The two primary drivers of displacement for most refugees are a lack of safety, and the loss of livelihood opportunities. Without an income, food becomes scarce, and families are forced to leave home. Furthermore, 85% of refugees are hosted by developing countries who are grappling with their own socio-economic challenges and struggling employment rates. The chances for these refugees ever becoming financially self-reliant are very low, leading to a continuous and unsustainable dependency on international aid.
WFP's EMPACT (formerly known as Tech for Food) is helping young refugees and the communities hosting them to build a brighter future and have better livelihoods.
EMPACT provides digital skills through a tailored, focused vocational training programme, and partners with leading tech firms to connect trainees with online work opportunities. Participants in the programme can learn everything from navigating the web and annotating images, to training in office software, creative skills in image editing and visual production, and hard coding skills like HTML and Python.
Technology is changing the future of work. And there’s no reason refugees and vulnerable host communities should be left behind in the process.
Those with the skills to take advantage of shifting work skills have the chance to lift themselves and their families out of poverty—and to build strong foundations in their respective home and host countries. If crisis does strike, remote digital work means those who are forced to move don’t have to lose their livelihoods along with their homes. The flip-side is that in the coming years people without digital skills will fall further behind.
To address this, WFP’s EMPACT programme partners with leading tech firms to teach digital skills through vocational training. A basic, six-week course covers fundamental IT skills. This is followed by advanced training, apprenticeships and, critically, a connection to online work.
Around the globe, there is a growing demand for lower-skilled, labor-intensive digital services, such as data entry, data cleaning, photo editing, and image annotation. EMPACT graduates are ideally situated to start such work from wherever they live, and keep working wherever they may go. Best of all, with the tools they learn during the advanced course and continued on-the-job training, graduates have everything they need to grow into higher-skilled, better paying jobs.
Since 2016, WFP's EMPACT programme has trained more than 18,000 students across twelve campuses in Lebanon and Iraq; 65 percent of participants are female. In Iraq, almost 20 percent of students generated an income through online work and 33 percent of alumni were employed 4 months after graduating.
In 2016, Anas joined the EMPACT program in Beirut. After graduating, he moved straight into a six-week, advanced class, where he focused on app and web development. Just one year later, Anas supported the building of an app to provide companies with image annotation services.
Marwa is a 23-year old, single mother from Ghouta, Damascus, who currently lives in the Arbat refugee camp in Northern Iraq. The conflict in Syria forced Marwa to flee, interrupting her university studies, and making it harder for her to find a career.
But for Marwa, merely getting by wasn’t enough—she wanted to find a good job so she could raise her son Adam with best chance at a bright future. That’s why she enrolled in EMPACT. Now, Marwa is studying online while she earns money working, and is on her way to becoming a certified remote bookkeeper. Being able to start earning an income before graduating was crucial for Marwa, and a central part of the EMPACT programme.
The next step for EMPACT is to rapidly scale its reach beyond its current borders. This requires designing and implementing the best models for a broad geographic expansion—starting immediately Sub-Saharan Africa.
The goal is to reach 20,000 students by the end of 2020, and 100,000 people over the next five years. Ideally, EMPACT will reach a potential 1 million people through its many components, robust training programme, and broad community engagement.
WFP is seeking private sector companies and organizations interested in providing digital remote work and/or training opportunities for refugees and affected communities throughout the world.
WFP is also seeking people whose expertise can help us develop and strengthen alternative solutions for channeling online payments to unbanked populations, and advocate for right-to-work support for refugees.