Refugee Youth Volunteering Uganda (RYVU) is an international research project focused on:

● exploring the kinds of voluntary labour practiced by young refugees in Uganda

● investigating how these impact on their skills, employability and the inequalities they experience

RYVU aims to:

● develop new understandings of volunteering that reflect the experiences of refugees in Uganda

● build knowledge of the relationships between volunteering and the livelihoods of displaced young people

● develop ideas, resources and activities for organisations working with young refugees as well as wider volunteer engaging organisations


Forced displacement has become one of the most intractable challenges of the 21st century, with 70.8 million people currently displaced worldwide – a number which is predicted to rise.

1.2 million of these refugees are currently seeking refuge in Uganda, fleeing from conflicts in the Central African countries of South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, and Somalia. The majority of these refugees are children. Building the skills and employability of the many young people caught up in this crisis is critical not only to their own future prospects, but to the long-term stability of their host country and region.

However, economic and other inequalities can exclude young refugees from formal schooling and wider opportunities for skills acquisition, and they can “fall through the cracks” of humanitarian programming. Many, though, are engaged in volunteering, a practice increasingly identified with building skills and enhancing employability.

However, we know very little about young refugees’ volunteering activities and its impacts. Volunteering is often viewed through the lens of ‘international’ volunteers, or through ideas of volunteering based on experiences in North America and Western Europe. At the same time, refugees are often framed in terms of their needs and/or the demands they make, rather than their capacities and contributions.

This research will develop a new conceptual framework and produce a body of data and evidence for analysing whether volunteering by displaced youths in Uganda helps their skills acquisition and employability and reduces the inequalities they experience.


RYVU is an interdisciplinary project (Youth Studies, Volunteering Studies, Refugee Studies, Urban Studies and Development Studies) bringing together a team of UK and Ugandan researchers, Ugandan and international civil society organisations and young refugees themselves. The aims, objectives, methodology and impact plans have been co-designed with local partners and stakeholders in Uganda, with input from leading global humanitarian and development actors. For more information visit the Team pages.

RYVU uses a mixed method approach, combining quantitative survey work with participatory mapping, participatory photography, life history and qualitative interviews. The research is supported by a global advisory board, as well as citizen advisory boards comprising young refugees in each of the areas that RYVU will be working.

Work will take place through three main phases: 

Phase 1: field visits, stakeholder engagements and key informant interviews will establish an initial typology of forms and understandings of volunteering to inform the development of the quantitative survey and establish an initial typology of forms and understanding of volunteering in Uganda.

Phase 2:  design, develop, pilot and launch a large quantitative survey of young refugees involved in volunteering. Preliminary analysis of the data arising from this survey will provide a meta picture of the scale of volunteering that is taking place across Uganda.

Phase 3: participatory mapping, participatory photography, one to one semi-structured interviews, life history interviews, and stakeholder interviews exploring where and how young refugees volunteer, why, and how it impacts on their skills acquisition and employability. These will generate detailed micro level data on the spatialities and social relations of volunteering, data on volunteering’s impacts on employability over time and enable deeper analysis of how individual experiences of volunteering vary between contexts (settlement and urban).

Sharing our findings

RYVU’s findings will be shared through resources and outputs that will be free to access on the website including:

  • Academic journal articles and conference presentations
  • Project updates and working notes exploring emerging findings and questions
  • Policy briefings on key issues
  • Policy and practice workshops in Uganda and internationally to share and explore findings
  • Pop-up labs in refugee settlements to enable young refugees to explore and shape the findings
  • A photographic exhibition of images captured by young refugees
  • A volunteering for skills acquisition and employability toolkit

What impact will this have?

Anticipated impacts: we anticipate the research will enhance approaches to tackling inequality, skills acquisition and employability for your displaced people in Uganda by:

  • Produce accessible knowledge and evidence to inform and shape policy making that affects the livelihoods of young refugees in Uganda
  • Provide knowledge and resources for volunteer and refugee engaging organisations to design, develop and improve approaches to volunteering to maximise impacts on skills acquisition, employability and inequality
  • Raise policy maker, civil society, business and public understanding in Uganda and beyond, about different forms of volunteering and their capacities to enhance skills acquisition and employability and address inequality
  • Develop indicators and build stakeholder capacity to evaluate and assess the impact of volunteering on skills acquisition, employability and tackling inequality within Uganda, as well as in other developing countries hosting young displaced people.
  • Build the capacity of local stakeholders to listen to the voices of young displaced people using approaches that recognise the inequalities and challenges they face, and develop strategies enabling young people’s voices to shape and influence policy and practice.
  • Foster dialogue and co-ordination between volunteer and refugee engaging organisations in Uganda to develop more integrated approaches to volunteering for refugees.
  • Produce knowledge which supports the achievement of the SDGS in Uganda and beyond, particularly SDGs 3, 4 and 10.

The research aims, objectives, methodology and impact plans will be co-designed with local partners and stakeholders in Uganda, with input from leading global humanitarian and development actors, ensuring our outputs are oriented to need and likely to have high impact. An Alignment, Interest and Influence Matrix (AIIM) will be developed during initial stakeholder workshops, mapping degrees of interest in the programme, alignment with objectives and influence in policy making and practice.

An Outcome Mapping (OM) process will then confirm our final communications and impact approach. Two sets of indicators will be developed to monitor impact, one for individual young refugees and the other for stakeholder organisations, based on the Theory of Change approach. Our overall approach will be guided by an advisory board of leading Ugandan and global authorities and 5 citizen advisory boards of young displaced refugee volunteers.

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