Supporting Refugees

Most refugee relief programs provide near-term support for a long-term problem. Village Enterprise and Mercy Corps are on a mission to change that.

Ezra Millstein, Mercy Corps 2017

The refugee crisis has never been more severe.

There are currently more refugees worldwide than at any point since World War II, and more than 10 million refugees rely on humanitarian aid to meet their basic needs. But as aid organizations contend with budget cuts and growing displaced populations, support is subject to change or disappear without notice—leaving refugees without basic necessities such as shelter, healthcare, or even food.

DREAMS has the potential to transform refugee relief as we know it today.

Through DREAMS (Delivering Resilient Enterprises and Market Systems), Village Enterprise and Mercy Corps are teaming up to prove there is a better way to support refugees. A winner of the Larsen Lam ICONIQ Impact Award for Refugees and funded by the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation and the IKEA Foundation, this first-of-its-kind model merges Village Enterprise’s poverty graduation program with Mercy Corps’ expertise in market systems development in order to equip refugees with the skills, resources, and markets to start sustainable businesses and graduate from extreme poverty.

Following the program’s successful pilot in 2018, the first cohort of DREAMS entrepreneurs launched their businesses in the fall of 2022 in the Bidi Bidi Refugee Settlement in Uganda. In total, DREAMS will reach more than 33,000 households across Uganda and Ethiopia and impact more than 200,000 lives.

Just as importantly, DREAMS’ impact will be studied in an independent randomized controlled trial (RCT) conducted by IDinsight, providing valuable research that can be used across the international development and humanitarian aid sectors to better serve refugees in the future. DREAMS aims to transform not only refugee relief but poverty alleviation writ large, supporting millions of people globally in achieving and sustaining financial autonomy.

Tjada D’Oyen McKenna

Through rigorous evaluation of our large-scale pilot’s impact in Uganda and Ethiopia, we will generate evidence that DREAMS’ approach to self-reliance is not only possible but also more cost-effective than long-term food assistance. We have the opportunity to prove the power of the DREAMS model in refugee camps—one of the world’s most challenging contexts—in order to scale it to reach others living in extreme poverty and transform the way the humanitarian sector approaches refugee assistance.

Tjada D’Oyen McKenna
Chief Executive Officer, Mercy Corps


Joyce’s Story

In order to save her children, Joyce fled South Sudan. When she arrived at a refugee camp in Uganda, she found herself relying on humanitarian aid for food and without any way to earn income. But everything changed for Joyce when she joined DREAMS.

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Anna’s Story

“Having a successful business will be a blessing to me—I will be able to support myself and take my children to school.” This is what Anna, a 27-year-old refugee from South Sudan, told us in June 2022 as she was getting ready to launch her business. Now, just months later, she’s able to provide her children with more nutritious meals, shoes to wear, and materials for school.


DREAMS Ethiopia

As DREAMS is already up and running in Uganda, it is also getting ready to launch in Ethiopia. Design workshops were held in the fall of 2022 in Ethiopia, and the expected launch of DREAMS Ethiopia is in early 2023. Across Uganda and Ethiopia, DREAMS will reach more than 33,000 households and impact 200,000 lives.

Ezra Millstein, Mercy Corps 2019