Evershelter from Randers is a small, innovative shelter manufacturer that aims at changing life for the better for the World’s millions of refugees. They have developed a sustainable, lightweight, low cost, locally manufacturable solution called LIFESHELTER. It can improve living conditions, health and safety enormously when compared to any current solution. In fact, it’s brilliant - so why haven’t the UN bought any yet?
When Evershelter CEO and founder Jakob Christensen studied to become a graduate engineer, most of his fellow students dreamt of building high-rises, bridges or similar spectacular constructions. Not Jakob, however.
His grandfather had spent time in Bolivia with the Danish International Settlement Service in the 1990ies building curved adobe constructions. He encouraged Jakob to base his final assignment at the university on further developing the curved construction from Bolivia into something that could be used as a shelter within the relief aid sector.
After giving it some thought, Jakob decided to pursue his grandfather’s idea.
“The more I thought about it, the more sense it made to direct my technological insights at improving the smallest form of housing in the world: the relief aid shelter,” he says.
“The need is enormous, and yet, I seemed to be the only one that found it interesting to focus on.”
Realising that he had virtually no knowledge of relief aid work, Jakob Christensen later signed up for the Master of Disaster course at the University of Copenhagen.
Here, he gained valuable insights as well as establishing a network with humanitarian workers and refugee camp managers that would guide him onwards in the quest to develop a better shelter.
Room for improvement
The most important feature of a relief aid shelter is that it should provide just that. It’s a shelter. The clue is in the title. It should protect its inhabitant from wind, rain and snow and be a safe place to live, eat and sleep. With the amount of refugees rising explosively over the later years, it is equally important that the shelters are easy to transport, quick to set up and cheap to buy and maintain.
The tents that are usually used in relief aid situations live up to the above requirements, albeit not particularly successfully. An average refugee tent lasts for half a year, provides no insulation from neither the cold nor the blistering heat, it gets damp and uncomfortable and offers virtually no protection from anyone unwelcome who would want to get in.
In short: there is room for improvement. And Evershelter offers just that.
Life inside a Lifeshelter is very different than in regular relief aid tents.
Best thing on the market
After developing and testing a range of steadily refined shelter solutions in Iraq, Kurdistan, Tanzania and Uganda, Evershelter recently introduced their Lifeshelter solution.
The shelters can be adjusted in size according to specific needs, but the standard family solution is an 18 sqm unit that is earthquake, fire and hurricane resistant, noise reducing, waterproof, temperature resistant and safe to live in.
It can be produced and manufactured locally, creating jobs in and around the refugee camps. And when the shelters are no longer needed, they can be taken apart and reused as insulation for permanent buildings.
It is by any measure far superior to any other emergency or relief aid shelter – except on one point: the cost of one shelter is below 1000 US dollars. The average tent costs about 600 dollars. But with a life expectancy that is at least 30 times as long, the Lifeshelter should be the obvious choice of any straight-thinking relief aid worker or campsite manager.
Or so it would seem. Unfortunately, refugee camp managers usually only operate with one-year budgets, making the short-term saving on cheap tents desirable.
Even if it seems like a complete waste of money to buy something of a lower quality that will last shorter, this is the sad choice that refugee camp managers are often forced to make. Unless the UNHCR has decided that it makes sense to buy a better solution, that is.
Getting your foot in the UN door
Being the world’s biggest actor on the market for refugee and emergency relief aid, the UNHCR is a much-vowed institution for companies that deal with relief aid equipment. But getting them to sample your product is not exactly a walk in the park.
“So far, we’ve actually been reluctant to approach them,” says Jakob Christensen. “The UNHCR is a major operation that moves slowly and doesn’t allow itself to take any chances. If we want them to buy our shelters, they would have to conduct their own tests first – on top of all the tests we’ve done. And we would have to pay for that. A company of our size simply doesn’t have the millions of dollars that it would require.”
Instead, Evershelter is trying out a different way to get to the market. They are working closely together with the Tanzanian government to set up 2000 housing units and 120 extended units for schools in a refugee camp in western Tanzania.
This will provide shelter for around 10.000 refugees from Burundi and the basis for education for 5.000 children. Furthermore, it will initiate the transition from refugee camp to settlement with proper safety and infrastructure.
“With a showcase of this size, we will be proving ourselves to the UNHCR as well as everyone else,” says Jakob Christensen.
All you need is funds
So far, everything has been set up. The project is ready to go and only lacks one vital bit: funding.
“The Tanzanian government doesn’t have the funds to implement the project. Our company isn’t large enough for us to fund such a project with money coming from investors. This means that we are now actively looking for donations from Danish and international companies and foundations,” says Jakob Christensen.
In collaboration with the Danish Refugee Council, DTU and Meesle, Evershelter have set up an Impact partnership programme – an initiative aimed at gathering the funding needed to accomplish the project.
“We are appealing to large companies and foundations to help finance the showcase,” he says.
Apart from contributing actively to improving the toolbox of options for humanitarian response and get access to a global branding platform, partners will get the opportunity to explore new business opportunities and build high-level relations in Tanzania.Jakob Christensen from Evershelter together with representatives from the tanzanian government and Evershelters partner MEESLE. Behind them are the stackable moulds used for local shelter panel production.
The system should adjust
Creating awareness about innovative solutions in major humanitarian organisations is a challenge with a familiar to access2innovation CEO Jacob Ravn.
“It is a problem that we have faced many times before, “ he says. “It was actually one of the reasons why access2innovation was established. It is disheartening to see how many innovative ideas and brilliant solutions to grand challenges that never reach the end users. It is not just the UN. There is lack of innovation in many CSOs, and it always comes down to funding in the end,” he says.
“What we are trying to advocate is a system that is also geared to support small, innovative companies that work with researchers and CSOs – and for major institutions like the UN to sperhaps be a little less rigid when it comes to trying out innovations with large scale potentials like Lifeshelter.”
Read more at: www.evershelter.com
Evershelter has received funding from an initiative called Deciphering the Relief Aid Market. The target is to develop innovative solutions within emergency relief work that leads to better and more effective solutions to the World's mos vulnerable people and at the same time is viable to Danish companies. The initiative is administrated by the access2innovation association.