Masaruna: Co-creating a digital future with young Syrian refugees

Mercy Corps is reimagining a proven poverty relief model for a digital world so young refugees can unlock their potential in Jordan and beyond.

Jordan has long been a place of refuge for people fleeing conflict in surrounding countries, including Syria, Iraq, Palestine, Yemen, Sudan, and Somalia. Today, Syrian refugees alone make up 10% of Jordan’s population – and over half of them are under 18.

As they come of age, these youth face the daunting task of supporting their families. And though Jordan’s economy shows great promise for a tech-led expansion, the strain of decades as a host country and demand for jobs that outpaces supply have hindered the possibility for growth. In this highly competitive market, young refugees don’t have the skills, clout and connections to establish sustainable livelihoods.

Humanitarian organizations and the government’s social safety net do offer support, but it is short-term and piecemeal. And the complex interplay of challenges that make it tough for young refugees to keep jobs once they have them – from toxic stress to gender-based violence – aren’t being addressed at their root.

This all adds up to half a million young Syrian refugees teetering on a tipping point. If they tip in the wrong direction, these youth will lose out on their enormous potential – as will the entire region.

Young refugees have the power to shape Jordan’s future – but only if they have a chance to shape their own.

That’s why Mercy Corps created Masaruna: a refugee-led adaptation of the tried-and-true poverty graduation model that integrates groundbreaking innovations in technology, mental health, and gender-transformative strategies. Masaruna surrounds young refugees with 360 degrees of support so they can move from long-term assistance to lifelong autonomy.

We start with a human-centered design process, asking refugees ages 18 - 24 to tell us what they want most. Their input shapes two years of programming for 4,000 youth.

Dedicated coaches guide youth and their families in mapping a path forward, leveraging digital technology to offer financial support and planning, skill assessments, and tech-focused job training. Coaches also weave in tools for working through toxic stress and address gender-specific challenges at the household level.

And to ensure refugees’ paths lead to stable employment, we work with local and global companies to create more jobs in Jordan – focusing on gig economy and tech-enabled opportunities.

Through Masaruna, youth will access the skills, connections and resources to take the future into their own hands – bringing their families along for a total impact of 11,000 refugees who will become a powerful engine of prosperity in Jordan. We’ll work with the Jordanian government to scale Masaruna through their social safety net, and share our learnings across the humanitarian sector.

Our team

Mercy Corps is uniquely positioned to lead an ambitious, innovative solution like Masaruna – but we can’t do it alone. Our partners are critical to bringing this program to life.

  • The BOMA Project will bring deep graduation model expertise so we can make sure we’re bringing the best of the original approach to bear.
  • To take Masaruna beyond Jordan, our partners at the Refugee Self-Reliance Initiative, including Women’s Refugee Commission and RefugePoint, will conduct academic research with leading researchers from Yale and Washington University to evaluate the adaptations we’ve made to the graduation model to determine overall impact and cost-efficiency, as well as identifying where to invest the most resources to maximize impact. We’ll share the evidence we generate with a global network of practitioners and policymakers so they can apply it to future strategies for refugee support.
  • Skilllab uses cutting-edge AI to help young refugees identify transferable skills and match their skills with available jobs.

Together with this incredible team, we believe we can revolutionize self-reliance programming for refugees everywhere.

The evidence behind our approach

In study after study across more than 33 countries around the world, the graduation model has proven both cost-effective and reliable in creating long-lasting change for over 14 million people.

And though our adaptation marks a groundbreaking innovation that will test this model in the Middle East more widely than ever before, each of the components we’ve woven in have their own compelling base of evidence.

A Yale study tracking cortisol levels in hair samples from young refugees in our Nubader programming demonstrated that our approach to psychosocial support is highly effective in both reducing toxic stress and keeping it low over time.

Another study indicates that the psychosocial support we’ll deliver through Masaruna has impacts far beyond individual youth. Including young refugees’ families in the coaching process has successfully increased the sustainability of livelihoods built through the program, and improved gender-based attitudes towards women and girls household-wide.

Research also supports our focus on technology. The digitally-delivered aspects of our program have been shown to increase financial inclusion in Jordan (for example, connecting families with mobile wallets) and digital youth platforms like the ones we hope to model after Africa’s Shujaaz have successfully driven behavior change at both the individual and household levels.

Our market systems development approach has been successful in contexts worldwide, including in Jordan. Mercy Corps’ Youth Impact Labs has incorporated an incubation model targeted at growing the Jordanian gig economy in Amman that shows tremendous promise for expansion to surrounding cities.

Building on learnings in Jordan and beyond, we collaborated with The Refugee Self-Reliance Initiative to develop the Self-Reliance Index – the first global tool to measure refugee self-reliance. The index revealed significant gaps in existing refugee programming; we created Masaruna to fill them.

Learn more about Masaruna

In this deeply challenging moment, we believe that Masaruna is the right solution at the right time – optimizing the traditionally hands-on, in-person graduation model for an increasingly digital, post-COVID world so refugees can build autonomy in the midst of yet another crisis. Please reach out to our team to learn more.

Mary Stata
Managing Director, Foundation Partnerships

Kari Diener
Country Director, Jordan