The history of the RLO-to-RLO Fund

Asia Pacific Network of Refugees (APNOR) is refugee lead and seeks to transform the aid sector by example, by directly funding refugee-led organisations in the region and providing capacity-strengthening support as requested by refugees. Where possible we prioritize women leaders, and the development of women’s potential to lead. To support in achieving this vision, APNOR, along with key partners, created the Refugee Leadership Alliance. The Refugee Leadership Alliance (RLA) is a cross-sectoral regional initiative to increase networks, funds, and influence for refugee leaders and refugee-led organisations in the region. The Alliance was formalized in June 2021. The RLA is hosted by APNOR, and APNOR also convenes the RLA.

The Refugee Leadership Alliance is embarking on a bold initiative to lead a process to increase influence, networks, and funds for potential and current leaders with direct experience of forced migration in the Asia Pacific region. We believe that including people with direct lived experience in decisions results in more effective policies and programs[1].

The RLA has two complimentary initiatives, one being a capacity-building program for refugee-led organisations/initiatives (RLO/Is) and leaders, while the other is a pooled fund. It is this fund that we will focus on here. The pooled fund will provide core funding directly to RLO/I’s working in first destination countries, given how difficult it is to access funding networks as a refugee in the region, compared to in a country like Australia or New Zealand. However, we actively support domestic initiatives, particularly those that stand in meaningful solidarity with people who lack permanent protection.

Why is such a fund needed? Well, most refugees in the Asia Pacific live with few rights, and each year only 0.4% find permanent protection. We are losing generations of human potential. Refugees are also frontline responders to crises in their communities. This is almost always unpaid, and means workers still need to find income; care for their immediate family and deal with practical issues like a lack of registration or language skills. Furthermore, wherever there are refugees, there are people within those communities with the knowledge and motivation to find solutions to the diverse challenges they face.

However, even though RLO/I’s provide such key services and support for their communities, and have the motivation to do this important work, they constantly struggle to access funding, especially in the Asia-Pacific. While refugees are also often not included in decision-making processes, despite widespread acknowledgment that meaningful participation of people receiving aid is the path to best outcomes. We also note that, historically, refugees have been involved in designing significant frameworks including the early days of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Issues such as the lack of funding for RLO/I’s need to change.

So what can we do to enable this change?

The RLA and APNOR are inspired by the work of the Refugee Consortium, and the one-off meaningful participation campaign set up 6 months into the global COVID pandemic in 2020, to support refugee lead organisations working to protect their communities. We take heart from initiatives like the $10 million Larsen Lam prize which funded the Asylum Access/OSF lead Consortium and mobilised funds to refugee lead organisations in Europe, Africa, and Asia.

With this in mind, the RLA decided to pilot a pooled fund for RLO/I’s in the Asia-Pacific region. This pooled fund will provide untied/core funding to organisations, and funding will be commensurate to the size of the RLO. For instance, an organisation that has never been funded will start with a smaller grant with a view to working toward a paid position; a larger organisation (approximately AU$1M plus) may be invited to on-grant to smaller groups or use funds for core funding.

It will balance an RLO/I-centric approach with the relevant reporting and record-keeping obligations that are present. Although this is a pilot, the aspiration is to build an ongoing source of funds, with the goal of continuing to support partners on an ongoing basis while bringing on others.

The benefits of such a fund are that it:

  • Creates new untied funding opportunities for RLO/I’s in the region without access to funding networks
  • Minimises fundraising requirements for RLO/I’s that don’t yet have access to fundraising resources
  • Contributes to the momentum behind the global movement to recognise refugee leadership
  • Fosters conditions for meaningful inclusion, in line with UNHCR aspirations
  • Streamlines the donation process: donors will receive one receipt for their donation while contributing to a multi-country pool.

What we have done so far?

With the above ambition in mind, the RLA has created a participatory process to gather the information needed to create the grant tools (such as the grant guidelines, application and reporting templates, and assessment criteria). We have now launched this fund and will continue to learn about how to structure these processes, to ensure that they are contextualised and RLO/I-centric. For more information about how to apply for the fund head to our website.

Stayed tuned for the next blog post which will explore in more detail the processes that we went through to get to the point of being able to launch the fund.

[1] Please note that we refer to refugees here, but generally mean people forced to migrate against their will, and seek to include people who are without formal UNHCR and/or State recognition.


Asia Pacific Network of Refugees (APNOR) is the only region-wide refugee-led network of refugee-led initiatives in the Asia Pacific region that is working with and for refugees. APNOR was established in 2018, on the recommendation of Asia Pacific Summit of Refugees (APSOR).

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