The Self-Reliance Index: Using Data to Improve Refugees’ Lives

Colorful painting of multicultural people

By Simar Singh and Ned Meerdink

What is the Self-Reliance Index

One year ago, RefugePoint, Women’s Refugee Commission and partners from the Refugee Self-Reliance Initiative (RSRI) launched the Self-Reliance Index (SRI) – the first global tool that measures the progress of refugee households on their paths to self-reliance. The tool supports humanitarian practitioners in designing and providing effective programs and services for refugees and is helping build an evidence base of effective programs and approaches.

The SRI was developed to fill a critical gap in the international refugee support system. While refugee self-reliance has been recognized as a key objective of the Global Compact on Refugees and other high-level humanitarian agreements and frameworks, practitioners and policymakers didn’t have a way to track and measure it or know whether their support was helping refugees become and remain self-reliant.

To solve this issue, RefugePoint drew on years of experience helping refugees become self-reliant in Nairobi, Kenya. Building on a measurement tool RefugePoint had developed in that context, we joined forces with the Women’s Refugee Commission in 2016 and brought together a group of NGOs, UN agencies, funders, government representatives, and academics to create a new and improved tool for measuring the self-reliance status of refugee families. Over the next three years, the SRI was developed through a rigorous process with input from over 25 partner organizations and field-testing by partners in Ecuador, Jordan, Kenya, and Mexico.

Uses of the Self-Reliance Index

The SRI provides a holistic picture of a refugee family’s journey to becoming self-reliant and tracks changes over time. The SRI is made up of 12 domains that cover both the economic and social dimensions of a refugee household’s life, such as housing, education, health, financial resources, employment, social networks, and safety. Based on responses to questions on these domains, the tool tells us how a refugee family is doing in each of these areas, pointing out areas of strength as well as areas of need. This informs decisions about program design, helps monitor impact, and supports collaboration between partner agencies.

Since its launch in May 2020, the SRI has received strong interest from practitioners and policymakers working in displacement settings around the world. The tool has already been adopted by 21 agencies in 14 countries and has been used to assess the self-reliance status of over 5,000 households. More than half of these partners are conducting second or third SRI assessments with the same households, allowing them to track how the status of a household’s self-reliance is shifting over time in response to services and circumstances.

While primarily developed for use with urban refugee populations in countries of first asylum, agencies are increasingly using the SRI to measure the self-reliance of a wider range of displaced populations including refugees in camp settings, internally displaced persons (IDPs), returnees, as well as host populations. Eight agencies are employing the SRI in an urban displacement context; six agencies are using the SRI in a rural or camp-based context; and seven agencies are applying the tool simultaneously in both urban and rural or camp-based locations. This demonstrates the wide applicability of the SRI in a diversity of contexts where displaced persons reside.

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has been a key thought partner in the development of the SRI, and in the past year it has introduced the tool to its regional bureaus through a series of dedicated webinars. In partnership with the Poverty Alleviation Coalition, which comprises UNHCR, The World Bank Partnership for Economic Inclusion (PEI) and 13 NGOs, the RSRI has developed an adapted version of the SRI designed to support agencies implementing the Graduation Approach programming.

The SRI has also been recommended for use by several funders. Lives in Dignity, a newly-launched €24 million UNOPS-EU grants facility has strongly recommended use of the tool to its potential grantees. The US State Department’s humanitarian bureau (PRM) has also highlighted the SRI in several funding opportunities.

Self-Reliance Index Training & Support

RefugePoint is leading the provision of training on the SRI and has trained over 400 staff from 27 international, national, and community-based NGOs, UN agencies, and refugee-led organizations in the past year.

Beyond training, RefugePoint’s support continues as partners deploy the tool in their programs and analyze data. One of the core objectives of the SRI roll-out is supporting partners to understand ways in which they can use the data generated from the tool. This allows our partners to adjust their programming so they can improve self-reliance outcomes for their clients. RefugePoint, along with the Women’s Refugee Commission and two academic advisors, works closely with partners to review and analyze data collected through the tool and facilitate reflection on what is and is not working to improve self-reliance of displaced communities.

Emerging Trends & Initial Outcomes

Through dozens of discussions with agencies that are deploying the SRI, we are starting to see important emerging trends from the first year of the SRI roll-out.

One notable trend is that many agencies that have used the SRI in one country program are choosing to expand it to multiple locations and/or to multiple country programs. This is an important appraisal of the SRI’s ease of use, which was a core objective during the development of the tool. Unlike many other technical tools, the SRI does not require specialized Monitoring and Evaluation (M&E) technical expertise to implement, and is accessible from a cost and time-investment perspective for both small and large agencies.

Another emerging trend is how the SRI is shifting perspectives for agencies that are deploying the tool. The majority of partners applying the SRI engage in primarily one or two sectors (e.g. Shelter, Livelihoods, or Protection). Unlike single-sector M&E tools, the SRI is multi-dimensional and generates data relating to social and economic dimensions of a refugee household’s life. Partners regularly report that by applying the SRI, they are getting a richer and more comprehensive understanding of their clients than before. This perspective shift presents an opportunity for agencies to think about programming differently and align that programming more directly with the diverse needs and capacities of displaced households. It can also help partners facilitate referrals to other agencies (when they come across a need they cannot meet) or identify areas where there are gaps in the broader humanitarian response, which can feed into future recommendations for program development.

Finally, some partners are reporting that use of the SRI is helping reorient the mindset of both staff and refugee clients from focusing solely on needs and vulnerabilities to emphasizing strengths and skills within refugee families.

Next Steps

In the next phase of the SRI roll-out, RefugePoint will expand training and support to existing and new agencies to deploy the tool in their programs. In addition, along with the Women’s Refugee Commission, we are supporting partners to analyze the data that is generated through the SRI and use those insights to make program adjustments and improvements. Eventually, data collected by agencies using the SRI is expected to evidence global trends and disparities related to self-reliance opportunities and outcomes, which can inform broad policy-making and resource allocation for displaced populations.