Rethink Relief: bridging the gap between relief and development

I just returned from the most intense, interesting and fun workshop, Rethink Relief. Participants from TU Delft, MIT, MSF (doctors without borders) , NGOs from all over the world including Caritas, on a one week mission to try to bridge the design gap between relief and development. With participatory methods it was interesting to explore and learn more about relief and feel the contrast there is with long-term development thinking. Congratulations to the organizers for a really well conducted workshop!

Some of the highlights, for me, were:

Amy Smith from D-Lab showed us how to design affordable, robust and locally adapted designs, and even how to design for faliure (!).

David from Caritas held a really intersting lecture telling us about how the IDPs in Northern Uganda have become so dependent on foreign aid that they don’t have any motivation left. He said that this especially concerns the men, who feel they have lost their role as care takers due to the heavy focus on empowering women. Jennifer from Caritas held a lecture showing the creativity and craftmanship of the women there in Pader. They are both very inspiring and knowlegable people that I hope to visit.

Together the groups designed concepts for water collection, water desinfection, a portable hospital. The solutions still reflected the difficulty of thinking between relief and development and not in one of the categories. The question still remains; can we actually provide products in an emergency situation that are more sustainable and will be more beneficial in the long run? Or shall the focus be on doing less harm with the solutions provided, and create better waste handling systems and maintenance systems?


About Brita Fladvad Nielsen

I'm a Postdoctoral researcher at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology. My focus is on Smart Energy Communities in urban settings as well as design of energy-devices for emergency settings and design for humanitarian markets, especially for refugee camps in rural areas of Africa. I blog about my research approach Design Thinking on and about humanitarian design at . I am also a mother of a child who is deaf, and I blog about her language development on
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