‘I’ve seen a lot of design for refugees and design with refugees, but what I’m hoping for is to see more design by refugees too,’ Corinne Gray of UNHCR’s innovation department said to conclude the WDCD Refugee Challenge finale. ‘Think of positions for refugees at your agencies,’ she added.

The last words of the closing event of the WDCD Refugee Challenge, Tuesday 7 March in Amsterdam, were for the two challenge partners, UN’s Refugee Agency UNHCR and IKEA Foundation. Corinne Gray expressed her admiration for the hard work done by everyone involved and Jonathan Spampinato, head of communications of IKEA Foundation stated: ‘IKEA Foundation is dedicated to improve the lives of children throughout the world and almost 50 percent of the 60 million people that are currently displaced are children. It means that 30 million children now grow up in tents. That’s why we wanted to see what the design community could contribute to this problem. With all the positive and optimistic answers the challenge received this has been a very uplifting experience for us.’

Before the five winning teams were given the stage to present the development of their projects, Goof van Dormolen, operations manager at the Dutch Council for Refugees gave an introduction. Mentioning a few examples of design interventions that turned out counter effective, he warned that good intentions only are not enough.

Finalists’ presentations

The five finalists subsequently demonstrated that they had matched their very good intentions with thorough research and development. As challenge leader Dagan Cohen stated, it was fantastic to see that all teams had their plans elaborated to the point that with the right partners they can become reality.

In fact, Makers Unite is a reality already, with several workshops that have proven the concept by showing that making products together starts a conversation and creates trust. The organization just signed an agreement with the Dutch Association of Designers on the provision of internships by members. Makers Unite (MU) now aims to create MU-hubs where a six-week program can change the lives of 12 refugees at the time.

Straw bale house

Another project close to completion is AGRIshelter, that presented a video of the construction of a full scale prototype of the straw bale house. Architect Narges Mofarahian now needs a team of designers to refine the design, partly to curb the, mistakenly, primitive image of the straw bale buildings. The municipality of Milan already has expressed its interest in placing AGRIshelters.

The Welcome Card team is facing a bigger challenge to get their card into existence. A card combined with an app that give refugees direct insight into the status of their application as well as access to services like public transport and more requires systemic change and political support. To gain this support the Welcome Card team plans to start a small scale test in Stockholm soon.

Change the image

Halfway their project Reframe Refugee had to decide to somewhat reframe their own project and quit their initial plan to develop a press platform with pictures and stories by refugees. Marie-Louise Diekema and Tim Olland explained how they changed their plan into a traveling exhibition that will bring the pictures and stories of refugees to different places across the country. The effect will be the same: change the predominant image people have of refugees.

Finally, Camille Marshall and Marie Legley finally expressed their difficulties to get hold of a bus for their Eat & Meet project that aims to have refugees and locals meet over meals prepared by refugee chefs. A solution is getting closer since the initiators decided to turn Eat & Meet into an association that is apt to receive donations, for instance a bus. And Camille and Marie made it clear that they will not rest before the food bus is on the road, because, as they said: ‘Together we can prove that love is greater than hate and nothing brings us together like a warm plate.’

Know your figures

In an inspiring interview by journalist Tracy Metz with Willemijn Verloop, the promotor of social enterprises stressed the value of metrics to quantify the impact of a social enterprise. ‘You need figures to convince investors but also to determine how you proceed with your project. Car sharing company Snapcar was founded with the aim to enhance social connections. That’s why they have this system where people have to fetch keys from each other. Maybe a little complicated. But when they established that 74 percent of users had had contacts after they had exchanged a car, Snapcar knew they wouldn’t want to change to a system with electronic keys. Proof of impact is vital.’

A live stream of the presentations is still available through our Facebook page.

Photos by the unrivalled Leo Veger

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