IKEA, long known for its defining slogan “Swedish for common sense,” might be better defined as “Swedish for change.” The brand is often the first place Westerners turn to in times of change: moving out for the first time, the start of a new relationship, the ending of a relationship, moving to a new city, downsizing, etc. These life events usually come with a trip to IKEA. It makes complete sense then that a brand so intertwined with change would be part of the solution for Syrian refugees and others in finding shelter for hundreds of thousands of displaced persons around the world.
The Swedish-designed refugee shelter project is the brainchild of Johan Karlsson, and industrial designer based in Hallefors, Sweden. After doing some volunteer work with Sweden’s Refugee Services abroad in 2010, Karlsson noticed how poorly designed many refugee shelters were. In addition to being cramped, lightless, damp living environments, the shelters easily blew over, flooded and fell apart. Karlsson recognized the need for an economical, lightweight and simple design solution. He took an idea for a new concept of shelters to IKEA where he was granted funding from the IKEA Foundation, the humanitarian arm of the corporation. With the money, Karlsson founded Better Shelter and partnered with the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) to provide quality temporary shelter for refugees.
Today, Better Shelters are in camps in Iraq, Lebanon, Chad, Ethiopia, Greece, Macedonia, Serbia and Hungary.
According to the UNHCR, the average stay in an UNHCR refugee camp is 17 years. Most tents that are available for refugees to live in last only a few months. The shelters that Karlsson designed last a minimum of three years. Karlsson’s shelters are self-standing, modular, white structures with peaked roofs high enough for an average adult male to stand up in and large enough to accommodate a family of five. Built with lightweight plastic and metal the shelters can be shipped easily around the world. Similar to IKEA’s principles of design Karlsson and his team paid close attention to the transport volume, weight, price, safety, health and comfort of the shelters.
The shelters can be assembled in just a few hours and require no special equipment to do so. The houses can be disassembled just as quickly and reused as needed. In addition, the structures feature windows, mosquito nets, ventilation, a solar-powered energy system affixed to the roof for lighting and a mobile phone charging outlet, and lockable doors to keep women and children safe from sexual violence, a common problem in many refugee camps.
Why It’s Hot
This is a great example of a brand taking it’s strong suit and taking on relevant humanitarian efforts.