Connecting employers and refugee learnersKiziba Refugee Camp, Rwanda
KeplerAuthor: Ashley Haywood
Kepler, in partnership with Southern New Hampshire University, has run a blended learning university program in Kiziba refugee camp since 2015. The program supports students in earning U.S. accredited Bachelor’s degrees and accessing pathways to meaningful employment. Career readiness and the creation of employment networks are built into all stages of the curriculum and program design. In 2016, Kepler launched a mandatory three-month internship program for all students in Kiziba. The internships can be remote or in person and either inside or outside of the refugee camp. Students must pass an internship readiness assessment to ensure they have the necessary professional and technical competencies to be a successful intern. Kepler staff support in identifying opportunities, matching students, and communicating with employer supervisors throughout the placement. Financial and logistical support (eg. Housing, transportation, etc) are provided based on individual needs. After completing the internship, students either return to campus or can be hired as a full time employee and complete their degrees remotely.
Kepler and SNHU are always looking for new employer partners and unique opportunities for internships. One example of this is when Leaf Global Fintech, an innovative financial services company, approached Kepler seeking to learn more about the refugee context in Rwanda. Kepler supported Leaf in running focus groups with refugees and suggested that the company hire interns to collect more market research in the Kiziba camp. Leaf created a short job description, Kepler shared this with eligible students, and then presented a short list of candidates. Leaf then selected two interns through a remote interview process. During the internship, Leaf provided a small stipend while Kepler provided the interns with access to the necessary technology and internet to complete the research and communicate effectively with their supervisors.
100% of SNHU/Kepler graduates from the Kiziba program complete an internship prior to graduating. This valuable work experience allows students to build their resumes, expand their network, and test their skills in a professional environment. Many students have spent their entire lives in the refugee camp setting, so the internship is also a key bridge to people, contexts, and experiences outside of the camp. Kepler/SNHU have a 90% employment rate within six months of graduating for their campus in Kigali, which has been in operation since 2013. This is also their goal for the Kiziba program, and the internship model is a key driver of that outcome. Employer partners, such as Leaf Global Fintech, often chose to hire their interns as full time employees.
National policies regulating access to refugee camps and refugee employment are challenges for internship programming in many contexts. These challenges can, however, be seen as opportunities. In the case of Leaf Global Fintech, their inability to fully access refugee communities created a need for interns who lived within those contexts. For the interns, the inability to meet in person with their supervisors facilitated their learning of new technology tools and strategies for remote professional communication. Kepler/SNHU has learned that it’s important to outline limitations clearly to employers from the start, so that expectations are realistic. Checking in with employers and interns throughout the program also helps to ensure creative solutions are identified and issues quickly resolved.
Education programming often shies away from direct connections to employers and employment markets. Identifying partners and building networks can feel like a monumental task, outside of the expertise of educators. However, Kepler/SNHU have learned that if you see every interaction as a potential partnership, doors can open in surprising ways. If students are equipped with the skillsets employers need, internships provide immense value add to both interns and employers. As more organizations and businesses look to enter the humanitarian space, our refugee students also possess unique knowledge and access that can be an incredible professional asset.