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© Getty Images/Natalie Naccache

‘What Design Can Do’ Refugee Challenge launched in Zurich 0

Global call for designers to create innovative solutions for refugees

What Design Can Do | Press Release

What Design Can Do (WDCD), along with IKEA Foundation and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), has launched a global design competition. It invites designers to come up with innovative solutions for the reception and integration of refugees in urban areas. The five best designs will each receive funding of 10,000 euros to develop their ideas.

The What Design Can Do Refugee Challenge was launched on Friday at the IKEA Democratic Design Days in Zurich. The challenge is an initiative of Dutch organization What Design Can Do. "The collaboration with major institutions like UNHCR and IKEA Foundation is unique", says What Design Can Do founder Richard van der Laken. Over the coming months, designers from all over the world can submit their ideas, and five finalists will be announced in Amsterdam on the What Design Can Do conference 1 July.

© Getty Images/Matt Cardy 

20 million refugees

According to the UNHCR, there are 20 million displaced persons worldwide, nearly 60 percent of them live in urban areas. And their number is growing rapidly. Providing these people with emergency accommodation is a big challenge, as is facilitating their integration and offering them the perspective of a humane future. The challenge explicitly also calls for ideas from designers in areas where humanitarian needs are greatest.

Designers as game-changers

“This is one of the biggest challenges of our time. Too big to be left just to governments and NGOs. Designers have to show that they can act as game-changers”, says Dagan Cohen, designer of the challenge. “After years of inspiration and ideas at What Design Can Do, it is now time for action”, adds Van der Laken. “Time to show the power of design as an engine of social innovation.”

Unlikely coalitions

The design competition has the full support of IKEA.

“The design discipline needs to step up again, as it has in the past”, says Marcus Engman, head of design at the Swedish company. The philanthropic arm of the company, IKEA Foundation, has supported many projects in poor communities. But a problem of this magnitude requires unlikely coalitions, says Jonathan Spampinato, head of strategic planning and communication at IKEA Foundation.“We are very excited about the WDCD Refugee Challenge and have no doubt that we will see innovative solutions coming from the most surprising places.”

Flat-pack design by IKEA

 Better Shelter

Good examples of ‘refugee’ design already exist. Better Shelter for example, developed by the IKEA Foundation with UNHCR and designer Johan Karlsson in 2015, is a simple, safe and transportable 'flat-pack' shelter for refugees. Another intelligent and practical design contribution is the German Icoon for Refugees, a dictionary of images with an app that helps refugees communicate quickly in a foreign language.

Challenge data

The WDCD Refugee Challenge runs until the end of 2016. Ideas can be submitted until 1 May. In the run-up to the What Design Can Do congress on 30 June and 1 July in Amsterdam, 25 designers will be shortlisted. Of these, an international jury will select five finalists. They will be announced on 1 July. After that, these five designers will each receive 10,000 euros and advice from renowned designers in developing their idea until the end of the year.

The What Design Can Do Refugee Challenge is co-funded by the BankGiro Loterij Foundation and The Art of Impact

NB: For more information about the What Design Can Do Refugee Challenge and how to participate in the challenge, visit