Benchmarking a livelihood support program for refugees in Nairobi

Last registered on June 23, 2021


Trial Information

General Information

Benchmarking a livelihood support program for refugees in Nairobi
Initial registration date
March 31, 2020

Initial registration date is when the trial was registered.

It corresponds to when the registration was submitted to the Registry to be reviewed for publication.

First published
March 31, 2020, 3:11 PM EDT

First published corresponds to when the trial was first made public on the Registry after being reviewed.

Last updated
June 23, 2021, 6:49 AM EDT

Last updated is the most recent time when changes to the trial's registration were published.



Primary Investigator

Georgetown University

Other Primary Investigator(s)

PI Affiliation
International Rescue Committee

Additional Trial Information

On going
Start date
End date
Secondary IDs
The increasing movement of refugees crossing geographic and political boundaries to escape conflict and to search for economic opportunity presents a challenge not only to wealthy countries, but also to developing-country hosts. With limited opportunities for wage employment in firms, the best opportunity for economic integration often lies in microenterprise. But little is known about the best way to support the growth of small businesses among such vulnerable populations: as Jayachandran (2020) notes, the empirical literature to date is ambiguous about the returns to relaxing human capital and liquidity constraints for entrepreneurs in general. This academic and policy uncertainty is even more pervasive in relation to at-risk populations such as refugees, with a high population of female entrepreneurs among them.

To address these questions, this study experimentally evaluates the impact of an International Rescue Committee (IRC) BILLY program designed to increase employment likelihood and income of young urban refugees and vulnerable populations in Nairobi. We pursue an individually randomized controlled trial to understand how a package of bundled services compares to an experimental control group and two different treatment arms that receive a combination of services and cash grants of equivalent cost to the IRC. Moreover, the study incorporates an incentive-compatible 'choice' arm that allows us to assess the extent to which refugees have access to information about what mix of training and cash will best allow their business to succeed.

This project will evaluate the impacts of these programs on the employment status, time use, productive assets, earnings and consumption of the target population. In addition, we will examine impacts on a range of mechanisms of impact and alternative measures of well-being, ranging from mental health to perceived self-efficacy and cognitive bandwidth. By evaluating these impacts in parallel for populations of refugees and comparably situated native residents, our study will speak to the generalizability of the existing microentrepreneurship literature onto the crucial problem of putting refugees skills to productive employment.
External Link(s)

Registration Citation

Khan, Sana and Andrew Zeitlin. 2021. "Benchmarking a livelihood support program for refugees in Nairobi." AEA RCT Registry. June 23.
Experimental Details


The study uses an individually randomized, controlled trial to evaluate the impacts of an IRC program that provides microentrepreneurship training to a vulnerable population consisting primarily of refugees in Nairobi, Kenya. Specifically, we evaluate the microentrepreneurship track offered in the IRC's Building Income and Leveraging Livelihoods for Youth (BILLY) program. This program will be 'benchmarked' against the impact of a cash transfer equivalent in costs, and a third active treatment arm unbundles the training to examine responses to a mixture of cash and training -- again, holding total costs constant. Finally, to understand how the target population's own information may be harnessed to learn not only about their willingness to pay for specific alternatives, but also about their idiosyncratic returns to human capital versus liquidity, we implement an incentivized 'choice' exercise.
Intervention Start Date
Intervention End Date

Primary Outcomes

Primary Outcomes (end points)
Primary outcomes examined in this study relate to the development of microenterprises under the BILLY program and its variants. These include employment status and hours worked, business assets and profits, and household consumption. These outcomes will be measured at endline, two years after the enrollment of the first clients, and high-frequency surveys will provide descriptive evidence on the evolving time path of these outcomes. In addition, we examine impacts on a range of mechanisms and alternative measures of well-being, including measures of participants' mental health, sense of empowerment, and satisfaction, and measures of their cognitive performance designed to understand how programs that alleviate (financial) bandwidth constraints may improve decision-making.
Primary Outcomes (explanation)
- The employment status will be constructed using a binary indicator variable taking a value of one if the respondent spends any time doing any wage labor, salaried work, micro-enterprise or other self-employment activity during the seven days before the survey.
- The hours worked referred to the number of hours spent doing any wage labor, salaried work, microenterprise, or other self-employment activity during the seven days before the survey.
- The business assets will be calculated as the sum of asset values reported as used in the client's business (tools, machinery, furniture, inventories, and other physical assets.)
- Finally, household consumption per capita will be constructed as the sum of monthly purchase values of food consumption, regular consumption, non regular consumption, and durables consumptions divided by adult-equivalent household members.

Secondary Outcomes

Secondary Outcomes (end points)
Please see above and pre-analysis plan. Secondary outcomes will be finalized upon completion of baseline data collection.
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)

Experimental Design

Experimental Design
We enrolled individuals who meet IRC's eligibility criteria and express interest in starting or growing a business on a rolling basis, with a new cohort every two weeks spread across two phases.
In the first phase (Fall 2019), one cohort consists of three treatment groups:
1. Full microenterprise program, which includes business skills training (called L2E), business grants, required participation in urban savings and loans association, and coaching and mentoring.
2. Business grant only, including the business grant and an additional cash amount corresponding to the cash value of services for clients.
3. Business grant and business skills training (L2E), including an additional cash amount for the other services of the program.
The second phase of allocation began in February 2020. During this phase, the beneficiaries are assigned to either one of the treatment groups described, or to a control group that will not receive any service until after endline.

The incentivized 'choice' exercise is conducted with participants who were randomly assigned to group 2 and group 3. Group 2 participants are asked their willingness to pay to receive the 4-day program of business skills training (L2E), as well as their willingness to pay to receive the full suite of services offered by IRC. Group 3 participants already receive L2E, so they are only asked about their willingness to pay for the full suite of services. Using a public lottery system, some participants may purchase the services with the additional cash received and effectively switch treatment arms.

Experimental Design Details
Randomization Method
The allocation of individuals to each experimental group is undertaken on a randomized basis for each cohort in an office by a computer and blocking for female and refugee status.
Randomization Unit
The unit of randomization is the individual refugee/applicant.
Was the treatment clustered?

Experiment Characteristics

Sample size: planned number of clusters
Study participants are clients registered for the microenterprise track of the BILLY program between August 2019 and April 2020. The assignment protocol is conducted on a rolling basis, with a new cohort every two weeks spread across two phases. In the first phase (Fall 2019), a total of 535 individuals were assigned to one of the treatment arms: 171 to full microenterprise program, 185 to business grant only, and 179 to business grant and business skills training. For phase 2 (Spring 2020), we will assign approximately 765 individuals to complete a sample size of 1300 people, including 1000 receiving active treatment.
Sample size: planned number of observations
735 individuals.
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
Full microenterprise program: 504
Business grant only: 518
Business grant and business skills training: 512
Control: 300
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)

Institutional Review Boards (IRBs)

IRB Name
Georgetown University
IRB Approval Date
IRB Approval Number
Analysis Plan

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Post Trial Information

Study Withdrawal

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Is the intervention completed?
Data Collection Complete
Data Publication

Data Publication

Is public data available?

Program Files

Program Files
Reports, Papers & Other Materials

Relevant Paper(s)

Reports & Other Materials