The Ikea Foundation is one the few international NGOs that is really dedicated to alleviating the suffering of millions of global refugees, but it hasn’t turned a blind eye to those that have been displaced from their homes for reason other than conflict, including natural disasters.
When two earthquakes hit Nepal earlier this year, the Ikea Foundation responded quickly with a €3 million donation to UNICEF and a €100,000 donation to Save the Children. Both organizations put the donations to use by coordinating with governments and partners to provide basic necessities and services such as water, sanitation, hospital tents, and temporary shelters.
It’s been months since the earthquakes hit, and the region is entering the recovery and rebuilding phase. Those initial temporary shelters and hospital tents just won’t suffice. Ikea has responded, jumping in to help the people of Nepal with its flat-packed, Better Shelter housing units.
Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), known by many as Doctors Without Borders, has just taken delivery of 50 Better Shelters for its ongoing work in Nepal’s remote Gorkha District. The small mountainside villages located in the district were near the epicenter of the 7.8 magnitude earthquake. Given their remote and mountainous location, these villages are among the most difficult for aid workers to reach. As a result, it took around four days for MSF to reach the district and provide much needed medical attention to its residents.
When MSF arrived in Gorkha, it set up three inflatable tent modules. Construction of each tent took about 48 hours at a cost of around $32,000 for each tent. Seeking a less costly and more permanent solution to address the long-term needs of Gorkha’s resident’s, MSF turned to Better Shelter. Each shelter takes around four hours to construct, at a cost of just over $1,000. MSF is now using the shelters as temporary health care facilities to ensure that residents of Gorkha District receive basic medical care until a permanent facility can be built.
Funded by the Ikea Foundation, Better Shelter is a for-profit social enterprise born out of a collaboration between the Ikea Foundation and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Back in 2009, the two organizations got together to develop a more durable housing alternative to the flimsy, poorly insulated tents typically used to house refugees around the world.
By 2013, the Better Shelter prototype was unveiled, and a 40-family, 18-month pilot program was launched in Ethiopia and Iraq. The pilot program was successful, and the UNHCR placed a 10,000-unit order in early 2015. The shelters are being used for UNHCRs global operations and the first refugee camps to take delivery were located in Iraq.
Profits earned by Better Shelter are reinvested in the company, which is currently getting input from its users to improve the shelter’s design. Any remaining profits are distributed to the Housing for All Foundation, an NGO that was also established by the Ikea Foundation.