This week the world’s largest gathering on refugee issues is taking place in Geneva. Governments, UN agencies, the private sector, NGOs and refugee community representatives will meet at the Global Refugee Forum. For the first time, connectivity for refugees will feature in discussions and pledges will be made to support the Refugee Connectivity Initiative. We think this initiative has huge promise - but to have a meaningful impact - refugee communities themselves must be part of the solution and success of the initiative.
As a small NGO it can be hard to be heard in these types of discussions but we are confident that our experience is useful and needs to be replicated by others, so we are working hard to bring our expertise and impact to the conversation. Our model has been scaled and replicated across 88 vulnerable communities globally and we are proud of our efforts to connect refugee and host communities across Uganda - one third of our Hubs in Uganda are in refugee settlements - that’s 18 Hubs reaching more than 25,000 refugees and hosts with connectivity.
We are delighted to have had our efforts recognised in refugee digital inclusion awards and we know our success and impact is grounded in how we work in partnership with communities. In the lead up to the Refugee Forum we are sharing our work and pledging to continue to expand what we do in Uganda, to share our expertise so that others can replicate our methodology, and to build the partnerships that can take our model to more refugee communities globally.
Our Model and Refugee Connectivity
Our Hello Hub model delivers free internet and Wi-Fi hotspots, solar power, devices and educational software to refugee communities. Our approach is cost-effective, replicable and sustainable and places partnership with refugee communities at the centre of our work. Communities build, manage and maintain their own Hello Hub and are trained with the skills to manage it after support from Hello World is no longer needed.
Our impact data demonstrates to us time and time again how transformative connectivity can be.
97% of Hub users in 2023 said that the Hub improved their quality of life. Refugees are using the Hubs to research their rights, learn skills, and continue their education.
Our needs assessments in Bidi Bidi refugee settlement showed that 80% of community members do not have affordable access to the internet and 60% were not confident in basic digital literacy.
Our data also shows that what is often most valued at the Hubs is the ability to communicate. Refugee communities are using the Hubs to connect with their families, providing dignity and vital connection to transnational networks.
“Before the project in Mugenyi my communication was too hectic where I had no proper and easy way to talk to my relatives, for example I used to spend 1000 sh whenever I wanted to communicate with family and mother but with the hello hub things were sorted now I communicate freely without anything like coin or note"
(Hub user Neema, a 46 year old Congolese women in Nakivale)
We know from countless stories like Neema’s that our model meets the connectivity needs of refugees, but it is also sustainable because it works to engage and support refugee communities. In 2023, Hello World partnered with UNHCR to refurbish a computer centre in disrepair and disuse in Bidi Bidi settlement in Uganda. In order to create a sustainable centre which was not reliant on external funding, Hello World equipped the community with the skills to build the computer centre themselves and built capacity within the community to form a sustainable management committee. Since the construction of the centre, the committee has created revenue generation plans, self-determined running hours of the centre and created a plan to cover long-term security and maintenance costs.
Hello World delivers essential skills programmes across our Hubs, including digital literacy training to refugee communities. The results of our most recent computer skills programme in refugee communities showed the men and women participating increased their scores from a baseline to endline digital literacy test on average by 40 percent.
We welcome the Connectivity for Refugees Initiative. This is an opportunity to make a real difference to the lives and livelihoods of displaced populations. Joining our collective efforts, building and scaling best practices and developing brave and innovative partnerships that bring together donors, governments, private sector, NGOs and refugee communities are crucial.
Yet - time and time again we have witnessed models that do not work or cannot be sustained and leave refugee communities out of developing the solutions. We have seen ICT training buildings remain unused, phones across communities but no access to reliable power, big aid organisations connected and delivering digital services but not investing in also increasing access within communities, schools connected but the remainder of the community has no access to the internet - the list goes on.
For this initiative to be transformative, partnerships and models that focus on meaningful connectivity will be vital. Meaningful connectivity is not just affordable connection, but power, access to devices, to digital literacy skills, inclusive and community-centred approaches.
To reach the Refugee Connectivity goals, models that place community ownership and access at the centre must be part of the solution. We believe three key things will make this initiative a success:
- Scalable and replicable models that prioritise innovative partnerships.
- Community focused and community led solutions in protracted displacement settings.
- Coordinated and comprehensive solutions that support meaningful connectivity - solutions that overcome the range of barriers communities face to connectivity - devices, connectivity and affordable data, access to power and digital literacy skills and training.
In 2024 Hello World pledges to:
- Continue to deliver free connectivity and digital literacy skills across 18 Hubs in refugee settlements in Uganda. We will also focus our efforts on empowering communities to take ownership of their Hub and sustainability models for that context, thereby supporting the long term sustainability of each Hub and connectivity within the community.
- Build more Hello Hubs and ICT training centres across settlements in Uganda in partnership with others and take our model to refugee settings in new contexts across East Africa.
- Convene partners to share best practice and promote more joined up approaches. In 2024 we plan to bring partners from across East Africa and beyond together in Uganda to train partners in our model, to share best practice and community connectivity sustainability models. We welcome others joining us to support this pledge and co-create the agenda.
Please share our messaging and work with others. We would love to hear from you if you would like to partner with us to deliver our pledge or if you would like to find out more about our work across Uganda and elsewhere.
We leave you with two voices from our communities.
“My name is Mukunzi Gorrette. I am 11 years old. I am a Congolese by nationality. I currently live in Kabazana reception centre. I study at Good Samaritan School in Nakivale Settlement. Whenever I am given homework, I come to the Hub and the teacher from the Hub supports me by explaining to me using tablet and free internet.”
“Today Ruon Yak, Leo Gattuot Kal, and Tuach Hoth from the Nuer community in Zone One, Bidibidi Settlement came to access news about the current state of South Sudan and communicate through WhatsApp, all thanks to the free internet at no cost.” Community Support Officer, Wahda Hub, Bidibidi settlement, Uganda.