As the number of forcibly displaced people rises, the need for adequate shelter increases. In rural settings, refugee camps are built to provide protection, ensure personal security, and deliver humanitarian assistance.
By supporting quick and efficient responses to housing, sanitation, equipment maintenance, and many other basic services, businesses can help fulfil the needs of millions of refugees around the world.


A refugee camp is a form of instant urbanisation, and the world’s largest camp is home to as many as 320,000 people. According to United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), more than 2.6 million refugees currently live in camps around the world and have been displaced for more than five years, some even for over a generation. No matter the size, they have to be able to provide the same basic services as any other city.
Business can play an active role by supporting humanitarian agencies in delivering infrastructure and services to these quickly forming cities. It is an emerging opportunity space that benefits business, the humanitarian community, and refugees.

In this opportunity space, rapid scaling of effort to meet the needs of the displaced is pivotal. In addition, co-creation of products and services can play an important role. Products can be designed by refugees for refuges to meet their particular demands. The power to innovate is put into the hands of refugees themselves. The result can be innovations, which can be scaled and adapted to other parts of the world.

By their very nature, refugee camps entail huge logistical processes. They often need to be created and functioning within a short time to support thousands of refugees fleeing their homes. The products and services camp residents also require – housing, sanitation, food, water, healthcare, connectivity, and education – have be deployed immediately.

Advanced technologies like 3-D printing, are increasingly being used due to the speed with which solutions can then be replicated and adjusted to the local context. Another example of employing cutting-edge technology to improve living conditions in refugee camps is the use of drones for fast and reliable data collection and wearable technologies to alert people, encourage behavioural change, or diagnose health needs.

On average, 24 individuals worldwide were newly displaced every minute during 2015. As conflicts continue to rage, the number and needs of displaced people show no sign of slowing down. By supporting humanitarian agencies, businesses have the opportunity to help provide improved living conditions through better products and services for these millions of people around the world. By building products which cater directly to people, businesses support the nearly 65 million displaced people worldwide and the 3 million residing in camps.

Key Numbers


people in world’s largest refugee camp


grid-connected solar farm for 27,000 people in Azraq refugee camp


litres of clean water produced per day by Mobile Water Purification System


SDGs - Instant refuge

Solutions for this Opportunity

Medical Container Help Refugees Access Medical Care

The Refugee First Response Center is a container converted into a medical clinic connected by video-link to translators – enabling refugees who do not speak the local language get access to medical care.
Location: Germany See this solution

Instant Wi-fi Hotspot for Disaster Areas

MeshPoint developed a durable and easily deployable device that can supply internet access in emergency and extreme outdoor situations.
Location: Europe See this solution

Solar grid for refugee camp

UNHCR and the IKEA Foundation partnered with Mustakbal, a clean tech firm, to build a 6 MW grid-connected solar project at the Azraq refugee camp in Jordan.
Location: Jordan See this solution

Solid waste management in refugee camps

Arenciel’s project enables refugees to earn money by collecting recyclable waste and helps improve hygienic conditions for Syrian refugees in Lebanon.
Location: Lebanon See this solution

Re-deployable building system

RE:BUILD, a Small Works project aimed at refugee camps, is an environmentally friendly building system made out of sand which can be re-deployed or expanded as needed.
Location: Jordan & Somalia See this solution

Mobile Water Purification System Can Support a Village

Powered by solar, wind, or gravity, AC line power or generator. The system will produce enough clean water to support a village of 4,500 people.
Location: Global See this solution

Durable Temporary Homes for Refugees

Better Shelter, in partnership with Ikea Foundation and UNHCR, has deployed Better Shelter, a multi-functional, light weight, and modular emergency shelter.
Location: Global See this solution

Efficient Resource Allocation in Disaster Area

In collaboration with the Red Cross, DNV GL developed CEP MAP, a digital system that arranges the activities and the available resources for disaster risk reduction and for operational emergency response.
Location: Global See this solution



Instant refuge ranks 12th on the overall global opportunity ranking. It received the highest ranking in the MENA region, where it ranks number four on the list. Leaders in Sub Saharan Africa were less positive about this market, rating it lowest, at number 15.

Capacity to Grow the Market

The main reason this opportunity receives a low ranking on the overall list is leaders do not think the capacity currently exists to enable this market. Overall, it has been assessed the lowest of any opportunity across all three dimensions of economic, technological, and political capacity. However, respondents in the MENA region seem more confident the economic and political capacity exists to enable the growth of this market, whereas they are more skeptical when it comes to the technological capacity to enable it.

Opportunity Business Case

Globally, all sectors generally believe there is a weaker business case compared to the other opportunities in delivering products and services to displaced people.

Sector Impact

The survey findings put the opportunity high on the agenda of civil society. Political stakeholders in the MENA region can be expected to be lead advocates for this opportunity relative to other regions.


Perceived benefits from pursuing this opportunity (x), and capacity to do so (y), World and geographic regions. Scale goes from -10 to +10.



Across geographic regions. Scale goes from -10 to +10.


Across business sectors regions. Scale goes from -10 to +10.

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