Year one of DREAMS: A new model for building opportunity
When violence and hunger force people to leave their homes in search of stability and safety, their skills travel with them. Refugees are more than the circumstances they find themselves in—they are people like anyone else with the determination to provide for their families and the power to strengthen local economies.
That’s why Mercy Corps and Village Enterprise, a nonprofit dedicated to ending extreme poverty, are teaming up. Together, we combine two evidence-based approaches in a program called DREAMS (Delivering Resilient Enterprises and Market Systems). This innovative partnership provides comprehensive support for refugees and people with lower incomes on their journeys out of poverty and into business ownership.
Through this multi-phased program, DREAMS participants engage in workshops and training sessions with Village Enterprise, learning how to establish, promote, and expand a business. Then, Mercy Corps provides the support needed to help business owners find success—and help local economies flourish.
Mercy Corps helps by identifying profitable opportunities and connecting entrepreneurs to local markets, so their new businesses are better able to run more efficiently and expand.
In October, our CEO Tjada D’Oyen McKenna and a small group of Mercy Corps leaders and board members had the opportunity to visit the DREAMS program in Uganda, meet participants, and hear firsthand about the impact we are helping to spark.
Thanks to the tremendous support of the ICONIQ Impact community and other funders, we are building a foundation to prove the power of the DREAMS model in refugee camps—one of the world’s most challenging contexts—and to scale it to reach others living in extreme poverty. With its success, DREAMS brings the humanitarian and private sectors into lockstep to support millions of people globally in moving from survival mode to self-reliance.
The photos below celebrate the close of the first year of this transformational five-year program. Meet a few of the people taking part in our first cohort in Uganda and learn how DREAMS is a new model to create lasting change for communities around the world.
Laying the groundwork: A fund for entrepreneurs
In our first year of DREAMS, 1,200 households enrolled in the first cohort in Bidi Bidi, Uganda. In these Business Savings Groups, participants join roughly 30 other aspiring entrepreneurs from their community. Together, they grow their business skills and learn how to save and provide loans to each other—a network that is foundational to the success of the budding business owners.
In total, 40 groups have been established in the first year of the program. Festo (pictured above) serves as his group’s vice chairperson, helping to organize the group and track their assets. He’s also a business owner himself, having partnered with two of his fellow group members to start selling silver fish at the local market.
Ready, set, launch: New businesses take off
After 10 weeks of training from our DREAMS Business Mentors, the members of the savings groups have what they need to get their businesses off the ground. They know how to save and loan together, how to identify high-potential business opportunities, and how to operationalize a successful business.
To help entrepreneurs like Festo succeed, Mercy Corps conducted two market assessments to identify high-opportunity value chains and onboarded four private sector investors and distributors. In the coming months, we will connect DREAMS business owners directly with buyers and sellers to ensure their businesses have every chance to thrive into the future.
Festo and his silver fish business are just one story from the DREAMS program. Out of our first cohort, 400 businesses were launched with the support of ongoing mentorship and seed capital grants.
Okukuru: Raising chickens
At Bidi Bidi, Okukuru’s biggest concerns used to be feeding her children and paying their school fees. After joining her Business Savings Group in the local host community and receiving mentorship, her worries started to fade. Through DREAMS she and her group have been supported with poultry feed and Kuroiler chicks—an improved breed of scavenging chicken.
“This business has changed my life. I know how to manage the finances,” Okukuru says. With enough money to save and buy basic goods like saucepans and school uniforms for her children and sister, Okukuru recommends the DREAMS program to her friends and neighbors. “I encourage people to join savings groups and acquire knowledge from those groups.”
Juan Betty: Selling home goods
Another business owner, Juan Betty, is a refugee from South Sudan who works alongside her partners to sell basic home products in her community. She says the mentorship and support she’s received have changed her life for the better.
The program has brought unity in our community, since we all work together as one.Juan Betty, Bidi Bidi, Uganda
Juan Betty is not only the sole provider for her family, she also has a chronic illness. With her earnings, she can buy medicine for herself and everyone in her home can eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner. And if her business continues to grow, her group will receive additional financial support.
Rose: Growing sesame
Reflecting on her life in South Sudan, Rose says she was well off—a business owner who was forced to leave her home to keep her family safe from harm. Now, Rose is rebuilding her life with the help of her Business Savings Group.
When a DREAMS mentor suggested growing sesame as a good opportunity to build a business, she and her neighbor set to work on securing funding from their group and planting their crops. Rose looks forward to harvesting the three and a half acres of sesame, saying “The rains have been good, and we foresee a good reap. After this harvest, I don’t think I will be the same!"
A bold, new model for lasting change
The DREAMS program supports refugees and crisis-affected communities as they unlock their futures—improving their income and well-being significantly and sustainably. Connected to opportunity, funding, and skills, communities of people are better able to start businesses and power their local economies.
The design of the DREAMS program is a culmination of the partnership between Village Enterprise and Mercy Corps. Learn more about our pilot program through a story about Rashid, a Sudanese refugee living in Rhino Camp, Uganda, who attended one of our training sessions.
Our teams are committed to creating lasting, positive change for the world we share. Not only is DREAMS on course to assist thousands of people in Uganda and Ethiopia, but it forges a new path out of poverty that can be used again and again by local and international development agencies around the world.