NLG Tech Task Force webinar recap: Empowering Refugees Through Online Entrepreneurship

  • Seth Otto
  • August 8, 2017
NLG Tech Task Force webinar recap: Empow

Collaborative programs provide training and livelihood opportunities to refugee youth and adults.

Following the launch of the NLG Tech Task Force at the 2017 NLG Ed Tech Summit in Amman, Jordan in March, the Task Force is hosting a series of virtual convenings to encourage information sharing and collaboration.

The NLG Tech Task Force was set up by NetHope and the No Lost Generation initiative (NLG) to facilitate collaboration within the international development community and between the NGO and private sector. Committed to addressing the needs of refugees and IDP children and youth at scale, the Task Force focuses on ICT-enabled, evidence-based programs for refugee education. For more information, check out the blog post announcing its launch.

Empowering Refugees Through Online Entrepreneurship is the second of the NLG Tech Task Force webinar series that is currently focused on youth education and livelihoods. The webinar was hosted by NLG Tech Task Force Program Director Leila Toplic and was presented by Rachel Pohl, Global Partnerships at Udemy and Kimberly Behrman, Enterprise Development and Employment Officer at the International Rescue Committee (IRC). Jodie Madden, Senior Manager of Global Loyalty Development at Western Union also joined the session. The presentation featured ICT-enabled training and employment programs that are available to refugee youth and adults.

The webinar highlighted three specific opportunities for refugee youth. They have access to Udemy's entire portfolio of courses including many courses offered for free, courses created by other refugees, like Safa’a’s course mentioned in the blog post below, and the opportunity to earn a living as instructors on the Udemy platform. The ITC-enabled programs being offered to refugees through Udemy were piloted as a larger part of the IRC and Western Union partnership that empowers refugees to access business process outsourcing work and to become instructors capable of earning a living wage.


Established in 2010 as an open, global education marketplace, Pohl explained that the organization’s name, Udemy, originated from the phrase, “academy of you” and that its mission is to improve lives through learning. Udemy recognizes that education exists outside of traditional classrooms and offers an open, on-demand platform of streaming educational video courses. Anyone with a curriculum to teach and a way to make and upload videos can become a paid and published instructor, provided they meet Udemy’s minimum course quality requirements. Globally, Udemy has over 20,000 paid instructors and offers courses in over 80 languages.

Udemy supports refugees by leveraging its online platform to address the education and employment challenges that refugee youth and adults face by providing them with access to job training and employment as instructors. Udemy’s Empowering Refugees Through Online Entrepreneurship initiative originated in 2016 as a pledge in response to President Obama’s call to help with the global refugee crisis. Through the initiative, Udemy is leveraging the technologicalchanges of today’s rapidly shifting job market by providing innovative solutions to the issue of job training and by encouraging the economic empowerment of refugee youth.

Pohl explained that the initiative program has a two-pronged approach. The first is to empower refugees who are potential instructors to showcase their skills, utilize the Udemy platform, and create an additional source of income. The second is to encourage refugee youth and adults to leverage the existing free, and paid, course content on the Udemy site to learn market-relevant skills, pursue personal interests, and increase their value to potential employers.

To demonstrate the effectiveness of the initiative, Pohl showcased the story of Safa’a Sukkariah, a Syrian refugee living in Jordan with her three children. While living in Jordan as a refugee, Sukkariah trained as a plumber through an IRC program and now has her own course on Udemy’s site called, Practical Plumbing with Safa’a Sukkariah. Her first lesson on how to fix a clogged sink is published, and her course page includes an interview in which she shares the story of her move from Dara’a, Syria to Jordan in 2012, and how she started her own home-improvement business.

Based on the ongoing success of their Empowering Refugees Through Online Entrepreneurship initiative, Udemy is actively seeking to partner with more NGOs in this program to provide access to training and employment opportunities for more refugees.

The International Rescue Committee

The IRC has been active in Jordan since 2007, and has been focused on the Syrian refugee crisis with specific programming since 2012. Working across sectors, the IRC provides women and children protection services, family reunification, primary and reproductive healthcare, and economic well-being programs for women and youth. Their women’s centers in the Jordanian cities of Irbid and Mafraq provide protection for survivors of gender-based violence and access to livelihood training.

