Self-Reliance and Livelihoods

Encouraging self-reliance and enabling refugees to earn livelihoods are important ways to improve the lives of refugees in protracted situations. Promoting livelihood opportunities can enable refugees to become self-sufficient and contribute to the local economies in their countries of asylum. With these acquired skills and experiences they can also be better prepared for an eventual return to their home country or building a new life in their country of resettlement.

What are livelihoods?

A livelihood comprises the capabilities, activities and assets (material and social resources) required for living. A livelihood is sustainable when it can withstand the stress and shocks of changing circumstances. A sustainable livelihood should also be capable of being maintained, or even enhanced, while not undermining the natural resource base.[1]

PRM defines livelihoods activities as those that allow people to acquire and access the capabilities, knowledge, goods, and assets necessary to live in safety and with dignity. In most cases, this simply means decent work.

What hinders refugees’ efforts to pursue livelihoods activities?

The 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol set out the legal framework for refugees to lawfully obtain wage employment and pursue self-employment in countries of asylum. Nevertheless, despite growing evidence that refugees can fill labor gaps and contribute to host economies, many countries prohibit refugees from working legally. Often, these rights are not recognized, even by States that are party to the Convention and/or Protocol. This can be a consequence or a combination of domestic political pressure, social tensions, and weak economies.

Why are self-reliance and livelihoods important in a refugee response strategy?

Promoting livelihoods in all phases of displacement is critical. Livelihoods activities allow refugees to retain dignity; contribute to the economy of their host country; reduce pressure on direct aid programs; and retain or even build skills that can be utilized in exile, upon return home, or in a third country. Allowing refugees to pursue livelihoods activities can also improve their safety and reduce their vulnerability. This also holds true for internally displaced persons.

What is PRM doing to improve livelihoods for refugees?

In conjunction with other USG partners, PRM is increasing diplomatic efforts to promote work rights for refugees, including through initiatives taken at the Leaders’ Summit on Refugees at the UN General Assembly on September 20, 2016. One of the three overarching goals of the Summit was to increase self-reliance and inclusion for refugees around the world, including through legal work opportunities. Additionally, PRM supports programs that boost livelihoods for refugees with contributions to international organization partners, as well as non-governmental organizations. Finally, together with the State Department’s Office of the Chief Economist and UNHCR, PRM is working to expand the evidence-base around the positive economic impacts of refugee labor.

What kind of livelihoods programs does PRM support?

PRM supports programs for refugees and other populations of concern that can have sustainable, positive impacts on the economic welfare of beneficiaries. Please see PRM’s General NGO Guidelines for more information.


[1] From Robert Chambers and Gordon R. Conway, “Sustainable Rural Livelihoods: Practical Concepts for the 21st Century.” 1991.

Cash and Voucher Assistance

PRM supports effective, efficient, and appropriate use of cash and voucher assistance (CVA), which can offer people in need choice, supporting individual empowerment, while increasing efficiencies, supporting local actors, and stimulating local economies.

As part of the Grand Bargain, an agreement to increase the effectiveness and efficiency of the humanitarian system, the United States and other donors, NGOs, UN agencies, and humanitarian actors committed to increasing the use and coordination of CVA.

We also know there is an inextricable relationship between assistance and protection – any agency doing one without considering the ramifications of the other puts beneficiaries at enormous risk. To the extent possible, we aim to grant our implementing partner agencies the flexibility to determine the most effective and empowering methods of delivering protection and humanitarian assistance, whether through CVA or other modalities, as long as protection is paramount.

What is Cash and Voucher Assistance (CVA)?

The Cash Learning Partnership (CaLP) defines Cash and Voucher Assistance (CVA) as a modality for providing humanitarian assistance that uses local markets and services to meet the needs of persons of concern through the provision of cash or cash equivalents (e.g. bank deposit, mobile money) or of vouchers redeemable for certain goods. These may be conditional (i.e. on participating in a work project) or unconditional; restricted (intended for a specific expenditure) or unrestricted.

When do we use CVA in humanitarian assistance?

Cash, vouchers, in-kind assistance, service provision, and other forms of aid are all critical tools for the humanitarian toolbox.  PRM employs an “equal playing field” approach to determining the modality best suited to the humanitarian context. Our implementing partners select program modalities by sector according to appropriateness, feasibility, program objectives, cost-efficiency, and beneficiary preference.

As with all types of assistance, we place a high priority on humanitarian protection, to ensure that our assistance does not put our beneficiaries at further risk. Therefore, to the greatest extent possible, we aim to grant our implementing partners the flexibility to determine the most effective and empowering methods of delivering protection and humanitarian assistance.

Additionally, we aim to ensure that CVA not only empowers individuals by providing choice, but also has a positive impact on local economies, promotes beneficiary self-reliance, and supports relief and development coherence to maximize impact and market-driven programming.

What are PRM goals with regard to CVA?

  1. Articulate and advance PRM’s vision for cash assistance as one modality of humanitarian assistance, often paired with other modalities or services, which can address the needs of beneficiaries, including protection.
  2. Improve humanitarian coordination and the overall humanitarian response by supporting PRM partners, including both international organizations and non-governmental organizations, in their efforts to develop their internal technical capacity for implementing CVA.
  3. Ensure protection is always built into the foundations of CVA.
  4. Fulfill the Grand Bargain commitments on cash, including to increase the routine use of cash assistance, when appropriate, alongside other tools in order to achieve efficient and effective humanitarian assistance for affected populations.
  5. Advance refugees’ local integration and self-reliance by linking cash- and voucher-based humanitarian assistance to broader relief and development objectives such as livelihoods, financial inclusion, access to existing services, and the right to work.
  6. In cooperation with USAID, promote a coherent USG approach to CVA in a humanitarian context.

U.S. Department of State

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