The ‘SPEC Webinar 7 - Seeking Economic Inclusion for Refugees: A Case Study of the Graduation Approach in Ecuador’ took place on 5 June 2018 and discussed the synergies between social protection and sustainable employment programmes, focusing on the graduation approach that was employed by Ecuador to ensure the economic inclusion of refugees in the country.

The webinar was organised by the Social Protection for Employment Community (SPEC) jointly with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) with support from the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), and Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ). Practitioners interested in contributing to knowledge sharing and South-South learning using innovative online instruments are invited to join the Community of over 100 members.

The event was moderated by Ziad Ayoubi (Senior Livelihood Officer, UNHCR), featuring presentations from Alexi T. Bernagros (Director of Technical Assistance, Trickle Up), Sabrina Lustgarden (National Director, HIAS Ecuador), Maria Alicia Eguiguren (Durable Solutions Officer, UNHRC Ecuador), and interventions from discussants Rachel Sabates-Wheeler (Research Fellow, Institute of Development Studies; University of Essex), and James Canonge (Social Protection Policy Officer, Social Protection Department, ILO).

The recording is available here and the presentation here.


Seeking the economic inclusion for refugees: The graduation approach in Ecuador

Ziad Ayoubi opened the webinar by briefly summarising the UNHCR’s approach to Livelihoods and Economic Inclusion for Refugees. Currently, most humanitarian organisations, including the UNHCR, focus heavily on administering market-oriented interventions. This allows for the formulation of comprehensive humanitarian aid programmes for refugees. Rather than focusing on individual elements in the market systems, they prioritise interventions that consider the market system.


This approach to economic inclusion involves:

• Avoiding creating parallel systems.

• Attracting additional development funding to reinforce national systems.

• Ensuring consistency in the level of services offered to nationals and non-nationals.

• Reducing risks of social issues caused by exclusion (poverty, delinquency, radicalism, negative livelihoods strategies, etc.).

• Bringing diversity and richness to many areas such as the economy, culture, education, sports, and art.

• Achieving economy of scale.

• Complying with human rights conventions.


The graduation approach

As a poverty alleviation measure, the graduation approach is one of the ways to include refugees in economies, especially when these individuals, due to displacement trauma, are in a financial situation that demands external support. A “Graduation lens” helps to sequence existing interventions so the poorest refugees receive the appropriate support at the appropriate point in their development.


Adapting graduation for refugees

Alexi Bernagros began her presentation by defining the graduation approach as a sequenced and time-bound intervention that aims to help people living in extreme poverty build resilience and engage in sustainable livelihoods. The graduation approach has been implemented in several countries, by a variety of different institutions. It has been adapted for refugee recipients in Ecuador, Costa Rica, Egypt, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Mozambique, Sudan, Malawi and Burkina Faso:



Targeting for the graduation approach usually takes advantage of the targeting practices already in use in the country. It has been highlighted that, when working with refugees, it is fundamental to distinguish socioeconomic differences among possible beneficiaries and focusing on those on the extreme poverty floor is key.


The graduation approach can be divided into eight modules:

  1. Coaching: This process goes from the beginning of the graduation process to the end, characterised by weekly or bi-weekly visits to targeted households. Accordingly, hiring refugees or community volunteers as coaches can become an important asset for the socioeconomic development of beneficiaries.
  2. Savings: Trickle up’s take on savings in camp and settlement locations tend to encourage the collective village savings and loans (VSL) approach as the preferred modality for motivating savings. This approach, however, is not as efficient in urban scenarios, where the lack of solidarity between participants leads to the involvement of formal financial service providers. However, this process is more challenging than VSL, especially due to difficulties in obtaining documentation from targeted refugees.
  3. Network engagement: This modality is a new component of the process, having been deemed necessary to properly attend to urban refugees’ need to engage with their host community and other refugees.
  4. Consumption support: This refers to the UNHCR’s attempt to take advantage of existing cash assistance or social protection programmes, usually being a time-bound programme that ensures refugees’ nutritional safety.
  5. Core capacity building: Core capacity building refers to the training received by all graduation participants, regardless of selected livelihood or income-generating activity, such as language training.
  6. Livelihoods roadmap: Every single refugee should be engaged in livelihood activities, and these should be based on market assessment for refugees living in extreme poverty.
  7. Technical skills training: After participants have participated in core capacity building, graduation participants partake in technical skills training, which is more directly associated with their income-generating activity.
  8. Asset transfer and livelihood support: This is the final nudge that assists graduation participants to engage in their income-generating activity. In urban scenarios this also includes job support.


