Design for Humanity Initiative

Exploring the intersection of design and humanitarian action for human dignity

At a time of heightened and prolonged global calamity, humanitarian actors persistently strive to design sustainable relief and recovery operations that restore dignity and foster resilience of affected populations. Similarly, a growing community of designers from diverse disciplines - ranging from built environment and emergency architecture to product and graphic design - endeavor to contribute their skills for social change and humanitarian action.

The Institute of International Humanitarian Affairs (IIHA) at Fordham University and the Vignelli Center for Design Studies at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), in partnership with the UN Migration Agency (IOM), will explore the intersection of design and humanitarian action by launching the Design for Humanity Initiative. Through bridging their expertises, both communities can more effectively design dignified and durable solutions that tackle today’s most pressing humanitarian challenges. Whether ensuring more dignified shelters and settlements for displaced persons, designing more inclusive and resilient urban ecosystems or employing art and design as a vehicle for advocacy - the possibilities for design and humanitarian action are endless.


Ultimately the Initiative aims to explore how designers and humanitarians can collaboratively drive humanitarian response in a more dignified, inclusive, and sustainable direction by:

  • Facilitating dialogue among design and humanitarian practitioners as well as representatives of crisis-affected populations, the donor community and governments
  • Deepening understanding about current complex humanitarian challenges; humanitarian principles and ethics; and possibilities for design innovation;
  • Highlighting potential impact and relevant critiques of a range of piloted and pioneered design projects for humanitarian response;
  • Forging future collaboration, project implementation and partnership opportunities; and
  • Disseminating lessons learned to a wide audience of designers and humanitarians.

Design for Humanity Summit

As a first step in this Initiative, the Design for Humanity Summit will be held on June 22, 2018 at Fordham University in New York City. Designers and humanitarians will convene at the one-day event to participate in interactive panel discussions and breakout sessions led by practitioners and scholars from both fields.

Topics to be explored during the Summit may include:

  • Public interest design and design thinking for inclusive humanitarian response
  • Transformation of camps into sustainable cities and communities of resilience for host and displaced communities
  • The nexus of private sector and innovation in humanitarian response
  • Art, architecture and design for human rights advocacy
  • Design for protection of at-risk populations in humanitarian crisis
  • Sustainable design to mitigate the effects of acute and protracted urban crises
  • Innovative prototypes of new humanitarian design trends