Innovation in Refugee Camps

Global Innovation Gathering (GIG)
re:publica 2016


Refugee camps are often viewed as temporary refuges for people fleeing war and violence. However, due to conflicts and refugee situations becoming ever more protracted, refugee camps also become permanent or semi-permanent homes and have developed into towns and cities of their own in many cases. This session, convened by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), will look at the economics of refugee camps and highlight examples of innovation in the most unlikely settings.


Refugee camps and camps for internally displaced persons are set up on the assumption that they are short-term. However, aid officials have estimated that the average stay of people in camps is approximately two decades – an entire generation. As millions take shelter, these places can no longer be seen as just “temporary exiles” where those that have been forcibly displaced wait until they can, for example, safely return home. Indeed, with populations in the hundreds of thousands, from Dadaab to Za’atari, some refugee camps have become what some experts have called, “the cities of tomorrow”. But there are difficulties surrounding refugee camps that prevent long-term, innovative planning, from insecurity of funding, to the expectation of its inhabitants on its temporary status, to their unpredictable growth and development.

But even under the most challenging constraints, people have found ways to engage in creative problem-solving, developing initiatives, applying technologies and coming up with digital tools that could enhance the lives of millions of displaced people. Refugees, internally displaced persons and others affected by crisis have the skills, talents and ideas needed to adapt to difficult circumstances. In the context of protracted refugee situations, there’s a growing need for programs that enable refugees to harness this creative process and for policymakers to foster innovation and entrepreneurship.

In this session, the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), brings together key voices on the topic to discuss challenges, opportunities and interesting examples for innovation in refugee camps. From a seasoned expert who has managed the complexity of one of the world’s largest refugee camps and a campaigner who has engaged with youth at one of the world’s other largest refugee camps, to a researcher who has studied the dynamics of entrepreneurship in these camps, to an engineer who combines design and humanitarian aid in order to rethink what is possible – all have a unique perspective to add to this topic and discuss what room there is for support for these initiatives in the future.  

Stage 4
Mittwoch, 4. Mai 2016 - 12:30 bis 13:30


Project Coordinator, South Sudan
Co-founder and organizer
Rethink Relief
Founder & Humanitarian expert
Management Researcher
University of Cambridge
Head of Marketing