The five winners of the What Design Can Do Refugee Challenge have been announced: Makers Unite, a co-creation lab of creatives and refugees; The Welcome Card, which gives refugees access to social amenities; Eat & Meet, a network bus transformed into a kitchen; AGRIshelter, self-sufficient sustainable shelters; and Reframe Refugees, a photo agency that enables refugees to tell their own story.

At What Design Can Do Live on Friday 1 July in Amsterdam, the Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs Bert Koenders together with Jonathan Spampinato of IKEA Foundation and Corinne Gray of UNHCR presented each of the five winners of the Refugee Challenge with ten thousand euros to develop their concepts further.

‘We need these designers and artists to approach the major challenges of our time with imagination and inventiveness,’ said Koenders about the Refugee Challenge. ‘Whether it’s the refugee crisis, increasing urbanization or the effects of climate change, it’s about wanting to make a difference. About really effecting change in the world and the lives of ordinary people. Changes that will ultimately lead to a more stable, safe and sustainable world.”

631 entries from 70 countries

The Refugee Challenge is a design competition organized by the design platform What Design Can Do, in collaboration with the UNHCR and IKEA Foundation. Designers from all over the world were invited to submit ideas to improve the reception and integration of refugees. That yielded 631 projects from 70 countries.

‘The tremendous optimism, the fact that this generation is not afraid to roll up its sleeves, and the empathy evident in these ideas: that’s the major achievement of the Challenge’, says What Design Can Do founder Richard van der Laken. The hundreds of entries were reduced to a shortlist of 25 projects, from which an international jury made up of designers, politicians, design thinkers and representatives of refugee organizations selected the five winners.

Services, interaction and integration

The winning concepts mostly focus on solutions in the area of services, interaction and integration. The predominantly young entrants, from the Netherlands, Greece, Sweden, Brazil and Italy/Iran, devised ways to facilitate the building of relations between newcomers and the residents of the EU and that alter negative stereotypes.

Corinne Gray from the innovation centre of the UNHCR – and also a member of the international jury – commented: ‘It’s great that so many designs propose new systems, new processes and new services. We tend to narrow the scope of design, but this shows just what it can do. This challenge generates some positivity by showing so many people who are really welcoming towards refugees.’

‘This has been a fantastic collaboration with the design community,’ said Jonathan Spampinato of IKEA Foundation: ‘It fits our aim to explore how the principles of “democratic design” can help drive innovation in the humanitarian sector.’ Jury member Marcus Engman, head of design of IKEA, was pleased that the designers can begin the task of translating their ideas into feasible prototypes. ‘I’m a do-er kind of guy, so I’m very much looking to the next phase, when the designers will develop their ideas.’

WDCD Accelerator

In that next phase, the WDCD Accelerator, the five winners will be supervised in taking their concepts to the next level. To make that possible, they will also receive 10,000 euros in prizemoney. At the end of 2016 the revised projects will be assessed and presented again.

In addition to the Challenge, What Design Can Do hosts a two-day conference with international speakers on the social relevance of design. The 2016 event took place on 30 June and 1 July in Amsterdam and attracted over 1500 designers, creatives and interested visitors from all over the world.

The five winners of the What Design Can Do Refugee Challenge

1 AGRIshelter
Entrant: Narges Mofarahian (Italy/Iran) 

AGRIshelter is a solution for the shortage of refugee shelters, which considers social, urban, environmental and economic factors. It is built of biodegradable, zero-km materials, which are durable, provide good insulation and are readily available in every city, and can be built by the habitants themselves. The jury stated: ‘There is a little utopian thinking revealed in this project, but that’s a whole lot better than a dystopia.’

2 The Welcome Card
Entrant: The Green Card Team (Sweden)

The Welcome Card is issued to everybody who applies for asylum in a EU country. Radio-frequency identification technology (RFID) enables refugees to check their application status when the card is paired to a reader. The card also provides details about language courses, transport and relevant events, and could allow organizations and individuals to upload benefits and entitlements for the holders. The jury concluded: ‘There might be privacy and safety issues to sort out, but this idea has enormous potential.”

3 Reframe refugees
Entrants: Marie-Louise Diekema, Tim Olland (Netherlands)

The photos of refugees shown by mainstream media all look the same and, more importantly, present refugees in desperate and helpless situations. With photos and stories uploaded by refugees themselves, the digital platform Reframe Refugees helps the world realize that refugees are people with the same dreams and ambitions as everybody else. The jury stated: ‘This idea certainly deserves to be admitted to the accelerator phase because it offers a way out of a general pitfall in communicating about refugees. We need to have counterintuitive representations of refugees, and who better to provide them than a refugee?’

4 Eat & Meet
Entrants: Jennifer Kinnunen, Marie Legleye, Camille Marshall, Elias Sougrati,
Camille Marshall – Brazil

Eat & Meet uses food to foster relationships and warm hearts, presenting refugees as an indispensable part of modernity. The project turns renovated city buses into food trucks where refugees can cook and sell food from their culinary tradition, with proceeds going to the workers as well as integration projects. The jury remarked: “This multidimensional plan taps in on the age-old natural law that eating a stranger’s food is the first form of intercultural trust. The concept has great potential for scaling, and it also offers lots of opportunities, especially to women.”

5 Makers Unite / Connecting makers. Uniting people.
Entrant: Makers Unite (Netherlands/Greece)

Makers Unite connects refugees and EU locals by co-designing engaging products and narratives, starting with upcycling life vests and boats collected on Greek shores. The platform offers the first steps for refugees to regain dignity, to connect with locals, to build new networks and to restart their lives. The jury rated this ‘an amazing project that supports user-led design by setting up innovation centres within communities that are completely community owned, which makes them more sustainable and dignified.

The jury
The jury for the What Design Can Do Refugee Challenge 2016 consisted of: Corrine Gray, director of UNHCR’s innovation unit; Christian Benimana, architect; Petra Stienen, Arabist/senator; Richard van der Laken, founder WDCD; Robin Cohen, professor at Oxford; Doreen Toutikian, director Beirut Design Week; Ravi Naidoo, founder Design Indaba; Michael Johnson, designer; David Kester, former CEO of design council; Marcus Engman, head of design


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