Innovation at the IRC

The Airbel Center is the innovation team at the International Rescue Committee. We develop products, services, and systems to improve humanitarian response—creating lasting impact for people affected by conflict and crisis.

Explore our work

What is Airbel?

The Airbel Center's mission is to develop life-changing, highly scalable solutions that meet the needs of people affected by conflict and crisis.

With over 68 million people displaced, the world is facing an unprecedented crisis. To address the evolving and growing nature of this crisis requires not just more aid, but also new thinking.

That's why we established the Airbel Center. Working alongside the communities IRC serves, Airbel designs and tests new products, services and systems in partnership with governments, the private sector and other aid organizations.

Airbel forms teams that ally the knowledge and experience of frontline humanitarians with new ideas, energy and resources from outside the aid sector. We combine rigor, creativity, and healthy skepticism to develop solutions that address real needs and are sensitive to context.

Airbel combines on-the-ground expertise with disciplines like human-centered design, behavioral insights, and innovative finance to nurture breakthrough ideas to scale.

Airbel Illustration

How we work

Airbel collaborates with experts, frontline aid workers and the people we serve to identify unmet needs and challenges. Drawing on the best available evidence, we invest in prototyping and testing potential solutions—and design for scale from the outset. We work openly, share learnings and generate evidence throughout the research and development lifecycle.

Design

  • Develop solutions that draw on a deep understanding of context, a user's needs and values, outside sciences and disciplines
  • Build prototypes and responsibly pilot them in fragile contexts.

Test

  • Subject solutions to gradually more rigorous testing, from simple feedback mechanisms to wider impact evaluations.
  • Share our success and failures with the humanitarian sector.

Scale

  • Measure exactly how much improvement and cost-effectiveness we can achieve, leveraging the IRC’s global network and expertise.
  • Engage public and private partners to achieve scale.

Focus areas

Education Icon Education

During conflict and crisis, education protects children and sets them up for a better future. It provides a sense of hope and enables them to recover, learn and thrive. However, over 62 million children in countries affected by war remain out of school, while many others receive only a poor quality education. Despite this great need, education has received less than two percent of all humanitarian aid in recent years.

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Employment Icon Employment

There is a wealth of research showing that when refugees have the right to work, they gain the dignity of providing for themselves and their families and can contribute substantially to their host societies. Yet, in most situations of protracted displacement, there are considerable legal, policy, and financial barriers to unlocking this potential.

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Financing Icon Financing

A transformation is underway in social finance and impact investing, but humanitarian organizations have not yet explored how innovative finance instruments can improve outcomes for refugees. If we match finance to planning, we will save lives, money, and time responding to tomorrow's global displacement challenges.

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Nutrition Icon Nutrition

In rural households where infrastructure and services are scarce—places more likely to be fragile and crisis-affected—children are twice as likely to die before reaching their fifth birthday. Despite the fact that proven, low-cost interventions exist for the leading causes and contributors of under-five mortality, many people cannot access these because of delivery and "last mile" challenges.

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Other Icon Other

Talking about a “humanitarian business model” might sound like an oxymoron. But humanitarian aid is delivered through a complex system, and incentives don’t always generate the desired outcomes for people in need. What systemic innovations could unlock impact for people suffering the effects of conflict and crisis?

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Resettlement Icon Resettlement

Over 22 million refugees have been forced to flee violence and persecution, yet it's likely the case that less then 0.5% will be resettled in the next 10 years. Resettlement to a third country is by far the most life-changing opportunity we can offer to victims of armed conflict—and it is a bellwether for the international commitment to human rights. How can we protect and enhance this tradition?

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Safety Icon Safety

In conflict settings, women are more susceptible to gender-based violence and sexual exploitation by their partners and others. Girls are at risk of sexual violence and physical and emotional abuse by their partners and caregivers, and often face early or forced marriage. Boys are also at risk of hazardous child labor and also grapple with child abuse and neglect. How can we avoid reinforcing the effects of violence and conflict?

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Why "Airbel"?

Airbel is named for Varian Fry, who arrived in Marseilles in 1940 with $3,000 and a mission: to help people escape occupied France. There he established the Air-Bel Villa, a secret safe house that helped thousands of people escape to freedom.

Like all heroes of the early International Rescue Committee, Fry had no playbook or standard operating procedure to guide him. He learned by doing, applying ingenious methods, embracing inventive thinking, taking calculated risks, and building on success. This spirit has persisted for over 75 years and echoes throughout all of our programs worldwide.

Latest updates

A move away from camps requires a collaborative solution for housing

From both community and municipal perspectives, urban housing is a challenge that looms large.

How are Zolberg-IRC fellows translating thought into action?

This past October, the International Rescue Committee and the New School hosted a conversation on the global humanitarian challenges of today and the role of academies and social institutions in enabling humanitarian action.

5 Lessons for Designing Teacher Coaching Programs in Refugee Camps

Delivering quality social-emotional learning to refugee children means better supporting teachers.

Displaced Podcast

Our Supporters

We work with partners and donors from within and outside the humanitarian sector to bring fresh thinking, refine and implement projects, and achieve better outcomes for people suffering from violence and displacement.