Promoting innovative initiatives for refugee-led organisations through community co-creation
When it comes to the case of refugees, a series of hardships and segregation are faced when seeking a place to rebuild their lives. Many refugees face extreme vulnerability, from communication barriers and cultural differences to discrimination and unstable financial situations.
Koos and UNHCR Portugal joined hands for a great challenge – to support seven refugee-led organisations based in Portugal, coming from different parts of the world, to develop innovative initiatives and apply for UNHCR’s global Refugee-Led Innovation Fund. These projects should focus on new interventions to positively impact their communities. Thus, our approach consisted of a design masterclass followed by individual mentoring sessions, in which refugees could come into contact with the design process, the design tools we use, and how they could take advantage of this method to achieve meaningful and impactful solutions. As for us, we stayed in the “shadow”, letting the refugees own the process and the ideas. At the end of this process, teams became more conscious of the importance of contextual research, correctly stating their problems and target audiences, for only then trying to come up with innovative solutions. With that, submissions would become more grounded and increase their chances of going further in the investment process.
In fact, one of the coached projects has now won the tender and has been awarded investment funds, which has the potential to impact hundreds of lives and the integration of refugees in Portugal.
We often associate innovation with technology breakthroughs and startups. Still, several opportunities exist in a much more local context, and these innovations may have a much higher impact on people with urgent problems.
Throughout this process, we had the privilege to learn about and understand the impact many of these organisations already have on their communities. We learned about impressive projects focusing on Ukrainian refugees and their families when seeking peace abroad, helping Afghan refugees establish themselves in Portugal, and providing support for refugees to integrate themselves and understand foreign laws, languages and cultures.
Often, people see the design process as held exclusively by designers, but does it have to be? We should place the people at the centre of decisions that affect their lives, empowering them to identify their own needs and design solutions that will positively impact them—bringing them along in the design walk and letting them lead the way.