DREAMS for Refugees

A better way to support refugees

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

Village Enterprise and Mercy Corps are teaming up to prove there is a better way to support refugees through DREAMS (Delivering Resilient Enterprises and Market Systems). 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.

The first cohort of DREAMS entrepreneurs launched their businesses in the fall of 2022 in the Bidi Bidi Refugee Settlement in Uganda. In the summer of 2023, the award-winning model expanded its operations to work in additional refugee settlements in Ethiopia. Between Uganda and Ethiopia alone, DREAMS will transform the lives of over 200,000 refugees, and has the potential to reach millions of other people living in extreme poverty as the program continues to grow, adapt for specific populations, and scale across Africa.

“We see beauty, creativity, and innovation whenever we engage with refugee and host families, and firmly believe we can effectively invest in healing and building livelihoods so families can get back on their feet, doing what families should do best—be a loving and thriving place to be. We are proud to partner with Village Enterprise in the DREAMS project in Ethiopia, building on evidence on graduation approaches we know works to help people out of poverty, to help make dreams come true." Annemieke de Jong, Head of Programmes – Refugee Livelihoods, IKEA Foundation

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 could 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.

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—it strives to provide a new model for ending extreme poverty in the world’s most challenging environments, supporting millions of people globally in achieving financial autonomy.

“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

Awards & Support

DREAMS is the recipient of Fast Company’s 2023 World Changing Ideas Award and a 2021 winner of the Larsen Lam ICONIQ Impact Award for Refugees managed by Lever for Change. DREAMS is funded by Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, ICONIQ Impact, IKEA Foundation, and the extraordinary generosity of anonymous donors.

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.

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Year one of DREAMS

“The program has brought unity in our community, since we all work together as one.” Juan Betty says the mentorship and support she’s received has changed her life for the better. Meet Juan and other entrepreneurs taking part in our first cohort of DREAMS in Uganda in this photo essay from Mercy Corps.

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