A home away from home

We are a social enterprise with a mission to improve the lives of forcibly displaced persons by providing affordable temporary shelter and a dignified, safer life away from home.

Better Shelter RHU AB is a humanitarian innovation project and a social enterprise based in Stockholm, Sweden.

We are a team of 20 people dedicated to change the lives of those who have been forced to flee, by providing a safer and more dignified home away from home.

We believe that effective and sensible shelter response requires both locally- and globally-made shelter solutions to address different context specific needs in protracted crises and emergencies around the world.

The project, initiated in 2010 in partnership between Better Shelter, the IKEA Foundation and UNHCR, was rolled out on a large scale in 2015.

Since then, we have provided more than 40,000 shelters in refugee camps, transit sites and emergency response programs in 40 countries in Europe, Africa, South America, the Middle East and Asia.

The units are used not only as temporary shelter but also serve as communal infrastructure such as clinics, classrooms and child friendly spaces.

Collaboration and continuous innovation drive us forward. Working side by side with partners around the world gives us the valuable opportunity to monitor quality, to understand partners’ shelter requirements and to keep developing the design based on real needs.

 

Year in Review 2018

UN Global Compact Communication on Progress report 18/19

Impact

Better Shelter exists for the sole purpose of improving the living conditions and dignity of forcibly displaced men, women and children. We are a social enterprise owned by a philanthropic foundation and our success is measured on achieved social impact, and not financial results. On a yearly basis we track the number of households for which we have provided shelter, as well as how many units have been implemented for other purposes than temporary housing, which may include clinics, classrooms and humanitarian staff accommodation. Since our launch in 2015, we have delivered more than 40,000 units to over 40 countries. 

Key achievements 2018 

Read about our projects or learn more about our achievements in 2018

Photo: © UNHCR/Roger Arnold

Mission & Vision

 

Mission: To improve the lives of forcibly displaced persons, by providing affordable temporary shelter and a dignified, safer life away from home.

 

Vision: A world in which all people have a safe place to call home.

How we work

 

The Better Shelter has been developed over several years together with humanitarians, academic institutions and design practitioners, suppliers and experts in various fields. It has been rigorously tried and tested in the field as well as in labs to ensure compliance with Sphere standards and resistance to years’ of use in harsh weather conditions.

We develop our products according to real circumstances with context specific requirements in mind. Better Shelter collaborates closely with partners and supports them in determining the best suitability and application of our solutions. Further, we work together in the planning phase of implementations, where we provide expertise in the use and suitability of the Better Shelter units.

Better Shelter offers training and support to ensure safe and effective assembly and maintenance of the shelters before, during and after the implementation of a program. We help our partners increase their capacity and optimise their available resources, in order to ensure as many people as possible receive the shelter they need, as quickly as possible.

Working side by side with our partners around the world also gives us the valuable opportunity to monitor quality, understand our partners’ shelter requirements in their operations and to both gather and offer feedback on the assembly and use of our shelters. By supporting our partners in quick, efficient and correct assembly of our shelters, we help the humanitarian community to maximise its potential in offering shelter to displaced persons. Our product team continues to refine the solution and work on future improvements in close collaboration with aid and development partners.

UN Global Compact Communication on Progress report 18/19

Innovation and product development

We provide ready-made shelter solutions for projects and operations where locally-sourced materials are scarce. Innovation and design thinking are integral parts of Better Shelter’s strategy, which means that we continuously improve our products and services to meet the changing needs of our partners and beneficiaries in different environments, climates and situations.

Over the past years we have scaled up our monitoring and evaluation activities in a growing number of locations. Shelter performance is tested in a range of contexts, climates and applications. The data gathered during these exercises informs further development of shelter design and production and will help us improve the services that we offer our humanitarian partners.

Contact our product development team

Safe at last

The men, women and children living as refugees and in internal displacement around the world today have had to leave their homes behind to escape violence, persecution and natural disasters. While every story is unique, they all did it to survive.

A majority of the 70.8 million displaced people live in urban settings, however millions find safety in camps or other temporary settlements, and for many of them, their home is a tent. 

