Smart Communities Coalition seeks to transform refugee settlements through technology




Mastercard and the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has announced the launch of a public-private coalition that will bring together technology, solutions and experience from multiple sectors to transform refugee settlements into digitally-connected communities. This commitment delivers on a vision laid out in research conducted last year by Mastercard to better understand the critical needs of the over 7 million refugees currently living in camps or settlements.

The coalition, led by Mastercard and USAID’s Power Africa initiative, will launch pilot programs during the first half of 2018 to address some of the biggest barriers to development. For example, mobile phone and internet access is as critical to refugees’ safety and security as food, shelter and water. The organizations will work together to introduce internet and mobile connectivity, access to clean, efficient energy, and digital financial tools for communities in Kenya and Uganda, with plans to scale to other refugee-hosting countries around the world.

(The coalition members will implement solutions for providing energy access to refugees and host communities in a more efficient and low-cost way. Photo: Irene Angwenyi / USAID Kenya).

In addition to Mastercard and Power Africa, other organizations participating in the coalition are:  Accenture, Acumen, BRCK, Danish Refugee Council, Energy Peace Partners, Fenix International, GSMA, The Innovation Village, Lutheran World Federation, Mercy Corps, Microsoft, Moving Energy Initiative, NetHope, Norwegian Refugee Council, Off-Grid Electric, Pawame, PowerGen Renewable Energy, SolarKiosk, Tent Foundation, USAID Global Development Lab, U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration, Vecna Cares Charitable Trusts, and World Vision.

“We’ve spent the past several years testing and learning with our partners to take what we do well as a technology company and apply it to help solve this humanitarian crisis,” said Tara Nathan, Executive VP, Public Private Partnerships, Mastercard. “Our payments technology has helped to reduce inefficiencies and expenses, add transparency, empower refugees, and stimulate local markets. Now we’re also acting as a force multiplier by combining our strengths with those of the coalition members to make an even bigger impact.”

Today, approximately 31 percent of the world’s refugees live in refugee camps or settlements. They are men, women and children who have fled from countries ravaged by war, political unrest and natural disasters, in hopes of a better life. But they spend an average of 10 years in exile, most often residing in low-and middle-income countries that are already under significant economic strain.

Uganda and Kenya are among the ten countries with the largest refugee populations. Uganda hosts 1.4 million refugees and is home to Bidi Bidi, currently the largest refugee settlement in the world. Kenya hosts approximately 490,000 refugees in settlements, including Kalobeyei, which was established in 2015 to improve the conditions of refugees and host communities through an economically integrated approach.

Mastercard recently published a recommendation for a new integrated model for refugee camps following a year of extensive research in the Kakuma and Kalobeyei camps in Kenya. The insights from the study helped identify the three key areas on which coalition members will focus:

  • Connectivity – Coalition members will work together to create accessible and resilient connectivity platforms that deliver vital information to refugees and host communities and enable efficient management of settlement operations.
  • Digital tools – Whether providing cash-based assistance or conducting outreach to refugees and host community members, agencies increasingly rely upon technology to effectively address needs. The coalition will work to design and implement an integrated set of identity, payment, and data tools that improve the delivery of essential services.
  • Energy access – Power is not provided in settlements as a service, so refugees often rely upon donated solar lanterns for basic light, and poor quality, expensive diesel generators for small businesses. The coalition members will implement solutions for providing energy access to refugees and host communities in a more efficient and low-cost way.

This coalition complements the UN General Assembly endorsed Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF) and the Global Compact on Refugees, which seeks to ease pressure on host countries and enhance refugee self-reliance. UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency and lead for the CRRF, welcomes innovative private-public approaches to longstanding refugee situations that advance the sustainable development agenda and the CRRF.

The Tent Foundation’s Partnership for Refugees will host the Smart Communities Coalition website, enabling additional companies to join the effort to tailor their services to meet refugee and host community needs, a focus area for Tent. Mastercard joined the Tent Partnership in 2016, and this coalition is an extension of its pledge to explore better ways to integrate refugees in host communities.




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