Key findings from adapting the graduation approach to refugees

  • In Ecuador, the average household per capita income increased to US $86.09 in 2017 from US $66.31 in 2015.
  • Participant households’ access to formal financial institutions increased by 95% in Ecuador.
  • Out of 3,200 participants served by UNHCR Egypt, over 700 participants had their own business after the programme’s end and 636 participants found jobs.
  • The average income earned per participant per month increased by an estimated 18% in Cairo and 27% in Alexandria (Egypt).


Implementation of the graduation approach in Ecuador

Ecuador harbors the largest number of refugees in Latin America. The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) is a faith-based organisation that partners with governments to help refugees start their lives in safety. HIAS used an intricate method to properly construct a Graduation Model Approach (GMA) in the country, to assist refugee families in achieving sustainable livelihoods.

They employ the case management approach (CMA), which addresses the vulnerabilities refugees face due to forced mobility. This is achieved through consistent monitoring, carried out every 15 days by coaches, who are responsible for assessing families’ progress, and guiding them through the graduation process.

Consumption support (food assistance, training, etc.) is provided to families throughout the year in which they are a part of the programme. When working with the beneficiaries, an analysis of the economically active members of refugee families is conducted, and, depending on the results, they receive instructions on how to achieve wage employment or self-employment, while attending vocational training, courses and financial education.


Pilot project to national programme

Ecuador’s first experience of employing the graduation approach was in 2015, when a pilot project took place in San Domingo, composed of 200 households (140 Colombians and 60 Ecuadorians). 135 of these households completed the pilot and 97 successfully graduated. The pilot did not include cash-consumption support, a feature that was only introduced in the Scale Up model in 2016.

After analysing the implementation of the pilot, in 2016 the UNHCR and HIAS were able to implement a national-level graduation programme, and the Scale Up project, which lasted from 2016 to 2018. The data collected from the pilot indicated the need for an improved targeting method, ensuring that only the most vulnerable families become part of the programme. In coordination with the UNHCR and FAO, the HIAS Database System and Targeting Criteria was put into place, which allowed HIAS to keep track of the families in the process.


The profiles prioritised for the graduation programme, after the targeting reassessment, were:

  • Single parent or caregiver
  • Young heads of households (18-25 years old)
  • Families with pregnant teenagers
  • Families whose members have specific needs: disabilities, serious medical conditions, psychiatric cases, survivors of violence or torture
  • Large families (Three or more children for every adult with the ability to work)
  • Vulnerable families (less than 20 points in the LII)

For beneficiary families to graduate from the programme, they must have met the following criteria:


Graduation Model Approach (GMA) with the Ecuadorian Government

Based on the trial and national GMA experiences on Ecuador, HIAS is starting a pilot project with the Ecuadorian Ministry of Social and Economic Inclusion (MIES) – responsible for the management of Ecuador’s cash aid programme Plan de Acompañamiento Familiar (PAF) – which follows the UNHCR’s strategic directions of encouraging the inclusion of refugees in national services and economies.

This process is a result of the combination of HIAS’ previous experiences with refugee-centered programmes and the GMA with the country’s consolidated PAF, aiming to include refugees in the already established safety net programme, while still maintaining these individuals under the scope of the graduation approach.


This blog post is part of the Linking Social Protection to Sustainable Employment webinar series,, which brings together the summaries of webinars organised by DFAT, Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and UNHCR on the topic. Please join the Online community Social Protection for Employment if you are interested in following the most recent discussions on the topic. If you have any thoughts on this webinar summary, we would love to hear from you. Please add your comments below!