PROSPECTS technical webinar: Addressing transition from informality to formality in forced displacement contexts

On 5 November 2020, the ILO organised its first technical webinar on key issues relating to 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 an evolving and continued discussion on the prevalence of job and enterprise informality in forced displacement contexts and how resulting decent work deficits aggravate existing challenges that affect refugees and host community members. Examples of ongoing interventions from Kenya and Uganda were provided and possible pathways to address the multiple dimensions and drivers of informality were discussed.

In opening the webinar, Nicholas Grisewood, Global Manager of ILO PROSPECTS, introduced the PROSPECTS partnership and its focus on learning and knowledge sharing. The series of technical webinars being gradually developed by the ILO and other partners form a key element of the PROSPECTS Learning Agenda. This first event marked the beginning of what will become a series of inter-related 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 gave introductory presentations to set the scene and provide more detailed context on informality. They explained the definition and global incidence of informality and of the overall policy frameworks embedding support for the transition to formality. These opening presentations reflected on the root causes of informality (see the graphic below), the meaning of formalization for different people and businesses and the relevant policy areas when designing coherent interventions.

Once context was established, four speakers from Kenya and Uganda moved the focus to country and community levels. Speakers represented distinct groups of stakeholders involved in supporting the formalization of jobs and enterprises in forced displacement contexts, thus symbolizing the holistic and integrated approach needed to design effective and sustainable interventions.

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

The key role of employers’ organizations in the formalization transition was underscored by Mr Pius Ewoton, Chairman of the Turkana County Chamber of Commerce and Industry. He explained the Chamber’s outreach approach to refugee-led businesses to provide better access to formal business development and financial services. This support leads to significant increase in business productivity. He also reminded participants that local refugee-hosting communities face similar constraints and challenges and called for adopting a more inclusive approach in informality transitions.

As a concrete example of support to formalization in refugee contexts, Ms Nyaruiru Ndungi, Project Coordinator for the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) based in Kakuma, presented some of the areas in which the NRC operates to address barriers to formality and explained how it facilitates improved and sustainable livelihoods. Their support includes the registration of community-based organisations and self-help groups led by refugees, the inclusion of persons with disabilities and advocacy work to ease freedom of movement restrictions to facilitate employment and entrepreneurship.

Mr Stephen Opio, Chief Technical Advisor of ILO PROSPECTS in Uganda, reflected on various interventions that support the transition to formality in forced displacement contexts and the need for effective coordination to tackle the multiple root causes of informality. He pointed out 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 relevant and integrated services need to be mobilised. He went on to explain that these interventions and services could include the creation of apprenticeship opportunities, the formalization of businesses, financial education training and the strengthening of cooperatives and other social and solidarity economy groups.

Participants raised a number of important questions that underlined the critical relevance of addressing informality in forced displacement, for example, the facilitation of access of refugees to national health insurance systems, especially amidst additional challenges caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. A further reference focused on existing dynamics between refugees and host communities regarding the access to employment and entrepreneurship in contexts with high levels of informality, such as in Kenya and Uganda. These and other pertinent questions by stakeholders and practitioners highlighted the importance to sustain such technical exchanges and information sharing between humanitarian, development and national actors on informality. This first technical webinar is therefore only the beginning of knowledge exchange, technical conversations and the establishment of communities of practice of like-minded actors within the wider PROSPECTS Learning Agenda.