Ideas Box

Created by Libraries Without Borders as a humanitarian response device for access to information, education and culture, the Ideas Box is a learning center in a kit that unfolds on 100 square meters and accomodates 70 people at a time. It is fully furnished, weather proof and ergonomic, with its own energy source, and it provides tools for learning,  playing, connecting and creating. Its contents and resources are tailored to the needs of its users.  

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About This Innovation

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Setting up the Ideas Box
Ideas Box in Burundi

How does your innovation work?

The Ideas Box is a transformational technology: a “pop up” multimedia center, unpacked in twenty minutes, that is fully autonomous, portable, and durable.  Designed by Philippe Starck, each unit contains a satellite and a server, a generator, 25 tablets and laptops, a cinema, games, arts & crafts, and a stage for music and theatre. LWB works with local partners to customize all the Idea Box’s contents (including paper books and 50 e-readers with over 1000 books, and dozens of educational apps). Each Ideas Box, serving 10,000 people, quickly becomes a fully adaptable learning center, a library, or a community hub.

Beyond a toolkit, the Ideas Box is a revolutionary intervention in humanitarian response.  It helps reduce the vulnerability of people and especially children facing humanitarian crises. It gives them agency, through access to education, to design solutions appropriate to their needs.  It gives children the means to develop new livelihood skills, to learn, and to create.  And it provides  for psychosocial well-being, child protection, and community engagement, creating a safe space in the camps, supplying children the means to heal from trauma and displacement.  

What is your innovation's value proposition?

Two-thirds of refugee children in the world today have no access to schools, according to the UN.  Refugee camps lack libraries and community centers that support individual and collective development.  Children and their families are without safe spaces to live with dignity and independence.  In camps, they lack the means to process the trauma and violence that brought them there. Their disempowerment directly affects their future. Because the average length of major protracted refugee situations is now 26 years (UNHCR), these children will grow up in the “cities of tomorrow,” yet they live in  boredom, disconnected from the world, without opportunities to learn and develop.  

The international humanitarian response has attempted to address some of these problems by directing attention towards schooling.  Yet the resources are limited, and so are the programs that more broadly envision organized spaces and activities for children to create, to develop, and to think.  Since 2014, the UN has encouraged alternative arrangements for the world’s 21 million refugees to allow them to “make meaningful choices about issues affecting their lives.” Too frequently, though,  refugees themselves are not involved in finding solutions.  Communities end up with  little say over their lives and those of their children, and are bereft of enabling spaces and means to address their problems. Inside and outside the camps, refugees lack the tools and schools for children to develop and to learn.  They lack agency, the capacity to make informed choices that will shape future generation of children and citizens.

What Evidence do you have that your Innovation works?

Full reports available here:

After almost three years of experimentation in the humanitarian context, qualitative and quantitative evaluation studies demonstrate the impact of the Ideas Box in education, community building and psycho-social support.  An observational study conducted in Burundi in August 2014 showed successful uptake of the Ideas Box by users: the first two units registered over 24,000 visits in 3 months, and nearly 3,300 unique users.  These observations guided the design of summative evaluations:

A qualitative study (April 2015) highlighted the psycho-social impacts. Focus groups and interviews with refugees demonstrated reduced post-traumatic stress symptoms, reduced community tensions,  and prevention of tensions linked to the dissemination of false information.

A quantitative study (April 2016) assessed the educational outcomes of the Ideas box, through a RCT. It showed a 23% higher average academic improvement in the test group compared to the control group, as well as increased levels of curiosity and participation.
Assessments conducted in the Ideas Box projects implemented around the world (currently 70 projects on 5 continents) show consistent results in the enhancement of the quality of education, child protection and community building.

Access to the internet or educational resources alone does not seem to improve learning (Glewwe et al., 2004, 2009) ; however, coupled with enhanced teacher preparation, an interactive and rich learning environment can dramatically improve student performance. Evidence from the IRC in MENA suggests the need for integrated solutions that enable the psychological and social wellbeing of children.

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