Humanitarians, Designers Meet in New York for First Design for Humanity Summit

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New York – IOM, the UN Migration Agency, and the Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs (IIHA) have launched the Design for Humanity Initiative at the first Design for Humanity Summit in New York on 22 June.

The event explored how the intersection between design and humanitarian action can compel a more dignified, inclusive and sustainable humanitarian response to crises. More than 40 presenters from the design, humanitarian and academic communities, as well as the private sector, sat on panel discussions and delivered breakout sessions to an audience of more than 300 people.

“We see great potential in deepening the nexus between the commitment and ethical framework of humanitarian actors with emphasis on innovation and participatory approaches to design and contextualization,” said Ashraf El Nour, Director of IOM’s office in New York, in his opening remarks at the summit.

Other panellists and breakout session leaders included creative humanitarian and design practitioners from Airbnb, the Airbel Center at the International Rescue Committee, ARCHIVE Global, ART WORKS Projects for Human Rights, Asylee Designs, Boston Society of Landscape Architects, de.MO Design, Ennead Lab, Google, the Global Alliance for Urban Crises, Habitat for Humanity International, Ideation Worldwide,, Irish Aid, MASS Design Group, the Museum of Modern Art, Prudential, IOM and the UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF).

They shared the stage with researchers from lead academic institutions such as Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design, Massachusetts College of Art and Design, Portland State University Center for Public Interest Design, Universitat Internacional de Catalunya School of Architecture, and Université de Montréal.

“Design for Humanity is one of five key research areas for the Institute,” said Brendan Cahill, the Executive Director of the Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs. “We hope to see this one grow and flourish. We are seeking to galvanize the diverse expertise of those working at this intersection through the multi-year Design for Humanity Initiative which will include future events, research, publications, and collaborative projects.”

The way humanitarian programmes are designed at the onset lays the groundwork for the quality of life experienced by people affected by crises for years to come. Placing dignified and human-centred design at the heart of humanitarian action is, therefore, essential.

“Given IOM’s strong background in shelter and camp management in humanitarian contexts all over the world, IOM is well positioned to contribute to expanding knowledge, piloting solutions on the field and enhancing the future of humanitarian response,” said Alberto Preato, IOM Programme Manager in Iraq and visiting research fellow of the IIHA. “I am really excited to see how we can take it further and further.”

The Design for Humanity Summit sought to bring together innovative designers and humanitarians to envision a better future. Placing dignified and human-centred design at the heart of humanitarian action is, therefore, an essential goal of the Design for Humanity Initiative which will continue in the years to come.

The first step will be a Design for Humanity Yearbook and a campaign that will chronicle the diverse perspectives presented at the Summit. The second Design for Humanity Summit will take place in 2019 and expand to new locations worldwide. In addition, the IIHA and IOM plan to engage in deeper research to launch projects involving relevant stakeholders in New York and in the field, in pursuit of innovative humanitarian design projects around the world.

Read more about the Design for Humanity Summit:

For more information, please contact:

Alberto Preato at IOM Niger, Tel: +227 8053 5933, Email:
Angela Wells at Fordham University, Tel: +1 917 620 5467, Email:
Rahma Soliman at IOM New York, Tel: +1 917 515 7454, Email:

  • Attendees of the Design for Humanity Summit in New York. Photo: Jordan Kleinman 2018