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Around the world today, the UNHCR estimates more than 82 million people have been forced to abruptly flee their homes, leaving everything and everyone behind due to conflict or disaster. The challenges faced by refugees do not end once they reach their new country of residence: healthcare, education, and business development opportunities are often inaccessible to refugees due to lengthy and expensive bureaucratic procedures, lack of work references, as well as required documentation. Add the COVID-19 pandemic into the mix, and living conditions for refugees are exacerbated putting them at further risk and making timelines longer for them to rebuild their lives.

As we recognize World Refugee Day, we reflect on the importance of inclusion and access to information, two elements that are at the core and mission of Viamo. This is why working with partners to equip refugees with knowledge and tools via mobile is a natural fit.

At the start of the Covid pandemic, INKOMOKO, a premier provider of business development in Rwanda and affiliated branch of the African Entrepreneur Collective (AEC), partnered with Viamo to set up and deploy a remote training solution via mobile phones for entrepreneurs across four refugee camps in Rwanda.

With tough lockdown measures and travel restrictions in Rwanda, INKOMOKO turned to mobile technology to continue their support of existing small business owners and budding entrepreneurs; support that is deeply appreciated as Alphosine explains:

Rwanda has welcomed a total of 170,000 refugees hosted by the country today according to UNHCR. The Viamo team helped INKOMOKO convert existing training materials like manuals and even videos into engaging and educational audio lessons. Two trainings were developed with 20 audio lessons in total. To increase the pick up rates, simple SMS reminders were sent in advance of each lesson and a recap SMS was sent after each lesson to reinforce learning. To further track the impact, each lesson had entrepreneurs complete quizzes, with an average of 94% scoring 100% on their quiz submissions, proving a very strong understanding of the lesson topics which covered business planning, operations, and financial sustainability.

Based on the results from the initial pilot, INKOMOKO has adopted the training as a standard tool for supporting entrepreneurs. Cohort three has just concluded their training and nearly 15,000 have now been trained using Viamo’s remote training solution. Testimonials from the entrepreneurs Samuel and Beatha are truly encouraging:

As an outcome of Rwanda’s success, the AEC opted to also deploy the remote training for more than 1,400 entrepreneurs in Kenya’s Kakuma refugee settlement. Viamo worked with the AEC to design a mobile-friendly entrepreneurship course of eight custom lessons that were shared between April and June this year. The content was translated and recorded in five languages which increased the reach and accessibility to participants from different backgrounds and countries. The initial training in Kenya covered only 850 entrepreneurs, however, the results were promising and round two which started in April 2021 saw 1,200 enrolled in the curriculum. Because of the strong fit that the remote training solution has been for the entrepreneurs in Rwanda, we have great hopes for the future training of refugees in Kenya.

We also implemented a notification and reminder system, deploying SMS messages to all participants a day before their scheduled weekly lesson to help them prepare. Participants averaged an 82% correct response rate to quizzes over the two months.

Seeing the potential of mobile technology for their programs, INKOMOKO took yet another step on their digital path at the start of 2021. To better understand the impact of the training in Rwanda, the INKOMOKO and Viamo teams worked together to design mobile friendly questionnaires. These surveys were multiple choice questions accessible through a mobile (Unstructured Supplementary Service Data – USSD) shortcode that was only open for the 8,000 entrepreneurs.

Even with 28 and 29 questions, the completion rates were between 40% and 50% across the two groups. The same approach will be used towards the end of 2021 and the data from the two rounds will be analysed and compared. Thinking outside the box allowed INKOMOKO and Viamo to design a simple to use data collection tool accessible via any type of mobile phone. A project of that scale and size would not have been possible without our innovative mobile engagement solutions.

At Viamo, we are committed to support underserved communities and work with partners like INKOMOKO and AEC who are ready to use innovative mobile solutions to lessen educational gaps so that refugees in host settlements in Kenya, Rwanda, and beyond can begin to rebuild their lives. By helping bring quality educational tools directly to displaced communities via mobile, Viamo is helping refugees with micro-businesses in low-resource areas grow. In turn, these businesses are driving job opportunities and economic growth.