Our Story

Every year, millions of people are forced to flee their homes to escape war, conflict and persecution and cannot return without risking their lives, safety or freedom. Currently 29.4 million people are living as refugees and 62.5 million people are living in displacement within their own countries. 

When people are forced to flee, they leave behind homes, communities and livelihoods. Often they find themselves in precarious situations with no choice but to rely on humanitarian support. 

It doesn’t have to be like this. Having the opportunity to work and earn a living is one of the most effective ways people can rebuild their lives with dignity. MADE51 was established in 2018 by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, to create that opportunity through the handmade sector. 

Why the Creative economy? 

The world’s refugee population contains a wealth of talented artisans that possess incredible skills, traditions and cultural heritage. Given the opportunity, these are assets that individuals can use to regain their economic independence and sense of self-worth. 

The artisan sector also offers high potential for impact: it is worth over USD $752.2BN and represents the second-largest source of employment in low- and middle-income countries, which is also where 70% of refugees are hosted.

The nature of artisan work, which is often part-time, is also particularly well-suited for refugee women who shoulder domestic responsibilities that prevent their engagement in full-time work, or who face cultural restrictions on other forms of work.

Why made51?

Refugees face many constraints that limit their ability to sell their products to external markets. Legal restrictions, isolation, limited design knowledge, and a lack of access to basic business support services are major obstacles. As a resuIt, refugees are often left out of the global artisan economy.

Through MADE51's unique ecosystem model, we are making market connections and creating sustainable livelihoods for the forcibly displaced.

What does MADE51 mean?

The word ‘MADE’ evokes the spirit of creation and the handmade nature of the artisanal goods that refugees are handcrafting. It also forms an acronym, “Market Access, Design and Empowerment”.  Fittingly, the ‘51’ was added as a reference to the 1951 Refugee Convention, the key legal document which outlines the rights of the displaced and the legal obligations of States to protect them, and which forms the basis of UNHCR’s work. 


UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is a global organization dedicated to saving lives, protecting rights and building a better future for people forced to flee their homes because of conflict and persecution. 

We lead international action to protect refugees, forcibly displaced communities and stateless people. 

Our vision is a world where every person forced to flee can build a better future.