Kimberly Behrman explained that the foundation for the IRC’s current collaboration with Udemy and Western Union is livelihoods programming. With its focus on the economic wellbeing of those who are most vulnerable, the IRC provides cash assistance, cash for work, apprenticeships, employability training, entrepreneurship training that includes small businessgrants, and an urban agriculture program. “We know that our economic programming works, and we know that people have been able to earn income and assets through the programs that we have established” she said. But more needs to be done to create the demand-side opportunities that would employ refugees and vulnerable host populations themselves struggling with high unemployment.

At the Supporting Syria and the Region Conference that took place in February 2016, Behrman said that regional governments agreed to respond to the Syrian crisis, not only from a humanitarian perspective, but from a development perspective, and many of their formal commitments were around employment. Acknowledging the scope of the problem, IRC President David Milibrand stated that one million jobs were needed for Syrian refugee youth and adults. In response, the IRC launched the Million Jobs Initiative to research current evidence and approaches, to identify limitations, and to develop possible policy and business model solutions. 

The IRC’s Economic Recovery and Development team and their Research and Development unit collaborated to find a set of innovative solutions. The goal was to develop evidence-based approaches that could provide long-term solutions for job creation in displacement settings in the shortest time possible. Scalable approaches that lead to successful programming in Jordan may contribute to solutions that can be adapted to work in other countries. To accomplish this goal, the IRC invited the business community to contribute their ideas, and, through that process, an innovative partnership with Western Union was established.

Western Union

In recognition that large multi-national companies often outsource many tasks to smaller companies and contractors, Western Union partnered with the IRC. Jodie Madden explained that Western Union was eager to collaborate with the IRC and Udemy, partially because the CEO of Western Union is a Turkish immigrant who recently spent time visiting refugee camps in Greece and the cause is close to his heart. Western Union also views their involvement as a good fit because their business model aligns closely with the mission to enable the self-reliance of refugees as they work to get settled in a new home.

Western Union and IRC developed a small-scale test to see if participants in IRC programs in Jordan are a good fit for the jobs Western Union routinely outsources. This process of outsourcing to vulnerable populations, often called impact sourcing, included tasks such as website audits, website data verification, a stock photoshoot, and the partnership with Udemy to create a “how-to” video course.

Through its Business Process Outsourcing pilot project with Western Union, the IRC developed a process to train immigrant youth and adults and connect them to short-term business process outsourcing work. One of the jobs was to develop a Udemy course. Refugees were offered the opportunity to become paid course instructors who developed and produced their own curriculum and course content. In partnership, Western Union provided the transfer of funds from Udemy to the course instructor. Refugee instructors kept 100 percent of the revenue from their course sales.

The results of the pilot were positive overall, and provided valuable information for future projects. Despite occasional technical difficulties, and the language barrier, participating businesses found the quality of the work was high, and the participants enjoyed doing it. Most participants involved have stated that they are interested in more business process outsourcing opportunities and in developing their skills further.

Looking forward, if the IRC is to continue its job-creation work among the refugee and host community populations in a sustainable way, a steady demand for services and a ready supply of those able to provide job training are necessary. “We need to make sure that we have many private sector companies and partners who can provide a variety of tasks that require a variety of skillsets” said Behrman.

As this innovative collaboration continues to evolve, NLG Tech Task Force members can use Udemy’s course portfolio, including their list of free course offerings to benefit refugee youth now. They can also join Udemy, the IRC, and Western Union in the Empowering Refugees Through Online Entrepreneurship initiative to provide training and employment opportunities to refugee youth and adults. Contact Rachel Pohl for more information.

To access the presentation, collateral material, and listen to the Empowering Refugees Through Online Entrepreneurship webinar recording that includes an extensive Q&A session at the end, visit the webinar landing page.


Coming up next in the NLG Tech Task Force Webinar Series:

Expanding economic opportunity to Syrian refugee youth in Turkey with HP LIFE and the International Medical Corps - May, 11

Coursera For Refugees & Kiron - May 25 (more info coming soon)

 …and more to come!

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