Supporting Refugees to Find Wage Labor or Self-Employment in Ecuador


The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Ecuador supports over 130,000 refugees and asylum seekers, the majority of whom are from Colombia. Many of these refugees arrived in Ecuador years ago, but new refugees and asylum seekers continue to arrive each year. UNHCR’s expertise is providing refugees with health, housing, legal, and psychosocial support, but as the protracted situation continues, economic development is becoming even more of a priority for UNHCR. The government of Ecuador has been receptive to including refugees in social protection programs, but the refugee population in Ecuador faces challenges entering the labor market and establishing sustainable livelihoods due to lack of information.


Trickle Up is assisting UNHCR in Ecuador in integrating the Graduation Approach into their existing projects for refugees. We seek to create a self-sustaining safety net and help refugee and Ecuadorian families lift themselves out of extreme poverty by equipping each household with the skills and means to generate a sustainable income and linking them to existing services.


UNHCR and Trickle Up launched a Graduation Approach pilot in Santo Domingo in 2015. Santo Domingo is a town of 270,000 people with a thriving market economy just three hours from Quito. Since then, UNHCR Ecuador has adopted the Graduation Approach as their livelihood strategy across the country. Currently, we are working at six sites with three types of clients: vulnerable refugee households that are new to UNHCR’s programs, existing refugee clients, and Ecuadorians who are living in extreme poverty. We help participants find wage-earning jobs or start their own businesses. They work one-on-one with a coach to decide their income-generating activity, receive training to prepare them for their work, and develop a CV if relevant. Their coaches serve as their guide throughout the project, monitoring their progress, keeping them motivated, and linking them to other services.


Project Objectives


  • Build the capacity of UNHCR to integrate the Graduation Approach into its existing interventions with refugees in Ecuador
  • Equip refugee households with the skills and means to engage in income generation, participate in a self-sustaining safety net, and improve their lives.

Project Data


The Graduation Approach was piloted with 200 participants in Santo Domingo. To date, the scaled Graduation Approach has served 530 new participants nationally.

  • 81% of participant families in Ecuador report eating two to three meals a day, as compared to 17% at the beginning of the project, just eight months prior.
  • UNHCR and partner staff from HIAS, World Food Programme, Asylum Access, and training organizations were trained in each national location. Lessons learned from the Graduation pilot in Santo Domingo have been leveraged to develop the national strategy and have been incorporated into program implementation in each location.


Data from the project will be provided as it becomes available.

Pichincha‐Santo Domingo, Guayaquil‐Cuenca, Lago Agrio, Esmereldas and San Lorenzo, Ibarra‐Tulcan, and Loja, Ecuador

Start Date: 01/2015
End Date: Ongoing


Number of Participants: 1,500


Vulnerable Populations

Women, Urban, Refugees, Extreme Poor

Project Components

Stipend for Consumption Support, Asset Transfer, Coaching, Savings/Self-Help Groups (savings and credit services), Technical Livelihood Skills Training, Financial Literacy and Capability Training, Access to Formal Financial Services (savings and credit), Wage Employment, Links to Job Opportunities, Legal Services, Psychosocial Support, Healthcare Services

Our Partners

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is mandated by the United Nations to lead and coordinate international action for the worldwide protection of refugees and the resolution of refugee problems. UNHCR’s primary purpose is to safeguard the rights and well-being of refugees. Trickle Up and UNHCR have been partners since 2013.

Other Project Partners

HIAS, Banco de Pichincha, COMAM, Jesuit Refugee Service, CRISFE, FUDELA, Asylum Access