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Between 2011 and 2018, the IKEA Foundation invested around $100m USD in programmes in the five Dollo Ado camps in Ethiopia. The investment represents the largest ever private sector investment in refugee camps. A major focus of its work was on livelihoods, working to support sustainable income-generating opportunities for refugees and the host community.

One of the most innovative features of the work was on a series of ‘cooperatives’, membership-based income-generating groups, typically involving an equal number of refugees and host community members. These cooperatives have been piloted in areas such as agriculture, livestock, energy and the environment. Importantly, they have been supported with complementary infrastructure, microfinance, and training.

Overall, the model has improved socio-economic outcomes for refugees and the host community, and contributed to improved social cohesion between refugees and the host community. They have also supported protection-related and environmental objectives.

Some of the cooperatives have been more successful than others. The most successful have been agriculture and livestock, while the energy and environmental cooperatives have faced particular challenges.

Our research highlights a number of conditions for future success within the cooperatives; these include:

  • following market-based design principles, including having identifiable market linkages and sources of demand and supply;
  • building upon pre-existing economic activities within the community;
  • adopting clear principles of within-cooperative coordination, including to ensure the equitable distribution of power between refugee and host community members;
  • ensuring complementary infrastructure;
  • designing sustainability plans for cooperatives to gradually achieve independence from external assistance.

These insights have ongoing relevance in Dollo Ado and also for the potential roll-out and adaptation of the cooperatives model to other parts of Ethiopia, and elsewhere.