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Redesigning Refugee Camps

IPS students talking to refugees in Ethiopia as part of their practicum project

IPS 2013 students Devorah West and Jessica Miranda Garcia meet with refugees in western Ethiopia as part of their needs assessment to help the UN Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees redesign refugee communities.

Beth Duff-Brown

The UN Deputy High Commissioner for Refugees approached Tino Cuéllar, former director of the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies, to form a collaboration between Stanford’s Center for International Security and Cooperation (CISAC) and the UNHCR that would explore ideas to better protect and support more than 42 million refugees worldwide.

These discussions led to a multidisciplinary partnership involving CISAC, students from across the Stanford campus and at the Hassno-Platner Institute of Design and the Stanford Geospatial Center. Professors, professionals, and NGOs such as the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and Asylum Access, as well as architects with Ennead Architects have all been volunteering their time and expertise.

The project took on even greater meaning when students from Cuéllar’s class, “Rethinking Refugee Communities,” traversed the globe to test out their technology and design theories in Ethiopia and Rwanda. You can read a series of stories about the trip to Ethiopia by CISAC's Beth Duff-Brown.

Representing teams from the class co-taught by Leslie Witt of the Silicon Valley global design firm, IDEO, our students identified refugee registration and communication, host country relations, and food security as areas where they could provide meaningful innovations to UNHCR’s operations.

As a result of their work, IPS students presented RescueSMS, an online software platform designed to address communication problems between refugees and UNHCR staff. To improve relationships with the host country community, a systematic approach to the development of mutually beneficial spaces, such as a church or market, was proposed. Lastly, the students designed a framework for implementing small-scale mobile farming that could meet the food security needs of the refugee communities.