This Refugee Baker’s Secret Ingredient? Self-Reliance

March 5, 2018

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Logo-Creating MarketsBy Neha Sud, IFC Communications

It’s hard to learn anything on an empty stomach. In Kenya’s Kakuma Refugee Camp, which has more than 165,000 mouths to feed, rations are limited. Many children go to school hungry.

Mama Safi, a Congolese refugee and baker, decided to do something about it.

Every weekday, 250 glistening loaves emerge from two wood-fired ovens in her backyard. Her employees deliver the loaves on motorcycle taxis to the Angelina Jolie Primary School in Kakuma Camp. The bread finds its way onto the lunch trays of students, who chow down on it with vegetables and beans.

Forty-five-year-old Mama Safi always had a passion for baking, although it took her a while to turn it into her bread and butter. She arrived in Kakuma in 2011, after a harrowing year-long journey—by foot, boat, and minibus—to escape conflict in Eastern Congo.

“My husband died soon after we arrived at Kakuma, and I had to find ways to support my family,” says Mama Safi. “I didn’t want to depend on aid agencies for everything.”

She started by baking a few loaves to sell at Kakuma’s markets, but word of her talent spread quickly. Three years ago, she entered an agreement with UNHCR, the U.N. Refugee Agency, to supply the school. Mama Safi now employs 10 other refugees. She makes a monthly profit of about $350, which she saves or uses to pay for her household.

IFC is working with UNHCR to encourage private sector investment in Kakuma, to benefit both refugees and the host community. IFC aims to do this both through new projects and by supporting promising entrepreneurs like Mama Safi.

Read more about IFC’s work toward gender equality at

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Published in March 2018


This story is part of a series on IFC’s work to help create markets that give new opportunities to people in developing countries. These innovative approaches have helped solve some of the largest problems in countries or, sometimes, entire regions.