IKEA’s Award-Winning Refugee Shelter

IKEA’s Award-Winning Refugee Shelter

At a time when the refugee crisis seems worse than ever, IKEA’s “Better Shelter” is booming around the world. While IKEA furniture has a reputation (true or false) for being cheap and disposable, in the world of supply-chain management, IKEA reigns supreme. Known for the flat-pack, assemble-yourself products, IKEA can efficiently store, ship, and build it’s products for minimal cost. With a company mantra of “Low price, but not at any price,” IKEA looks to cheap but durable products (over 50% of their materials are recycled) that can be delivered and built anywhere.

It is with this mindset that the furniture giant set out to build a simple, economical solution to the worldwide refugee problem. Better Shelter, launched in 2013, is a refugee shelter designed to fit a family of five (188 square feet), and can be assembled by a team of four people in four hours. It ships in two large flat-pack boxes, about the size of two large-screen TVs. Set-up is in three parts: a steel skeleton, a roof (which can be both ventilated and solar-powered), and walls.

The design has won awards, such as 2016’s Beazley Design of the Year from The Design Museum of London, and the shelter has been displayed in the Museum of Modern Art. But it’s not just a high-concept with a pretty face and a potential for doing good. Through the IKEA Foundation and UNHCR (The UN Refugee Agency), 30,000 Better Shelters have been shipped around the world and are providing temporary homes for thousands upon thousands. Unlike tents—the go-to solution for refugee camps—the shelters are designed to last for at least three years, sustaining the abuse of rain, wind, and brutal conditions.

Today, Better Shelters are in use in Africa, Asia, Europe, and the Middle East—perhaps most notably right now, in Syrian refugee gathering points. They serve as homes, registration centers, medical facilities, and supply distribution hubs.

Better Shelter, a clear success story, is a case where a private company used its strengths (construction, design, and supply-chain management) to fit a global human need. It is a standard for all companies to look to.

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