5 innovative ways to help refugees

What can two standard European pallets hold? A whole library and media center, it seems.

Conceptualized by Libraries Without Borders and designed by world-renowned French designer Philippe Starck, the Ideas Box could soon be deployed as part of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ first response to humanitarian crises. It contains 15 tablets, four laptops, 50 e-readers, 5,000 e-books, 50 hard copies of books and five high-definition cameras, on top of satellite Internet connection, 3G network and GPS, among other things. The video below demonstrates how the box turns into a cutting-edge multimedia library.

It takes about 20 minutes to unpack the Ideas Box by a trained team of four and turn it into an educational module.

The box is the result of a partnership between UNHCR Innovation, Starck and Libraries Without Borders, which have been prototyping the solution since 2012. It will be put on display at the atrium of the UNHCR headquarters in Geneva on June 20, World Refugee Day.

“We try to showcase some of the innovations from time to time at headquarters and open them up for criticisms and comments,” Chris Earney, co-lead of UNHCR Innovation, told Devex of improving the solutions.

Earney’s team did the same for the Refugee Housing Unit — which may eventually replace the tents supplied to refugee families in camps — last year..  

RHU is now undergoing field testing, and UNHCR is talking with the Ikea Foundation and its other field partners to determine when and where the project will be scaled up.

“We want to do it right: We would only scale successful products based on very robust evidence and data,” Earney said.

Aside from the Ideas Box and RHU, UNHCR Innovation is working to develop cook stoves that best suit the needs of refugees, and has created an online platform to crowdsource ideas from agency staff as well as a text messaging system to communicate better with refugees.

Click on the slideshow to learn more about these refugee-centered innovations.

Stay tuned for our story on how to kick-start an innovation initiative.

Join the Devex community and access more in-depth analysis, breaking news and business advice — and a host of other services — on international development, humanitarian aid and global health.

About the author

  • Ma. Eliza Villarino

    Eliza is a veteran journalist focused on covering the most pressing issues and latest innovations in global health, humanitarian aid, sustainability, and development. A member of Mensa, Eliza has earned a master's degree in public affairs and bachelor's degree in political science from the University of the Philippines.

Join the Discussion