Poverty alleviation and women refugees in the Middle East: empowerment through grassroots micro-entrepreneurship?

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Contemporary political volatility within the Middle East region has led to far reaching socio-economic upheaval and strife with a devastating impact generating mass displacement of Iraqi, Palestinian, and Syrian refugees to Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey (UNCHR, 2014). In their host nations, these displaced communities seek to reconstruct their lives in a context of loss, poverty, violence and devastation (Kuttab, 2008; Chatty, 2010). Here, as in other contexts of displacement and refugee movements, women and children are subject to the worst effects of such upheaval given their limited power and resources to counteract the ensuing violence and poverty (Al-Dajani and Marlow, 2013; Holmes, 2007; UN, 2006). 
 
As one strategy to address the matrix of disadvantages and especially poverty arising from displacement, the potential of home based self-employment for women has become a focal point of contemporary policy interest. Such micro enterprising is positioned as a development tool across many contexts as it presents pathways for socio-economic empowerment for women which require few resources but also, do not challenge prevailing cultural patriarchal norms. Despite critiques of this argument (Kuttab, 2008; Bruton, 2010; Franck, 2012), home based enterprise is positioned as a critical activity for displaced women as a simple but effective point of entry for economic participation with related social and status benefits (Al Dajani and Marlow, 2013). As such, numerous support and advice agencies aiming to encourage such enterprising activities now focus upon helping displaced and refugee women to undertake self-employment. 
 
Our previous research (Al-Dajani et al, 2015) however, suggests that such agencies are perceived to impose numerous stifling constraints upon the displaced refugee women. This tension and the preferences of the displaced women regarding business start-up and trading partners has prompted many women to reject engagement with formal support agencies. Rather, they are finding other pathways and networks to support their enterprising activities. Thus, within this project we will explore the effectiveness and impact of the available pathways for support and advice for displaced and refugee women and analyse the extent to which entrepreneurship is a sustainable conduit for poverty alleviation and empowerment in socio-politically volatile circumstances. 
 
The project brings together the Issam Fares Institute (Lebanon), UDA Consulting (Turkey) and the King Hussein Foundation (Jordan) to undertake the project alongside Haya Al-Dajani at UEA (PI) and Susan Marlow at Nottingham University (Co-I). The partners have already attained definite agreement from potential stakeholders to contribute to the project, and are working with key refugee support agencies identified by UNHCR as partner agencies assisting Syrian refugees. In each geographical location, an initial stakeholder meeting will be held, bringing together 20 non-academic key stakeholders, including potential research users, to engage in the design of the ensuing project and conduct through the adoption of a Participatory Learning and Action (PLA) approach (UNV, 2013). This will be followed by individual interviews with 150 Iraqi, Palestinian and Syrian refugee women displaced to Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. Upon completion of this data collection, another stakeholder meeting will be held in each location to deliberate the findings and to inform the design and development of Phase 2 of the study involving a follow up survey with the refugee women. Finally, a key stakeholder dissemination event will be held at the end of the project in each of the three geographical locations. These events will engage 50 key stakeholders in each location, and will focus on research, practice and policy development for displaced and refugee populations.
As noted in the Case for Support, there is a dearth of informed evidence regarding the activities and contributions of displaced refugee Arab women but an excess of anecdote and myth. Thus, the proposed project will have considerable value in generating longitudinal empirical evidence, developing theoretical frameworks regarding entrepreneurship, empowerment, gender and poverty alleviation in a context of displacement whilst generating impact through informed models of policy and practice. To this extent the objective of the non-academic impact is to respond to the UNV's (2013) call for supporting refugees in the Middle East region through a bottom-up understanding of the landscape that they must navigate.
 
The most important primary beneficiaries of the project are the desperately poor Iraqi, Palestinian and Syrian refugee women and their families displaced to Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. Through an enhanced understanding of their entrepreneuring to alleviate their poverty, and the opportunities and challenges that this presents, we will gain a deeper, richer and more relevant understanding of how national and international agencies can more effectively support these vulnerable communities. Thus, the national and international agencies that support the Arab refugee women in Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey (referred to within this application as stakeholders) and their donors are also very important beneficiaries of the project.
 
Clearly, there are academic beneficiaries too. The absence of existing research focusing specifically on Arab refugee women and their displaced entrepreneuring in Arab host nations, makes this project an internationally valuable contribution to knowledge on poverty alleviation and related policy and theory. The objectives of the academic impact therefore, are to foster new academic engagement with refugee agencies to support engaged scholarship, encourage new international research relationships, and to engage researchers in the emerging theoretical and empirical advances arising from the proposed project. Through the poverty alleviation, entrepreneurship, refugee women, displacement, and development dimensions of the project, we will contribute to knowledge within the disciplines of entrepreneurship, gender, and development, as well the emerging and growing scholarship that intersects the three disciplines. 
 
To ensure that the project beneficiaries have the opportunity to benefit from the project, in each of the project's three locations, a stakeholder engagement focus group will occur at the beginning of September 2016 involving 20 non-academic key stakeholders, including potential research users, and comprising non-governmental organisations (NGOs), governmental organisations, international agencies, charities and social enterprises, and private sector organisations engaged in supporting Arab women refugees. The aim being to engage them in the design of the ensuing project to enhance their ownership of the process and the outcomes. This will be achieved through the adoption of a Participatory Learning and Action (PLA) methodology. These stakeholders will be invited for a further focus group where the results from the first phase of the data collection with the Arab refugee women will be shared, and further contributions from the stakeholders will be sought for designing and developing Phase Two of the data collection with the Arab refugee women. The stakeholders will be invited for the third time towards the end of the proposed project for the dissemination events. Here, the engaged stakeholders will have the opportunity to network with other invited stakeholders, to deliberate the overall results of the project to determine policy and action pathways for supporting the Arab refugee women more effectively and efficiently. Please see Pathways to Impact document for further elaboration.
 
Primary theme: 
Grant Reference: 
ES/N014405/1
Project Status: 
Active
Grant Category: 
Research Grant
Fund Start Date: 
July 1st, 2016
Fund End Date: 
June 30th, 2019
Fund Currency Code: 
GBP
Fund Value: 
349,170
development
business
economic development
entrepreneurship
gender
safety-and-security
governance
Region: