approaches to refugee livelihoods, over 15 market system analyses have been conducted. The idea is to provide an analytical basis from which market-based refugee livelihoods programs can be developed. The reports and summaries (fact sheets) are available for download. 
Each report includes three components:
  1. A socio-economic assessment to collect information about the characteristics and background of the target group, the socio-economic environment in which they currently make a living, as well as the legal environment and available support functions for refugees and host communities.
  2. A market assessment with in-depth analysis of value chains with potential for inclusive growth. The market assessment identifies value chains with high potential that will then be analysed further. The purpose of the value chain analysis is to determine how the identified value chain(s) can be developed to better integrate refugees and host communities
  3. Recommendations for market-based livelihoods strategies with practical action points.

Capacity-building and Guidance

Based on experiences and lessons learnt of the partnership with the UNHCR, the ILO-UNHCR Guide to Market-Based Livelihood Interventions for Refugees was developed as practical guidance for UNHCR staff and other practitioners. Since 2016, ILO and UNHCR have offered an annual training course on the Approach to Inclusive Market Systems (AIMS). Since 2017, the training is hosted by the ILO’s International Training Centre in Turin, Italy and open to practitioners from humanitarian and development organizations with an interest in market-based approaches to forced displacement. For more information on our one-week training course in Turin click here.
The ILO also supports the internal refugee livelihoods trainings of the UNHCR by delivering the market systems analysis component of several such trainings every year.
  1. Market-based livelihoods intervention for refugees 2018 edition