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  • Writer's pictureStina Bäcker

Funding the Frontline: Data insights on a fairer funding future for Refugee-Led Organisations

New research by Taking The Lead network shows that despite providing critical support and services to refugees worldwide Refugee-Led Organisations (RLOs) are critically underfunded, with 1 in 2 operating with no funding at all.

In October 2023 Taking The Lead collaborated with Data4Change to collect primary data about RLOs' experience of funding. The survey received 70 responses representing 53 RLOs in 10 countries (Kenya, Lebanon, Chad, Ecuador, Uganda, Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, United Kingdom, and Zimbabwe).

The survey report reveals a critical need for a fairer and more accessible funding model for RLOs. The results were presented at a high-level stakeholder meeting of RLO funders and intermediaries in Berlin in November 2023, hosted by Open Society Foundations, and were later shared at the Global Refugee Forum 2023 in Geneva.

Download the survey

Funding the Frontline
Download PDF • 1.35MB

Survey insights

  • Only 49% of RLOs received any funding in 2023

  • The average annual RLO budget is $10,000USD

  • On average, each RLO supports 4,590 refugees

  • RLOs have an average of 5 paid staff members and 18 unpaid staff and volunteers

Committed, but critically underfunded

RLOs heavily rely on unpaid long-term staff and volunteers to continue their mission as they lack resources and funding for paid staff. For every paid staff member there are an average of 3 unpaid team members boosting RLO impact.

“In many cases, funders may assume that we RLOs lack organizational capacity or are not equipped to manage resources effectively. For instance, some may question our ability to implement projects at a large scale due to limited resources. This misconception often overlooks the resilience, local expertise, and deep community connections that RLOs bring to the table. It’s crucial to recognize that RLOs often have unique strengths that can lead to impactful outcomes in their communities.” Survey respondent

Funding landscape

The funding process for RLOs has challenges at all points along the way. Most RLOs we surveyed know that funding exists but are unsure of how to find it. When they do find funding opportunities to apply for they have varied success. 

Challenges and barriers

RLOs face a lot of barriers to applying for and securing funding due to a host of barriers, one being where to find suitable funding in the first place. 

When RLOs do find suitable funding opportunities, the next wave of challenges hits. For the 33 RLOs in our survey who have applied for funding in the past, these are the biggest challenges they encountered.

Bureaucratic barriers

Many RLOs are unable to register as an official organisation in their host country. Only 22 out of the 53 RLOs in our survey have been able to register as an organisation. Many of the 31 unregistered RLOs are not legally permitted to register. But for those who are the barriers are insurmountable.

“Where we work it’s hard to get funds as an RLO even if you are registered legally. In order to be legally registered, at least 90% of your board members must be nationals, not displaced people, so your mission must totally change.” Survey respondent

It wasn’t easy for the 22 RLOs who were able to register officially. Stereotypes and negative narratives along with bureaucratic obstacles meant it took a long time for many.

“It was not easy to register our organization. We went through many challenges. The host community was against us registering. They said, refugees can’t do this in our country. We needed some documents from the government to register, but getting them was not easy.” Survey respondent

Intermediaries and RLOs

For most funded RLOs, subgrants via intermediaries are the primary source of income. However, indirect funding comes with its own set of challenges. RLOs in our network want to secure more diverse and direct funding. Relationships with intermediaries are complex and they often vary in nature, from difficult to excellent. But RLOs unanimously recognise that in the current funding ecosystem, intermediaries are crucial when it comes to receiving funding.

Perceptions and realities 

All RLOs in the survey were asked about how trust, stereotypes, and visibility influence the funding landscape. These were the results.

What RLOs want to ask funders

RLOs rarely get to engage with funders directly and this is part of the problem. To ensure that survey respondents were able to present their questions directly to funders we collected their questions as part of the survey. Here are some of the questions they asked (read the report for full list). 

  • Why is all funding indirect rather than directly to RLOs?

  • How do you decide which RLOs to fund?

  • If I am able to manage my family, my RLO and the community in which I am

  • We’re the frontline actors in the humanitarian response, why don’t you trust us?

  • If your funds are motivated by the needs of our community, why can’t you fund RLOs directly since we know our communities best?

  • Why is the eligibility criteria so restrictive?

  • Why don’t you send direct ​​representatives to follow up on the work of RLOs to see first-hand the real impact that these organisations are having on the ground?

  • Why are funding proposals only in English?

Funding the Frontline
Download PDF • 1.35MB


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