What Design Can Do, UNHCR and IKEA Foundation launch global design challenge focusing on refugees

Zurich, 19 February 2016: IKEA Foundation, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and What Design Can Do (WDCD) are today launching a global design challenge that focuses on the reception and integration of refugees in urban areas. Designers, creative thinkers and imaginative trouble-shooters from all corners of the world, are invited to take part. The challenge is launched during the IKEA Democratic Design Days conference in Zurich, Switzerland where keynote speakers such as Marcus Engman, Head of Design at IKEA of Sweden and Alain de Botton are discussing how design can change the world.

The call for innovative solutions for the reception and integration of refugees in urban areas is now open to designers around the world. From the entries, five winning ideas will be selected, to be announced in Amsterdam on 1 July 2016. The five finalists will receive funding up to EUR 10,000 and expert support to develop their ideas into feasible plans and working prototypes.

How design can help

According to UNHCR, more than 60 percent of the world’s 19 million refugees live in urban areas, a figure set to rise. The challenges society is facing with the accommodation and integration of refugees are too complex for governments and humanitarian organizations alone. Throughout Europe, volunteering citizens have quickly stepped in to provide emergency relief. In many places great examples of ground breaking projects have seen the light. However, on many levels the input of designers is needed to deal with the long-term needs of so many new residents. We need creative minds to bring existing ideas to a higher level or come up with entirely new concepts.

Pioneering game-changers

“Designers increasingly demonstrate their ability to act as pioneering game-changers, able to use their skills to recognize the problems and come up with unexpected solutions,” says Richard van der Laken, founder and director of What Design Can Do. The WDCD Refugee Challenge will engage creatives from all disciplines and foster collaboration with refugees, NGOs, national and municipal authorities to identify needs, come up with responses and test solutions, which can include products, services, and/or technologies.

“IKEA Foundation supports refugees and the poorest communities all over the world, but given the size of the problem, much more is needed. We are in a unique position to facilitate innovation by bringing together unlikely partners and advancing solutions to pressing societal issues,” says Jonathan Spampinato, Head of Strategic Planning and Communications at IKEA Foundation. “We are really excited about the WDCD Refugee Challenge and have no doubt that we will see innovative solutions coming from the most surprising places.”

“Design is a great tool to make things better. Let’s put it into use for something more than just doing things. Let’s put it in the hands of the great talents of today and then give them the toughest challenge of them all – solving the needs of the many who have almost nothing. That is what Democratic Design is all about to me – making form, function, quality, sustainability accessible for the many, not just for the few”, Marcus Engman, Head of Design at IKEA of Sweden, added.


Time for action

Dagan Cohen, leading the Refugee Challenge for WDCD, says: “Over the past five years What Design Can Do has presented many examples of proof that designers can help create a better, healthier, more social world. Now it’s time to take the step from inspiration to activation and challenge the global creative community to demonstrate the power of design for social renewal. Through this challenge, designers of all sorts now can proof what they’re capable of.’


The challenge process

The WDCD Refugee Challenge covers the entire year of 2016. The process falls into seven parts, including the call for proposals, a feedback phase, time for improvement of entries, nomination, jury selection and announcement of finalists on July 1st in Amsterdam. After this the acceleration phase starts, in which the finalists get the budget and expert support to develop their ideas into a working prototype, followed by the pitch phase in which the elaborated plans are presented to possible implementation partners. Finally, the outcome of the challenge is announced in December and presented in an exhibition.

The international jury will include renowned design professionals such as Michael Johnson (johnson banks), Bas van Abel (FairPhone), Marcus Engman (IKEA), and David Kester (David Kester & Associates).

More information on the What Design Can Do Refugee challenge and on how to participate: whatdesigncando.com/challenge

About ‘What Design Can Do’

What Design Can Do (WDCD) is an Amsterdam-based design platform that advocates the social impact of design. WDCD raises awareness among professionals and the public for the potential of creativity and calls on designers to take responsibility and consider how their work can benefit society. It does so by showcasing best practices, raising discussions and fostering collaboration. Since its launch in 2011, WDCD has hosted six successful international design conferences in Amsterdam and São Paulo. Learn more at www.whatdesigncando.com


About IKEA Foundation

The IKEA Foundation (Stichting IKEA Foundation) is the philanthropic arm of INGKA Foundation, the owner of the IKEA Group of companies. We aim to improve opportunities for children and youth in some of the world’s poorest communities by funding holistic, long-term programmes that can create substantial, lasting change. The IKEA Foundation works with strong strategic partners applying innovative approaches to achieve large-scale results in four fundamental areas of a child’s life: a place to call home; a healthy start in life; a quality education; and a sustainable family income. Learn more at www.ikeafoundation.org and www.facebook.com/IKEAfoundation

About UNHCR and UNHCR Innovation
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees was established on December 14, 1950 by the United Nations General Assembly. The agency is mandated to lead and co-ordinate international action to protect refugees and resolve refugee problems worldwide. Its primary purpose is to safeguard the rights and wellbeing of refugees. It strives to ensure that everyone can exercise the right to seek asylum and find safe refuge in another State, with the option to return home voluntarily, integrate locally or to resettle in a third country.

UNHCR Innovation is a multi-departmental unit established within UNHCR to work collaboratively with refugees, academia, and the private sector to creatively address challenges faced by uprooted or stateless people worldwide. UNHCR Innovation aims to empower staff to work together with refugee communities to design innovative solutions to the challenges they face. For more information about UNHCR Innovation and its work visit: innovation.unhcr.org

IKEA Foundation & UNHCR Partnership

Since 2010, IKEA Foundation has partnered with UNHCR to help create better lives for thousands of refugee families and children in Asia, Africa and the Middle East. In 2015, the UNHCR, IKEA Foundation and BetterShelter.org launched the so-called “flat-pack refugee shelter”, a safer, more durable emergency shelter for refugee families, which has received much attention for its innovative design. Learn more at www.ikeafoundation.org

About Democratic Design Days in Zürich

IKEA Democratic Design Days in Zürich are taking place from the 19th to the 20th of February 2016 in Zurich Switzerland. IKEA Switzerland has invited the public to discuss how design can change the world. The keynote speakers include Marcus Engman, Head of Design at IKEA of Sweden, Sharon Baurley, Head of Product Design at the Royal College of Art in London, Patricia Roller, start-up investor and former co-CEO of FROG Design and Alain de Botton, writer and philosopher. IKEA Foundation together with What Design Can Do will launch a global design challenge. The event will be streamed live at www.ikeaddd.ch on February 19th 2016 from 9.25 AM CET. On Saturday, February 20th Swiss designers are invited to start working on solutions for the challenge.

Learn more at www.ikeaddd.ch

Note for the editors, not for publication

For more information and/or pictures, please contact:

What Design Can Do

Bianca Philip



Lauren Parater


IKEA Foundation

Radu Dumitrascu


Media contact

In collaboration with
What Design Can Do

Media contact

In collaboration with
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency