Making Cents International Innovates to Help Address Syrian Refugee Crisis Response

Mar 02 2018

Making Cents International is a dynamic and innovative woman-owned small business working to advance the social and economic well-being of youth and adults around the world. We work with partner organizations to build their capacity to support the people they serve—from smallholder farmers who feed the planet, to young leaders who shape our communities. Since 1999, we have implemented more than 130 projects in 60 countries across the globe for USAID and other public and private clients.

Making Cents works in fragile and conflict-affected states to accelerate and sustain the economic recovery of individuals and communities affected by and vulnerable to conflict. While the roots of conflict are far reaching, violence is often sparked by broad economic discontent and always results in vulnerable populations with insecure livelihoods. We believe that understanding local context, tailoring programs, developing innovative solutions, and building local capacity are critical to increasing community resilience and achieving sustainable impact in the wake of violent conflict. To that end, we work with a range of key local stakeholders, including NGOs, community-based organizations, business service providers, youth and women groups, and government agencies to build their capacity to design and deliver immediately relevant and inclusive initiatives that help reverse the negative economic and social consequences of conflict.

Making Cents has been part of the humanitarian response to the Syrian conflict on both sides of the border since 2015. Delivering food, medicines and other supplies to affected communities in Syria is difficult to achieve and sustain for many of the new NGOs that are U.S. government partners. To support these efforts, we have been building organizational capacity of one of USAID’s leading local partners under the Syria Essential Services II Project. The partner needed critical management and financial administration capacity building in order to use donor funds effectively, report on them accurately, and develop the financial and organizational structure to deliver services and respond to the changing humanitarian needs of communities on the ground. Making Cents used a Human and Institutional Capacity Development Approach adapted to the local context to help the partner evolve into one of Syria’s premier humanitarian response organizations.

Making Cents has also been active in assisting Syrian refugees in neighboring countries, helping humanitarian and financial institutions to understand refugee livelihoods and build appropriate responses. For the International Rescue Committee, Making Cents designed financial literacy and entrepreneurship curricula for refugee women and youth in Jordan and Lebanon that have provided them the necessary skills and confidence to begin small businesses. However, recognizing that skills are often not enough, Making Cents has also been engaged by the financial sector to help them provide additional investment resources for this vulnerable population.

With funding from SANAD, the Fund for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises, Making Cents has helped four microfinance institutions – two in Jordan and two in Lebanon – to assess the demand for financial services among refugees, to determine whether there is a business case specific to that institution for serving them, and, if so, to develop lending products that refugees can use for their businesses. As part of this work, Making Cents conducted qualitative and quantitative research that enabled an accurate sizing of the microfinance market, demonstrating that more than 10,000 credit-worthy refugee clients are present in both countries. Armed with this information, two of the four institutions ventured into the market and are now providing loans to more than 3,000 refugees in Jordan and Lebanon.

Our work is now transitioning to supporting refugee return. Refugees are working and learning in Jordan and Lebanon, gaining business experience, educational certificates and credit histories. However, since there are no cross-border identification or credit history mechanisms, they will not be able to convey this information to employers or financial institutions upon return to their countries. In response, Making Cents is currently implementing a pilot program to develop digital identities for refugees. These “digital lockers” containing information about refugee achievements are stored on a distributed ledger, which is created using block-chain technology. The information stored is verifiable, portable and immutable. Refugees can take this information with them to demonstrate to Syrian institutions that they have business experience, a good credit history and training, thereby facilitating their return home and re-establishment of their livelihoods.

Responding to conflict requires the ability to quickly understand the local situation, adapt responses and innovate to solve seemingly intractable problems. We are proud to support USAID and other donors in their response to the Syrian Crisis.

Learn more about Making Cents International.