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The market place

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At a glance

Understanding and working within markets is an essential part of programming, helping us reach people quickly and effectively while promoting recovery.


When a crisis hits, markets are disrupted and systems break down. People struggle to afford or access goods and services. Supply chains falter and businesses struggle too. However, while markets may be badly disrupted, they're rarely destroyed completely.  We can, and should, still support and work within them.

Markets are essential to people's livelihoods: People rely on markets to access food and water, sanitation and hygiene essentials, and to earn money. Ensuring access to markets helps people survive and thrive.

Markets help us to meet the people's actual needs: If we know how people react to crises, we're more likely to meet their actual needs, and not just the ones we assume they have.

Market-based programming provides more options: People, communities and contexts can vary widely.  This approach helps to reflect preferences, needs and capacities.

We support and work with existing infrastructure and systems: Creating parallel systems (such as direct or in kind distributions), can undermine markets and create long-term negative impacts.

We can work more efficiently by working within the market: Setting up parallel systems also takes time. A market analysis can help us to find systems already in place that we can build on enabling faster, more efficient responses.

Our approach

Among humanitarian agencies, Oxfam has been one of the lead global agencies in Market Based Programming. Work has featured the co-development of several market analysis approaches, the creation of a Working with Markets and Cash Guidance and Standard Operating Procedures, among many other documents, case studies and pilots. This learning has enabled teams to develop some core principles for markets based programming.

What do we mean by markets?

Markets are the place where production and exchange of goods happen. Every humanitarian programme operates within a market, and has an effect on it. This doesn't change whether we're distributing cash or hygiene kits. The person digging for raw materials,  those  who turn it into a finished product, the vendor who sells it, the company that employs them and the person who buys it, the people that fix it or dispose of it when it breaks; . all of these people act inside a market system, and we join it when we start a response.

Does this approach mean working mainly with the private sector?

Oxfam believes that within both the public and private sector, there are significant strategic possibilities for market actors and NGOs to work together to have a role in humanitarian responses, as well as in early recovery, sustainable development and economic growth that can lead to poverty reduction.

What methods do we use?

We believe that market mapping and analysis activities (in both pre-crisis and emergency situations) must form the basis for future emergency responses and contingency plans. Using these tools, we can support emergency preparedness and contingency planning that enable humanitarian responses to engage more systematically and comprehensively with the existing market actors.