The Future of Livelihoods – 2030

by Multiple Authors | Apr 11, 2019 | Insights and Inspirations, Trends and Transformations

Available in: Spanish


Livelihood is both an area of focus (AoF) in IFRC Strategy 2020 and a key area of work for the Red Cross Red Crescent (RCRC) National Societies, and IFRC. Livelihoods is highlighted in Strategic Objective 1: Save lives, protect livelihoods and strengthen recovery from disasters and crises. As shown in the figure, livelihoods interventions are relevant at each response phase and needs to be tailored to the main economic activities of the affected population in urban, semi-urban and rural contexts.

In the last 10 years, the importance and relevance of this sector has increased very significantly and confirmed that the visibility given by the Strategy to support the livelihoods of vulnerable communities was crucial.  While Livelihoods is not always the first priority for National Societies, as compared to traditional sectors like Health, Disaster Management, and Shelter. The inclusion of Livelihoods as one of the most critical priorities in Strategy 2020 has been key for the recognition of this sector and its contribution to alleviate suffering and help people recover from disasters. This has also resulted in the creation of the IFRC Livelihoods Resource Centre in 2010 to support National Societies in Livelihoods preparedness, quality programming and capacity building. Since then, many National Societies have put a stronger emphasis on working in this sector. Figures from IFRC Livelihoods Resource Centre (LRC) database also highlight that the amount allocated to Food Security and Livelihoods in IFRC Emergency Appeals was approximately 87.7 million Swiss francs, between 2010 and 2016. However, this amount remains low in light of the needs. The FAO estimated that economic losses caused by disasters cost an average of USD 250 billion to USD 300 billion annually, adversely affecting economic growth and eroding development gains in vulnerable communities.  The LRC has led the strengthening of technical knowledge across the Movement through the development of several documents and guidelines and the training of over 3,100 staff and volunteers from 117 National Societies plus the IFRC and the ICRC. Furthermore, the emergence of the concept of resilience in RCRC interventions over the past years has also facilitated the increasing engagement in livelihoods programming among National Societies. The IFRC defines resilience as

The ability of individuals, communities, organisations, or countries exposed to disasters and crises and underlying vulnerabilities to anticipate, reduce the impact of, cope with, and recover from the effects of adversity without compromising their long-term prospects”.  
Similarly, the growing interest of IFRC and its member National Societies in Forecast-based financing (FbF) or early action is giving increased visibility to activities surrounding the protection of livelihoods as a key component of community and household resilience. Acting early contributes to mitigate the impact of shocks by preventing the depletion of productive assets and making targeted population better prepared to face disasters or crises and recover from the shocks.  Most importantly, IFRC and the wider Movement, are now much better placed to mainstream livelihoods as a priority sector than they were in the past. Many National Societies are already implementing successful livelihoods programmes in their own countries and are becoming “Livelihoods champions” within their communities and across the Movement. And this is an excellent basis from which to build RCRC capacity in Livelihoods over the next decade and the next IFRC Strategy. 


As the IFRC is on the brink of agreeing on a new Strategy for 2020 – 2030, we must ensure that livelihoods programming continues to grow and improve in quality. Protecting communities’ livelihoods before and during disasters, restoring income sources and employment is critical in rebuilding people’s lives after a disaster and strengthening their resilience in the long run. To date, livelihoods programming within RCRC Movement has focused around three main areas:

  • Early recovery or recovery
  • Support to livelihoods in rural areas (crops and livestock)
  • Income-generating activities meant to support self-employment or strengthen cooperatives
These type of livelihoods programmes are and will be still valid, but the RCRC needs to develop and extend its livelihoods programming to adapt to a changing world, reach further and cover new areas and contexts. New phenomena, like the exacerbation of the effects of climate change on a growing global population, increasing social inequalities or the persistence of violence in different forms have also reinforced the relevance of livelihoods within the humanitarian agenda. Such changes will lead on a transformation of RCRC livelihoods programming to adapt and upgrade its work for this new era. Outlined below are three of the new challenges and areas where livelihoods programming needs to expand its role:
  • New urban settings will receive large amounts of people (migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, young people) who are moving from rural communities (or even from another country) to urban areas for multiple socio-economic and political reasons. It will create huge needs in terms of sustainable livelihoods for both newcomers and host communities.
  • Climate-related disasters will continue to damage traditional livelihoods in many communities and will lead to a change in their economic models and livelihoods options, forcing them diversify their sources of income to looking for paid labour in the private sector in other areas, or again urban contexts. At the same time, population growth will require to increase food production. The food system ought to be more efficient, environmentally-friendly while mitigating disaster risk and preserving scarce natural resources.
  • How can the RCRC rethink skills generation and livelihood/entrepreneurship programmes in terms of skills and jobs of the future?
  • How can we support our youth volunteers to develop the skills and competencies needed for future employment opportunities?
  • How can we engage with mass numbers of young people in urban centres who are under- or unemployed and who need support across a range of domains

According to these trends, the future vision and planning for livelihoods programming should develop new approaches and methodologies to further complement what we are doing now, in order to remain relevant and innovative:

  1. Livelihoods interventions must become more focused on sustainable options and impact in the long-term. To achieve this, it will be crucial to plan and engage throughout the emergency-development continuum to secure livelihoods protection before, during and after emergency response and support the economic and social inclusion of affected population in labour markets. In this respect, the concepts of “inclusion” and “dignity” will have to become central to our livelihoods work, to ensure that communities and individuals are at the centre of our approach and that services delivery meets high standards.
  2. Given the growing urbanisation and vulnerability of population in urban areas, it is critical to adapt our livelihoods approaches to increasingly complex responses in urban contexts, where the needs, profile of the population and economic activities are different from those in rural setting. However, regardless of the differences, in both contexts, our interventions need to be market-based, engaging with economic stakeholders like private firms, investors, traders, chambers of commerce or unions. In this process RCRC partners will also need to adjust their practices to facilitate the connection and mutual understanding between stakeholders and limit their direct engagement for the sake of sustainability when interventions phase out.
  3. Livelihoods responses will have to be responsive to all sort of contexts, including chronic and slow onset emergencies and complex emergencies, such as conflicts and population displacement. This will require the further develop of existing ways of working, such as Climate-smart Livelihoods, Forecast-based Financing and Early Warning Early Action (EWEA).
  4. LH actions will have to facilitate the employability of vulnerable people in local labour markets. Entrepreneurship is an option, but it should not be the only one. We have to be able to increase people’s skills and opportunities to get work, and to ensure the greater sustainability of their employments and economic security.
The RCRC Movement has been building its capacities and skills, capturing lessons learned and using our local RCRC networks and connections with partners to improve and extend our livelihoods programming during the past years.  It is now time to use these capacities, knowledge and connections to extend our capabilities to address the current and future needs in our communities and to leave no one behind. Special Thanks to Carine Malardeau, IFRC Senior Officer, Food Security and Resilient Livelihoods, and Christine South, IFRC Senior Advisor Monitoring & Evaluation for their valuable inputs to this piece.

Available in: Spanish

1 Comment

  1. Antonio Leon

    I totally agree. Sustainable livelihoods and economic security of families is key for their risk reduction and resilience; and allow families and communities to gain independence. Inclusion of most vulnerable in labour/employment markets in urban contexts are key for mitigating other potential threats and we must find new and creative solutions for global trends such as climate change, migration, urban/organized violence.


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