Staff Services Student Enterprise

Repair and repurposing for pandemic resilience

Project contact
Victoria Darbyshire
Business Development Executive Circular Economy

Off-grid energy technologies play a vital role in helping vulnerable refugee populations and displaced people live more comfortably by providing basic lighting, electrical charging and cooling services.

The Covid-19 pandemic has severely disrupted the supply chain for off-grid energy products and components, making the repair and repurposing of existing technologies a matter of great humanitarian urgency.

Rapid Response

A small research team led by Professor Jamie Cross and Rowan Spear of the School of Social and Political Science at the University of Edinburgh, in partnership with The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) Innovation Service and Chatham House, have been moved to action. Focusing on refugees and displaced people in Burkina Faso and sub-Saharan Africa, their multidisciplinary rapid research project spotlights the need for a design response to the overlapping refugee and Covid-19 crises by international development agencies and organisations. To ensure the continued health and wellbeing of displaced people who rely on the repair of essential off-grid energy technologies for survival, the research team is:

  • Engaging UNHCR Innovation Fellows on the ground to collect data on examples of repair of essential humanitarian technologies during the pandemic;
  • Analysing this data to ideate a series of design concepts in partnership with the Edinburgh College of Art to make the case for increased repairability from societal, environmental and business standpoints;
  • Building an evidence base for incorporating ‘cultures of repair’ in order to fast-track programmes and policies that integrate repair practice and making repairability a core consideration in humanitarian technology procurement practices.
  • Amplifying the project’s findings through the UNHCR and the Chatham House-led Moving Energy Initiative to partners across the international humanitarian and development sector.

With the global supply chain of off-grid energy products in upheaval, meeting the essential energy needs of a growing refugee population is a monumental task. This project establishes that repairability in design can and should play a significant role in the humanitarian response to the pandemic, and towards recovery.

We are hugely excited by the potential of this project to extend our knowledge of design challenges around repairability, repurposing and the circular economy in contexts of forced displacement and the current Covid-19 pandemic.

Tim Benton, Research Director, Emerging Risks; Director, Energy, Environment and Resources Programme, Chatham House

Key Benefits of Repair

  • Generates local jobs to service repairs;
  • Counters disruption by empowering vulnerable people to maintain appliances;
  • Facilitates re-use of components;
  • Enhances the use of scarce materials;
  • Conserves embodied energy, materials and water;
  • Reduces the transportation costs required to put products back into use.

Project dates

September 2020 – September 2021


Global Challenges Research Fund, through the Arts & Humanities Research Council

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