Designing for Humanity at New York Summit

IOM, Internally Displaced Persons, UN

New York – The longstanding commitment by the humanitarian community to assist vulnerable migrants and displaced persons with dignity was underscored in New York on Friday (21 June) at the second Design for Humanity Summit at Fordham University, co-organized by the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs (IIHA).

Subtitled “Design in a Time of Displacement”, the Summit brought together leading experts and professionals in humanitarian design from the United Nations, NGOs, academia, design firms and the private sector.

Keynote speaker Argentina Szabados, Director of IOM’s Regional Office for Southeastern Europe, Eastern Europe and Central Asia told a packed lecture hall, and hundreds joining the live-stream, that the consistent rise of people on the move challenges the international humanitarian system to devise more sustainable solutions with “vision, humility and dialogue.”

“We are providing a unique and essential platform where experts can celebrate the interaction of diverse design solutions, and explore innovative ideas and projects that foster inclusion, dignity, beauty, and integration for people uprooted by emergencies as they rebuild their lives after crises,” added Brendan Cahill, Director of the IIHA, in his Welcome Remarks.

“The dwelling places we provide ought not be ‘just good enough’ to keep people alive in a miserable twilight of half-existence. They must also give people an opportunity to develop, to be healthy, to learn,” she said.

In the first Design Dialogue, From Camps to Communities, Italian architect Raul Pantaleo stressed that good design can make a massive difference in “grey, horrible refugee camps.”

“Good design doesn’t cost a lot of money, but it makes a big difference for the people who are using that space. It’s a matter of care,” he said.

The Summit also focused on data and storytelling in the second Design Dialogue, From Data to Stories, examining how data-driven storytelling can promote human rights and amplify voices of people on the move.

Describing data as “the fuel that powers the information revolution” Ms. Szabados stressed in her keynote that “we can no longer have a paternalistic relationship with our clients, the end users of humanitarian services. They have the means to communicate with us – and with each other - directly. We now have evidence that backs up what we do, and we can be instantly responsive as new data comes in.”

Interactive design workshops in the afternoon showcased several new design solutions that aim to improve the lives of millions of people forcibly displaced by disasters, conflicts or the consequences of climate change.

IOM Media and Communications teams shared Holding On with summit participants – a virtual reality exhibition showcases the stories of internally displaced people (IDPs) by asking them to reflect on their most cherished possessions – in addition to an IOM VR film about the realities facing Rohingya refugees, particularly women, in camps in Cox’s Bazar.

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  • IOM  Regional Director Argentina Szabados addresses the Summit during her keynote speech. Photo: IOM

  • Attendees at the Design for Humanity Summit were able to view the Holding On VR exhibition on displacement. Photo: IOM

  • Attendees at the Design for Humanity Summit were able to view the Holding On VR exhibition on displacement. Photo: IOM

  • IOM Regional Director Argentina Szabados with fellow keynote speaker Richard Blewitt of IFRC and Brian Kelly from IOM Washington. Photo: IOM