A refugee camp is a never-ending world of insecurity and chaos where one’s life is on hold. Refugees have had to leave their own home, routines and everyday life behind. Now, all around are thousands of other people in makeshift shelters, packed so tightly that they can hear every conversation, every argument, and every crying child. Sanitary conditions are poor. Disease is rife and there is a shortage in food. There is very little opportunity find work to make a living, or to go to school and continue one’s education. Women feel unsafe at night, and there is no way of knowing if this misery will last days, weeks or years. Add to this traumatic memories of violence and war.

As many end up spending several years – even generations – in displacement, the simple fact of having a temporary, but safe, place to call home, can dramatically improve their physical, emotional and mental well-being.

An idea takes shape

In 2009 a small team at the Formens Hus Foundation in Hällefors runs a development project committed to the R&D of sustainable design and dematerialisation, and focused on this question. With an essentially nonexistent budget, the project team links up with design universities and companies across Europe to travel to Hällefors and spend a couple of weeks together to develop prototypes. As time passes by, the project becomes more and more serious and the project moves from Formen Hus Foundation to SVID, the Swedish Industrial Design Foundation. A small enterprise is formed around the project: RHU or Refugee Housing Unit AB (today Better Shelter RHU AB).

At the same time UNHCR has contacted Ikea Foundation with basically the same issue – they want to develop a new shelter solution. Ikea Foundation has heard about the shelter project in Hällefors, which is making substantial progress.

The Ikea Foundation quickly realises the potential synergies of building a partnership with the two very different organisations: UNHCR – a UN agency with operations worldwide and decades of technical knowledge and experience in emergency shelter, and a small, dynamic Swedish design team which can act quickly and turn ideas into product solutions. A meeting is arranged, a plan is outlined and the partnership project is initiated in 2010.

UNHCR adds several important requirements. The shelter needs to:

  • Have a standing height and lockable door to increase security
  • Take a few hours to assemble without tools
  • Withstand a range of harsh climate conditions: extreme cold, extreme heat, sandstorms, rain and powerful winds
  • Be well insulated but also well ventilated
  • Withstand an impact, flooding and heavy weight
  • Be equipped with minimal electricity: a solar panel to power a small ceiling lamp and a mobile phone charger
  • Last for three years
  • Comprise parts that can be used for other purposes once the shelter is disassembled
  • Weigh 100 kilograms

For the Ikea Foundation/ UNHCR/ Better Shelter-partnership two additional aspects are important already in the very beginning of the project:

Firstly – the philosophy of democratic design. Products must have good form, function and quality as well as being durably built. In addition, the price must be so low that humanitarian agencies can afford to buy them. 

Secondly – the partners want to use an alternative business model: a social enterprise that applies commercial strategies to maximise improvements in human well-being, instead of maximising profit.

The design of the unit undergoes continuous development. After a few minor modifications, a material originally developed for the automotive industry is selected for the walls and roof. Special plastic screws are developed and a steel frame is produced. The models are transformed into a prototype and the requirement specifications are highly detailed.

Prototyping

In 2013, the prototypes are finally completed and tests in real conditions begin. First up is Dolo Ado, a camp for Somali refugees in Ethiopia. The test results are encouraging. The shelters hold up and the refugees give them positive reviews as well as suggestions for improvements. On June 20, 2013 – the UN World Refugee Day – the Ikea Foundation and UNHCR publicly announce their partnership. The news receives an enormous response from the media and other groups interested in refugee issues.

The Housing for All Foundation is formed in November 2013 and formally acquires RHU, renaming it Better Shelter. The Ikea Foundation contributes with funding to the social enterprise allowing it to move from testing to industrial manufacturing, sales and large-scale implementation of shelters in refugee camps across the globe.

Production and delivery

Large scale production of the shelter units begin in 2015 and since then, Better Shelter has delivered tens of thousands of shelters to NGOs and their beneficiaries in countries including Iraq, Nepal, Greece, Djibouti, Niger, South Sudan, FYR of Macedonia and Brazil. In early 2017, Better Shelter wins the prestigious Beazley Designs of the Year award.

As a social enterprise, Better Shelter strives to be pioneering within shelter development, by setting a higher safety standard for its product compared to what is the norm for temporary shelters today, and to never stop working to further improve the living conditions for the world’s displaced communities.

