Harmonizing lives: ILO promotes social cohesion among refugees and hosts in Uganda

In Uganda's Nakivale Refugee Settlement, the ILO's PROSPECTS program is transforming employment centers into vibrant Youth Centers, fostering social cohesion among refugees and host communities. Through skills development, arts, and community engagement, this initiative is promoting peaceful coexistence and economic empowerment, paving the way for a harmonious future.

Article | 15 September 2023
The Refugee Global Talent dance group youth members at the Nakivale Refugee Settlement, Isingiro District, Southwest Uganda showcase their talents with their fellow artists. Together with other entertainers, the youth group work together to advocate the promotion of social cohesion and Peaceful through art ©ILO

As the refugee situation becomes protracted, there is growing international interest and concern about the impact that these displacement situations have on social cohesion. Stretched local resources and perceived competition among communities, often become the point of conflicts in such situations.

In Uganda, the ILO, UN's agency for the world of work, is thus implementing a series of social cohesion initiatives through PROSPECTS programme.

On the Southwest of Uganda in the Nakivale Refugee Settlement in Isingiro District, refugees from the Republic of Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Republic of Rwanda live together with the Ugandans. The ILO collaborates closely with the host and refugee communities in this settlement to strengthen skill development, access to employment and social protection.

Employment Centers turned into Cultural Centers

Through PROSPECTS, the ILO has established employment service centers in Nakivale, supporting youth to prepare for accessing jobs and market relevant skills. The ILO partnered with UNLEASHED, a refugee youth led organization in Nakivale and Refugee Global Talent to upgrade these centers to “Youth Centers” as a part of a social cohesion initiative.

At these Centers, refugees and host community youth from all walks of life converged to socialize, rehearse, and have fun while expressing their talents through music, dance, and drama. Their frequent engagements at the centers have become transformative while promoting social cohesion and peaceful coexistence among refugees and the Ugandan Nationals.

On becoming popular, the Youth Centers, introduced ILO’s toolkit on Social Cohesion. Victor Mafigi Turatsinze, founder of UNLEASHED and social cohesion master trainer mentioned, “The partnership with Refugee Global Talent was the most successful in disseminating social cohesion training in Nakivale. The youth easily bonded over what they enjoy doing most and thus learned more than they could from the classroom training sessions.”

“The youth center has kept my dream of becoming a prominent singer and fashion designer alive. Through these gatherings I have learnt a lot and will continue to learn. Before, I used to isolate myself due to the language barrier, but I am now able to speak three languages,” said Lesly Ndikumana, a 17-year-old refugee from Burundi.

For 27-year-old Zeal Innocent, an aspiring Ugandan musician and songwriter, attending social cohesion classes helped him overcome the fear he had of interacting with refugees and can now freely collaborate with them on music, photography, and videography projects.
Social cohesion trainings by UNLEASHED and Refugee Global Talent reached 224 artists from eleven groups including – musicians, graphic artists, models and dancers from Nakivale.

Bahati Buhendwa, a 23-year-old Congolese refugee and founder of Refugee Global Talent underwent the training and he revealed; “I was lucky to get selected as one of the community leaders to attend the social cohesion training. The training was a true revelation as I was able to learn about the causes of conflict in society, how to mitigate them and in case they happen, how to overcome them. And as an aspiring musician, I decided to use entertainment to impact society and promote social cohesion.

Social cohesion through skills development

Technical, Vocational Education and Training (TVET) and business development training institutions are playing a critical role in developing and implementing training packages on social cohesion and peaceful co-existence.
The social cohesion programme equips apprenticeship training instructors with mental health and psycho-social support skills. It helps them to effectively engage with the refugees and host community members coming from diverse background and underline the importance of inclusive and safe workplaces.

Community empowerment through ILO Social Cohesion toolkit

By simultaneously enhancing economic prospects, inter-group contact, and by addressing grievances of the most vulnerable communities, the ILO’s Skills and Employability Branch together with the Coordination Unit for Peace and Resilience (CSPR) and under the Partnership for improving prospects for host communities and forcibly displaced persons (PROSPECTS), developed and piloted a new guide to foster the peace responsive role TVET plays in fragile settings, known as the ILO tool Kit.

Local refugee led youth organizations adapted ILO’s social cohesion training kits and are promoting peaceful co-existence through various initiatives in Nakivale.

Stand for Change in Unity and UNLEASHED rolled out the toolkit in Nakivale Refugee Settlement targeting refugee and host community youth leaders of Congolese, Rwandan, Burundian and Ugandan nationality. Seventy-eight refugees and host communities’ members participated in sports, music dance and drama activities following the roll out toolkit.

UNLEASHED trained football coaches, referees, captains, and committee members of the Nakivale Football Association using the ILO Toolkit. In response, a football tournament was organized in 2022 to bring together different communities and promote peace. The football tournament involved eighteen teams (16 male teams and two female teams) registered with Nakivale Football Association and held 17 football matches graced by the Office of Prime Minister (OPM) and 2,500 community members.

UNLEASHED together with Refugee Global Talent organized a Refugee Art Festival in 2019. It had the theme; “Say No to Xenophobia” and the festival shone a light to the increasing xenophobic attacks in South Africa. The festival underlined the need for timely addressal of these issues within the community and used art and entertainment to sensitize the Nakivale community.

Social cohesion to strengthen businesses.

Stand for Change employed a Village Saving and Loan Association (VLSA) approach and formed 10 VSLA groups which have generated a portfolio of UGX 26 million (US$7,000) in a period of one year. VSLA members have access to credit for their small businesses and appreciate one another.

Even through the Refugee Art Festival, fifty-six artists from various fields got a chance to perform and received awards in front of an audience of over 2,000 people, which also presented an economic opportunity to local businesses.

Through the fusion of skill development, creative expression, and community engagement, the initiative has cultivated a vibrant atmosphere of social cohesion and understanding among refugees and their Ugandan hosts. By harnessing the power of shared passions, this initiative is not only fostering peaceful coexistence but also paving the way for a more harmonious and prosperous future for all involved.


Partnership for improving prospects for forcibly displaced persons and host communities (PROSPECTS) is a unique four-year partnership funded by the Government of the Netherlands that brings together the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the International Labour Organization (ILO), UNHCR, UNICEF and the World Bank to facilitate transitioning from humanitarian to development centered assistance, which can address long-term challenges and needs of the host and refugee communities and accelerate sustainable solutions to build a more inclusive, cohesive, and productive society.

(The article was originally contributed by By Agatha Nasikiwa Berya of ILO for UN Uganda Bulletin July - August 2023 edition. Access the bulletin here)