On 23 February 2016, the winner of the Ockenden International Prize was announced at the annual ceremony held at Lady Margaret Hall, University of Oxford. This prize was founded by Ockenden International in 2012 to reward successful on-the-ground projects for promoting the self-reliance of refugees and displaced people. This year, among 42 entries from 25 countries, the three finalist projects were examined by expert judges. The ‘Women’s Empowerment Project’ by Young African Refugees for Integral Development (YARID) from Kampala, Uganda was awarded the prize worth USD 100,000.
YARID is the first refugee-led organisation that has won this internationally recognised prize. The organisation was founded by Robert Hakiza, a Congolese refugee who sought asylum in Uganda about seven years ago, and it has gradually grown into a successful community-based organisation under the directorship of this ingenious young refugee. The previous winners of the prize have included well-established organisations such as the Norwegian Refugee Council and India’s Centre for Development. This year, the two other finalists were Mercy Corp and CORD, both of which are renowned international NGOs. These eminent institutions highlight the highly competitive nature of the prize, and this year the grassroots organisation from Kampala added its name to the list.
YARID’s winning of the Ockenden prize has a special meaning for us here at the Humanitarian Innovation Project. I first met Robert in 2012 during the preliminary study on refugees’ economic activities in Kampala. Since then, Robert and his colleagues at YARID have been essential members of HIP’s research team in Uganda and played a principal role in assisting our data collection. Having witnessed their commitment and concrete work on enhancing refugees’ economic self-reliance, we wholeheartedly believe that YARID deserves this prize.
While we are celebrating YARID’s achievements as its friends, its winning of this internationally recognised prize is epoch-making in many regards. First of all, importantly, YARID did not earn the Ockenden prize because of its unique status as a refugee-led NGO, but due to the substantial impact it has had on the economic empowerment of refugees. The judges were particularly impressed by the evidence which showed that the beneficiaries gained an increased degree of self-reliance and reduced vulnerability through engaging with YARID’s Women’s Empowerment Project. In my view, this success is largely attributed to YARID’s bottom-up approach; tirelessly listening to the voices of people and tailoring assistance to identified demands. Their victory in turn suggests that refugee-led organisations can compete alongside national and international aid agencies in designing and implementing effective support programmes for their fellow refugees.
YARID’s winning sheds light on the value of refugees’ own initiatives and voices in the global arena of refugee-policy making. The international community is now struggling with what to do in response to the unprecedented scale of forced displacement around the world. Evidently, existing humanitarian approaches have failed. In the meantime, refugees are ‘doing it for themselves’ on the ground. Now the world needs to listen to these grassroots organisations. The director of YARID, Robert Hakiza, is able to articulate what is going on in the day-to-day lives of displaced people and to concretely demonstrate what is working and what is failing in refugee assistance. These lessons from the ground are invaluable for policy-makers, practitioners, and scholars working for refugees.
We hope that this year’s Ockenden prize being awarded to a small-scale refugee-led agency will become one of the first steps in major donors and international organisations paying more attention to the unheard voices of refugees in the Global South and revisiting the value of ‘localised’ solutions in supporting refugees’ self-reliance.