Call for Evidence: Market Systems-based Intervention in Protracted Crises: What Works for Sustainable Impact?

May 7, 2018 | by Ben Taylor, Ekram El-Huni, and Alexandre Gachoud

A Call for Evidence

markets.jpgThe humanitarian field is used to dealing with imperatives. Fixing problems because the consequences of not fixing them are seen to be too grave. But the ways in which the problems have been ‘fixed’ has not addressed the root causes of the crises and, moreover, has been done in a way that perpetuates or exacerbates the problems themselves. Many crises are not resolved quickly, so whatever the ‘fix’ is, those providing it have been locked into delivering it for years and sometimes decades.

Displacement, within and between countries, is one area where crises are commonly protracted. In Jijiga, Ethiopia, many of the refugees from the Somali crisis in the mid-1990s have been living in camp for almost three decades. Indeed, globally, the duration of displacement has been increasing and in 2015, the average period of displacement had risen to 26 years.

Recent work attempting to intervene through markets in crisis situations has attempted at least to ensure that problems are not worsened and significant work in the development field over the last two decades has gone further in attempts to leverage market systems to facilitate sustainable and large-scale impact.

Recognising that many crises, and particularly those related to refugees, are becoming increasingly protracted, many funders, implementers, and advisors have begun to set large-scale sustainable change as the objective of intervening in these areas. However, when compared with a development context, protracted displacement crises present several unique challenges.

  • Formal camps would not exist without an aid actor and so change can only ever be sustainable within an aid context. Further, uncoordinated efforts can often lead to significant distortions which make market development difficult.
  • Policy restrictions often put barriers on the degree to which refugees can engage with markets.
  • An influx of refugees can, in some cases, create tensions with host communities, which limits the potential for market development and affects local economies.
  • In other cases, refugees or IDPs remain in a very unstable context which significantly impedes their economic status and the proper functioning of markets.
  • Refugees often have a uniquely low resource base, with few productive assets apart from their labour, which limits their potential to engage in markets.

In this context, we’re very keen to learn from examples of protracted crisis contexts where interventions have helped to contribute to large-scale sustainable change. Specifically:

  • Where have interventions made some contribution toward sustainable impact for refugees and host communities?
  • What were the key success factors?
  • At what point in the crisis did the intervention occur? Do you think the timing affected the success of the intervention?
  • What were the external conditions (major conflict, policy changes etc) and did these change over time?
  • How did you deal with the problem of uncoordinated aid and other interventions that distort markets?
  • Which development objectives have market systems-based programming been more successful in achieving?
    • Increased income for refugees or host communities?
    • Improved educational outcomes?
    • Increased food security?
    • Reduced incidence of conflict?
    • Improved health outcomes?

Our intention is to curate and synthesise these lessons to try to identify key success criteria so that the aid community might be able to implement better market system based interventions to achieve more sustainable impact. Depending on the volume and quality of submissions, we hope to be able to develop some resources which might be in the form of webinar, workshop sessions, or written synthesis cases.

Please submit your contributions by filling out a simple form by June 1, 2018. If you have any questions about the form or the community, please email

Ben Taylor

Ben is Director of the Springfield Centre and an expert in systemic approaches to development. He has contributed to innovation and codification of new concepts in private sector development included most recently the Making Markets Work for the Poor approach. His specialisms include applying market systems development approaches to new contexts such as education, water, post-conflict states, resilience and fragility, and basic services. Ben is based in Durham, UK.

Ekram El-Huni

Ekram is a polyglot, cross-disciplinary professional, with a multi-national, multi-cultural and multi-lingual background as a Libyan American raised in Europe, and having worked in several Arab and African countries for 16 years. The bulk of Ekram's experience has been with the UN World Food Programme (WFP) for nearly 15 years although her roles have been diverse across the organization. Since April 2017, Ekram has taken on the role of Regional Programme Policy Advisor, first in Emergencies covering the Syria response and then focused on Cash-Based Transfers (CBT) based in Cairo, Egypt.

Alexandre Gachoud

Alexandre is a Food Security and Livelihood specialist with 8 years of experience in humanitarian emergencies and recovery contexts. Five years of experience conducting market analyses in pre-crisis, first phase response, scale up and recovery contexts. Alexandre is currently working with UNHCR’s cash team, and was formerly a Global FSL Advisor at Oxfam, where his role was to promote market analysis and market-based programming to ensure that FSL interventions in emergency, fragile and recovery contexts are informed by solid market analysis.

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