COVID-19 introduced new challenges and threats to health and livelihoods, exacerbating the situation for over 80 million forcibly displaced people worldwide. The pandemic highlights their urgent needs for sustainable access to energy and other technologies, including electricity for domestic and business use, fuel for cooking, and platforms to pay for — and be paid for — goods and services.
Fulfilling these needs requires cross-sector partnerships that can finance and mobilize innovative solutions that shift focus from short-term relief towards durable service delivery.
The Smart Communities Coalition (SCC), co-founded and co-chaired by USAID/Power Africa and Mastercard in 2018, calls for a collective effort to respond to the plight of refugees and provide adequate, sustained access to energy, connectivity and digital tools.
What we have done so far
This year, our SCC Innovation Fund (SCCIF) awarded grants to four companies that will use renewable energy technologies to increase access to electricity in refugee-hosting areas of Kenya and Uganda. Supported by Power Africa, the awardees will implement activities that benefit nearly 3,500 displaced and host community households with improved energy and business opportunities, from solar-powered poultry businesses to e-bikes and solar-powered cargo tricycles.
The SCCIF is designed to transform how we address forced displacement, highlighting innovative, locally rooted solutions that advance economic and social inclusion, and shifting from short-term relief towards durable service delivery.
In Uganda, one of the winners is a consortium led by a local cooperative made up of both refugees and host community members. As the cooperative chairman described, “We look forward to achieving a positive impact and scale-up to more people for not leaving anyone without access to energy, water and digital services, regardless if they are refugees, displaced or host communities.”
What we can all do now
Since our founding in 2018, the SCC has learned several valuable lessons related to funding service delivery in displaced communities:
- Market-driven solutions still need funding: In displacement settings, there is a gap in funding for programs that implement market-led solutions, particularly in our pillar areas of energy, connectivity and digital tools. As evidence, the first round of the SCCIF received over 70 applications, competing for only four grant awards. Other funds are starting to pay attention to this problem: the IFC’s Kakuma-Kalobeyei Challenge Fund, launched in 2020, is utilizing $25 million to attract new private businesses and to provide grants to enterprises working in water, energy, agriculture, childcare and financial services in the Kakuma area in Kenya. We encourage more efforts like these to scale sustainable innovations in other displacement settings.
- Partnership with the private sector can increase efficiency: There is strong recognition of the role that private companies can play in designing, piloting, implementing and scaling technology solutions. As noted by SCC member Shell’s Enter Energy initiative, private companies are primed to step in to provide access to a wider range of energy services than the traditional humanitarian sector, offer speed and innovation in adapting business models for rural communities, and reach sustainable service delivery with less reliance on subsidies. As a result, there is strong interest from NGOs, the public and other humanitarian agencies to partner with the private sector partners to achieve these goals.
- Market intelligence can boost business: A 2018 report by the IFC, confirmed anecdotally by SCC members, found that a majority of companies surveyed across multiple sectors wanted to increase their business with refugees and host communities but were held back by a lack of market intelligence. To fill this gap, the SCC has produced market profiles for multiple settlements and a digital “heatmap” of member activities and assets. We are also responding to member requests for tools like geospatial mapping of technology coverage, inventories of ongoing interventions and active entities, and analysis of market dynamics including customer profiles in settlements and host communities. Through the SCCIF, matchmaking and knowledge generation activities, the SCC is providing these services to our members and the larger community.
To help us further empower displaced communities, we issue the following call to action to our colleagues:
- Public and private funders: Join us in mobilizing the next round of the SCCIF to jumpstart innovative projects. The fund is flexible in terms of target geographies and supported sectors. Our team provides grant management, project oversight, monitoring and evaluation support, and an established mechanism in place from our first round of funding.
- Implementers: Apply to future rounds of the SCCIF to take advantage of a unique funding vehicle that can energize your expertise in displacement settings. We are always looking to identify and engage innovative service providers in the energy, digital tools and connectivity sectors. We can connect you with more than 65 SCC members to share best practices, and partner based on similar interests or needs for expertise.
Join the SCC to drive multi-sector partnerships for positive change in the humanitarian space! Feel free to contact us at SCC@mastercard.com.
SCC Links & Resources
- About the SCC: https://www.mastercard.us/en-us/business/governments/find-solutions/smart-communities.html
- About the SCCIF: https://www.usaid.gov/powerafrica/sccif
- SCCIF Grant Winners: https://endev.info/creating-a-brighter-future-for-refugee-hosting-communities-sccif-announces-grant-winners/
- USAID/Power Africa De-Risking PAYGO Solar Home System project: https://pdf.usaid.gov/pdf_docs/PA00W6FR.pdf