In the heart of Sweden, a small but dedicated team embarked on a mission in 2010, that would forever change the way we think about shelter in crisis situations. Better Shelter, a humanitarian non-profit organization, set out to bring safety, dignity, and hope to the lives of displaced individuals worldwide.
From its strategically located warehouses in Poland, Türkiye, and Panama, Better Shelter has delivered over 85,000 shelters to emergency, crisis, and development programs spanning 82 countries, touching the lives of hundreds of thousands of displaced individuals who have found a glimmer of hope amidst the chaos.
Better Shelter's innovative housing units are more than just physical structures; they are the foundation upon which displaced families can rebuild their lives. These shelters symbolize resilience and strength, offering not just safety but a sense of home. They can be customized and repurposed with local materials and forgotten objects, allowing residents to customize and make these temporary homes uniquely their own.
Their shelters can be rapidly deployed after disasters, providing immediate protection, but they go beyond that. They offer long-term safety and dignity in protracted situations, recognizing that displacement often lasts far longer than initially anticipated and making sure shelters always evolve with the needs of the community, adapting to the ever-changing nature of displacement.
Sustainability is at the core of Better Shelter's mission. They use materials that can be repurposed for long-term housing, reducing waste and environmental impact. Their holistic approach extends beyond shelter, advocating for better living conditions in camps and emphasizing the right of every person to a safe and dignified life.
Better Shelter's activities span a wide spectrum. From distributing shelters worldwide to ensuring that each shelter can be tailored to fit individual needs, their commitment to improvement is evident in their ongoing research and development efforts as they provide crucial technical support to partners, empowering them to make a meaningful impact on the ground.
Born from Johan Karlsson's vision that challenged the norms of displacement camps in 2009, which then evolved into a transformative partnership with the IKEA Foundation and UNHCR in 2010, culminating in the development of pioneering prototypes which were tested and refined in Africa and the Middle East. By 2015, their industrialized shelters made a life-changing impact in the field, earning a place in the Museum of Modern Art's collection and securing the Beazley Designs of the Year Award.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Better Shelter adapted to new challenges by shipping over 15,000 RHUs to 36 countries, including 3,000 in response to the pandemic and 6,500 to Northwest Syria. Collaborating with 24 organizations, they conducted 150 technical consultations online, introduced the innovative RHU Structure, and launched a fundraising platform. As 2022 was marked by the Ukraine conflict, Better Shelter supplied 4,000 shelters funded by ECHO but were hit with challenges related to the country’s cold weather. Collaborating with the Swedish Contingencies Agency (MSB), they created a winterizing kit now used in shelters across Ukraine. Partnering with the Norman Foster Foundation, supported by Holcim, they inspired new temporary shelter designs, including RHU Structures which were deployed in India for flood victims, providing both protection and local livelihood.
Today, Better Shelter continue their vital work, responding to a range of crises, from earthquakes to conflicts and natural disasters. As they look to the future, their commitment to their mission remains unshakable. Their research and development team tirelessly work on the next generation of shelters, ready to meet the evolving demands of a world filled with uncertainty.
Safeguarding the rights and well-being of people forced to flee for over 70 years.
UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is a global organization dedicated to saving lives, protecting rights and building a better future for people forced to flee their homes because of conflict and persecution and leads international action to protect refugees and forcibly displaced communities. Our vision is a world where every person forced to flee can build a better future.
Formally known as the Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees, UNHCR was established by the General Assembly of the United Nations in 1950 in the aftermath of the Second World War to help the millions of people who had lost their homes.
Today, with over 100 million people forcibly displaced, UNHCR works in 135 countries, providing life-saving assistance, including shelter, food, water and medical care for people forced to flee conflict and persecution, many of whom have nobody left to turn to. We defend their right to reach safety and help them find a place to call home so they can rebuild their lives. Long term, we work with countries to improve and monitor refugee and asylum laws and policies, ensuring human rights are upheld.
In everything we do UNHCR considers refugees and those forced to flee as partners, putting those most affected at the centre of planning and decision-making.
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