A Challenge Too Big for Governments and NGOs Alone


Why this challenge?

In 2015, the UNHCR revealed that the number of global forced displaced people topped nearly 60 million for the first time since World War II. Tens of thousands of newly arrived  refugees wandering across Europe, moving from one border opening to the next, triggered numerous volunteer efforts and citizen initiatives aimed at providing immediate relief.

Yet caught between showing solidarity and acknowledging public anti-immigrant sentiments, the European Union and individual countries are struggling to find answers to the refugee crisis.
These problems are clearly too complex for one institution alone to address. Bold and innovative ideas are needed for enduring solutions. What can designers and other creatives do to help both refugees and cities to adapt to the new reality?
  This is the central question behind the What Design Can Do Refugee Challenge, for which we are calling on the global creative community to make a difference. With this initiative we hope to 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 could take the form of products, services, and/or technologies.

We looked for game-changing yet feasible ideas which might be products, communication campaigns, services and/or technologies. Entries may be existing initiatives or propose entirely new concepts. The criteria are: creativity/originality, relevance, feasibility, scalability and potential impact. View the submitted proposals on our challenge platform at refugeechallenge.unhcrideas.org

WDCDChallenge Briefing 160218 Visual_updated 2

European migration crisis 2015
Top countries of reception
In asylum applicants per 10,000 inhabitants
Source: Eurostat dataset
  European migration crisis 2015
Top countries of origin
Source: Eurostat dataset


The Process

The WDCD Refugee Challenge was structured along seven phases, beginning with an open call on 19 February 2016 and ending with a Grand Finale on 7 March 2017. The different steps of the process focused on idea generation, feedback and improvement, selection of the finalists, acceleration of their ideas and creating the opportunities for implementation. After a successful feedbackand refinement phase, the final count for the challenge was a staggering 630 entries.

In the Nominate Phase, a selection committee of over 30 experts from both the creative field as well as the humanitarian sector, reviewed and rated every submission according to the criteria of: innovation, relevance, scalability, sustainability, feasibility, and potential impact. On 17 June, a live session was held in Amsterdam to establish a shortlist of 25 entries. On 1 July, during What Design Can Do Live Amsterdam, the 5 winning projects were announced on stage by the Dutch Minister of Foreign Affairs, Bert Koenders. 



How can design help?

The WDCD Refugee Challenge offered up 5 briefings for participants to use as starting points for their ideas. Each briefing was developed with and for refugees, and addresses a specific issue in the asylum seeking process. Here you can download the complete starter kit, or read one brief at a time. View all of the ideas entered at our Challenge Platform


Brief 1 text Brief 1 download button
Big emergency shelters are struggling to accommodate all the refugees arriving in Europe today. Refugees live in crowded conditions and face a lack of privacy, often for months, if not more than a year. Often there is little interaction between such centres and the host communities around them. This is a missed opportunity for quick integration.
Can we imagine a shelter that is an asset for both refugees and the local population?
Brief 2 text Brief 2 download button
The asylum procedure basically tells refugees to do nothing but wait. This waiting causes great stress as the months go by as refugees and their children are forced to kill time in shelters. This lost time could be used more effectively by starting the process of integrating into the new society. How can refugees continue to develop personally during this waiting period despite all the imposed limitations?
Brief 3 text Brief 3 download button
One of the major obstacles to acceptance and integration between host communities and refugees is the limited or distorted understanding of the values important in each other’s cultures. So how can we create better connections between cultures? 

From creating activities or spaces where people can meet, to devising communication campaigns and experiences that build empathy, designers can find ways to reveal prejudices and stigmas, and address these on rational as well as emotional levels.

Brief 4 text Brief 4 download button
Governments, bottom-up volunteer initiatives and NGO programmes try to communicate essential information about laws and procedures. However, such information reaches refugees more or less randomly, making it difficult for them to obtain accurate, clear and relevant information about their rights and available services. 

Designers are good at packaging complex, dynamic information into understandable and accessible communication.
How can we improve communication with & for refugees?

Brief 5 text Brief 5 download button
A large proportion of refugees are highly educated and possess valuable skills. However, this is not reflected in the integration of refugees who have been granted asylum in the labour market, where participation is still low. Designers excel at uncovering and tapping the potential that lies beyond the obvious opportunities that most people see. What could these contributions mean in the host country?


Top Photo: ©UNHCR  / Achilleas Zavallis