Better Shelter 1.2

During 2017 and 2018, product development progresses with the launch of an updated version of the shelter. Months of testing and breakthroughs by the team, institutes and suppliers alike bear fruit in the shape of an even better shelter. While shelters serve as temporary homes for refugees as well as for returnees, they also function as water kiosks, classrooms, clinics and emergency distribution centers.

Ikea Foundation, Better Shelter and UNHCR continue to collaborate and make use of respective party’s expertise and innovative thinking to continue to deliver dignified homes for as many people as possible.

Timeline

2018 – The Better Shelter serves as temporary homes and communal infrastructure in different contexts in more than 40 countries.

2017 – An even Better Shelter is launched after months of testing, adjustments and breakthroughs from developers, institutes and suppliers alike. 

2016 – Large-scale implementation worldwide and continued product development, while the shelter is exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

2015 – The first homes are delivered, as production of components begins in a number of factories across Sweden and northern Europe, and the first 10,000 units are delivered to UNHCR. 

2014 – Gearing up for mass production: the Housing for All Foundation takes responsibility for the project, and the Ikea Foundation provides a grant to enable the industrialisation of the product.

2013 – Prototypes are tested in Dollo Ado, a camp for Somali refugees in Ethiopia, and feedback from residents is very positive, while it also includes suggestions on areas requiring further development.

2012 – Prototyping of design requirements that have been developed to meet the needs of refugee camps, and include tough standards for resistance to extreme climates and easy assembly. 

2011 – Refugee Housing Unit AB is formed, more designers join the project and the steel frame is finalised, and energy can be devoted to developing roof and wall panels.

2010 – Better Shelter, UNHCR and the Ikea Foundation establish a partnership.

2009 – The project develops and SVID, the Swedish Industrial Design Foundation, takes the project under its wing.

2008 – The need is identified and the idea takes shape at Formens Hus in Hällefors, Sweden.

UNHCR

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is a global organisation dedicated to saving lives, protecting rights and building a better future for refugees, forcibly displaced communities and stateless people. We lead international action to protect people forced to flee their homes because of conflict and persecution. We deliver life-saving assistance like shelter, food and water, help safeguard fundamental human rights, and develop solutions that ensure people have a safe place to call home where they can build a better future. We also work to ensure that stateless people are granted a nationality.

IKEA Foundation

IKEA Foundation’s mission is to create substantial and lasting change by funding holistic, long-term programmes in some of the world’s poorest communities that address children’s fundamental needs: home, health, education and a sustainable family income, while helping communities fight and cope with climate change. The foundation’s vision is to work toward a world where children living in poverty have more opportunities to create a better future for themselves and their families.

Terre des Hommes

Terre des hommes is the leading Swiss child relief agency. Through its health, protection and emergency aid projects, it provides assistance to over three million children and their families in over 35 countries each year.

Access to Water Foundation

Access to Water Foundation (A2W) provides safe drinking water programs in partnership with Swiss Fresh Water, a company that develops low cost water treatment machines. The foundation is also associated with the creation of local jobs as they focus on ownership of the projects and providing the tools to further develop them.

ADRA

The Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) delivers relief and development assistance in over 130 countries. ADRA partners with communities, organizations, and governments  to improve the quality of life of people in need through disaster and humanitarian aid, as well as water, sanitation, and education programs.

HAEFA

Health and Education for All (HAEAF) is a US-based not-for-profit organization, which provides healthcare services in Bangladesh since 2012, and in the Cox’s Bazar region since October 2017. Their goal is to empower the underprivileged by providing preventive and curative health care and education.

Italian Red Cross

The International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) is one of the world’s largest humanitarian network. They provide assistance to disaster and heath emergencies all over the world.

The Red Cross is involved in providing shelter in disaster affected areas, their goal is to provide life-saving aid but also to set the ground for sustainable reconstruction.

PCPM

The Polish Center for International Aid Foundation (PCPM) was established in 2006. It is a public benefit organization specializing in international assistance for humanitarian and development purposes as well as rescue aid for those in need around the world. They are particularly active in assisting victims of armed conflicts and natural disasters.

UNOPS

The United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) is an operational arm of the United Nations. It is dedicated to implementing projects for the United Nations System and provides its partners with services, technical advice and assistance within humanitarian and development contexts to achieve a sustainable development.