A world in need of the Ideas Box

The Ideas Box represents a major innovation in terms of access to information and culture in humanitarian crises.

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Libraries Without Borders, a French-American not for profit, founded in 2007 by the historian Patrick Weil, has pioneered a new way to bring culture and knowledge-based aid to vulnerable populations around the world.

Through our work, we had the opportunity to witness the impact of culture and education on populations affected by humanitarian crises in Haiti, following the massive earthquake that destroyed most of the country in 2010 and left 1.5 million people homeless. We partnered with UNICEF to set-up library spaces in camps. These became rallying points, spaces of hope where people were not reduced to victims of a catastrophe.

Take a moment to imagine you've fled your home and arrived in a camp, looking for safety. Now imagine you're there for days, weeks, months. Eventually the months turn into years. On average, refugees spend 17 years inside a camp.

Of course, camps provide food, shelter and medical aid – but too often they are not equipped to provide access to education, information and culture. However, emergencies are a very challenging logistical environment. What we had done in Haïti was not scalable. That's when we decided we had to imagine a new staple of emergency relief.

21st century solution

In 2013, we partnered with designer Phillippe Starck and the UN Refugee agency to create a pop-up 21st century safe learning environment that could be delivered anywhere in the world and set up in under an hour. We received seed funding from the Pierre Bellon Association[1] and the Alexander Soros Foundation[2].

The result is the Ideas Box.

The Ideas Box is a set of six durable water and dust proof boxes that fits on two shipping pallets – it contains everything needed to provide children and adults with the best in digital learning.

The Ideas Box contains a generator and internet connection, a server with a local area network of twenty tablets and computers, cameras, forty e-readers, and a large monitor for film sessions - all the tools necessary for connecting, learning, playing and creating new content.

The boxes unfold to become the furniture, and packed in them along with the digital tools are chairs and cushions, games, craft materials, a theatre workshop, and hard copy books. The language and contents are adapted to the specific contexts of the deployment areas.

The Ideas Box represents a major innovation in terms of access to information and culture in humanitarian crisis. A single Ideas Box provides the service and content equivalent of a small town library, serving approximately 5000 users.

[1] http://www.association-pierre-bellon.org/

[2] http://www.alexandersorosfoundation.org/resources.php

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