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Facing Up to the Challenges: Blending Market and Humanitarian Support for Refugees in Uganda

This thought piece was authored by Simon Levine and Grace Becton highlighting their experience in the West Nile. This post explores practical challenges and opportunities around Market Systems approaches in humanitarian contexts. The full publication is available for download below. This post was originally published on Mercy Corps

Record numbers of displaced people and growing humanitarian needs require our sector to change the way aid is funded and delivered. This challenge was globally recognised at the 2016 World Humanitarian Summit and is at the centre of multilateral debates related to coherence, self-reliance and the nexus. Humanitarian and development actors agree that the complex and shifting nature of crises mean people’s needs extend far beyond short-term support, but they struggle to make changes that effectively build longer-run resilience. The question remains: how can humanitarian and development donors and implementers collaborate across historically divided aid bureaucracies with siloed tools, funding cycles, decision-making processes and incentive structures? 

“Facing Up to the Challenges: Blending Market and Humanitarian Support for Refugees in Uganda” reflects on the reality that as aid agencies look to help crisis-affected people by working through markets, they are caught between the competing demands of generating sustainable change and guaranteeing needs are met for the most vulnerable. Early attempts by aid agencies to implement market approaches in protracted crisis and displacement contexts have shown promise but evidence remains thin. Building off the experience of a Market Systems Development pilot responding to the latest influx of South Sudanese refugees in Uganda’s West Nile region, this paper reflects on the operational challenges and learning questions teams face when designing, implementing and evaluating market systems programmes in the context of wider relief efforts. While these reflections represent the experience of one team, in one location, they speak to broader themes in the ongoing global debates around coherence, self-reliance, and resilience.