Ikea Jumps In To Help Refugees Again. This Time With Better Shelters in Iraq and Beyond

The Ikea Foundation has been around for decades. In the beginning, it focused its giving exclusively on architecture and interior design programs. The foundation has since dramatically changed its funding priorities and is now focusing on disaster response and relief, empowering women and girls, fighting against child labor and for children’s rights, and helping refugee children and their families.

The Ikea Foundation has a solid history of jumping in to help families and children in conflict areas and war-torn regions of the world. Funding in conflict zones is complex and messy for a number of reasons, but that hasn't deterred Ikea. Recently, we wrote about its funding for Sudan, and how Ikea has become an important backer of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner of Refugees (UNHCR), which operates on the front lines of every major refugee crisis in the world and has been very energetic about recruiting private funders.

Related: Ikea Foundation Goes Where other Funders Won’t. This Time: Sudan

Ikea has done more than any other corporation in the world to support UNHCR's work. Not too long ago, Ikea gave UNHCR €62 million over three years (about $50 million) to help the agency assist 120,000 Somali refugees who had recently arrived at the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya. The foundation has also committed €76 million (around $95 million) to UNHCR and other refugee organizations to provide shelter, care, and education for refugee children and their families in Ethiopia, Sudan, and Bangladesh.

Now, Ikea is looking to alleviate the suffering of millions of displaced Iraqis by providing them with more durable, and safer shelters.

Over five years ago, Ikea began working with the UN to develop a refugee shelter to replace the flimsy tents that are typically used to house refugees around the world. Out of the collaboration came the Better Shelter organization, which is funded by Ikea. By 2013, a Better Shelter prototype was unveiled and after an 18-month program in Ethiopia and Iraq, the shelters are ready to be rolled out to scale, beginning with 10,000 units. The first camps to take delivery are located in Iraq.

At a per-unit cost of $1,150, the UNHCR is shelling out a minimum of around $11.5 million for its 10,000 unit order. But that shouldn’t be the sole focus of Ikea’s work here, at least according to Olivier Delarue, UNHCR Innovation lead who said,

This is a real example of how the private sector and public sectors can come together to make something new. UNHCR shouldn’t be designing shelters, we should be harnessing the expertise of others, and who better to make a flat-pack shelter than IKEA.

Current UNHCR tents are designed to last just six months and offer virtually no protection against the elements. The Better Shelter units, on the other hand, are designed to last a minimum of three years in the harshest conditions and up to 20 years in more temperate climates. They also have doors that lock, ventilation, solar panels, mosquito nets and lights. 

Ikea is a funder that is drawn to alleviating human suffering. As demonstrated by its recent giving trends, it isn’t afraid to go where others won’t—or at the very least, it’s pouring money into humanitarian causes that others a bit more reticent to fund.

Related: Keep an Eye on the Ikea Foundation. It’s Getting Bigger and Goes Where the Pain Is