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Global Governance Centre

The Future of Humanitarian Design

The Future of Humanitarian Design (HUD) is a research project exploring how emerging technologies, processes of aesthetic design, and engineering insights can be combined with knowledge from political science to tackle the crisis facing humanitarianism. 

HUD is a four-year Swiss National Science Foundation (SNSF) funded project focused on the challenges facing humanitarian action: war, refugee flows, forced displacement, etc. These humanitarian challenges are worsening. Contemporary conflicts are more frequent and protracted, refugee flows are rapidly destabilizing geopolitical structures, and humanitarian actors are under growing threat. In light of these dilemmas, HUD explores how emerging technologies, processes of aesthetic design, and engineering insights can be combined with knowledge from international relations to tackle the crisis facing humanitarianism. To do so, the project is constructed around a form of experimental action research in which International Relations scholars will collaboratively work alongside architects, engineers, and others to lead the co-design of three technological innovations designed to improve humanitarian practice and conditions. In this, the goal is to 1) explore how we might better integrate ‘high theoretical’ and ‘critical’ social scientific concepts and theories into the world of practice (humanitarian and beyond), 2) to see how social science can be more closely ‘bridged’ with engineering, architectural, and design practice and knowledge, and 3) therein, take up the urgent task – especially in the light of recent geopolitical events – of working collaboratively across the sciences to improve the conditions of some of the most vulnerable populations in the world.

To achieve this, HUD is a collaboration between the Geneva Graduate Institute, the University of Copenhagen, the Department of Interior Architecture at HEAD – Genève, and the EssentialTech Lab at EPFL Lausanne. The project will involve three Ph.D. researchers, three Postdocs researchers, and two Research coordinators. It also integrates high-level policy practitioners as project partners based at organizations including Médecins sans frontières (doctors without borders), Terre des hommes, and the International Committee of the Red Cross, alongside partnerships with research institutions in Colombia and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Timeline: September 2023 - August 2027.

Funding organization:

logo SNF

Principal Investigators


Anna Leander

Professor of International Relations and Political Science
Chair of the Department of International Relations and Political Science
Geneva Graduate Institute


Javier Fernández Contreras

Associate Professor of Interior Architecture
Dean of the Department of Interior
Architecture/ Space Design
HEAD - Genève (HES-SO)


Jonathan Austin

Assistant Professor of International Relations
University of Copenhagen



  • Klaus Benedikt Schönenberger, EssentialTech, École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland.

    • Klaus Benedikt Schönenberger is Director of EssentialTech at the École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne and  and leads interdisciplinary science and technology research for humanitarianism and peace promotion. He regularly co-develops interventions, together with EPFL Labs, that benefit the poorest and most vulnerable populations in the world.  Schönenberger pioneered a new systems-engineering methodology and value-chain approach to development engineering. Amongst many projects, he led the GlobalDiagnostiX project to develop ultra-robust and affordable medical X-rays adapted to the needs and constraints of developing countries, as profiled in an award-winning documentary film.

  • Mariazel Maqueda-Lopez, PeaceTech HUB, EssentialTech, École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland.

    • Mariazel Maqueda-Lopez is Head of the PeaceTech Division, at EssentialTech at the École polytechnique fédérale de  Lausanne.  Previously she was Programme and Engagement Manager for B Lab Switzerland, where she managed the Swiss Triple Impact program that supports companies in meeting the Sustainable Development Goals. She has worked across numerous social and humanitarian programmes globally, and holds a PhD in Micro Electro Mechanical Systems.


Expert Practitioner Partners


  • Gilles Carbonnier, International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC).

    • Gilles Carbonnier is Vice President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Professor of Development
      Economics at the Graduate Institute, Geneva. His fields of expertise include humanitarian and development policies, war
      economies and natural resource governance, as well as business and human rights. Carbonnier personifies the  transvocational ethos of HUD. His work consistently combines cutting-edge scientific inquiry with professional humanitarian activities

  • Barbara Hintermann, Terre des hommes, Switzerland.

    • Barbara Hintermann is Director General of Terre des hommes and has agreed to support HUD with the expertise of the organization in humanitarian action and through participation in co-design workshops and studios, as well as academic workshops. In addition, HUD will draw on the expertise of Riccardo Lampariello who is Head of Terre des hommes’ Global Health, Innovation, and Digital Health programme, which explores the practical benefits that digitalization, artificial intelligence, digital fabrication, and other technologies might have in humanitarianism.

  • Reveka Papadopoulou,  Médecins Sans Frontières, Switzerland.

    • Reveka Papadopoulou is President of Médecins Sans Frontières Switzerland/OCG and has agreed to support HUD with 
      MSF’s expertise across its activities. This includes through the advisory support of Monica Rull Villa who is Medical Director at MSF and has worked delivering aid programs in humanitarian settings globally. MSF’s expertise will be especially important in HUD’s second space of intervention focused on gender-based violence in refugee compounds.


Local RESEARCH Partners


  • Prof. Arlene Tickner, Universidad del Rosario, Colombia.

    • Arlene Tickner is Professor of International Relations and Director of Research at Universidad del Rosario (Bogota, Colombia). Tickner has three decades of experience working in Colombia and Latin America. This includes extensive research on peace, security, and humanitarian dilemmas. Tickner is also a central figure in developing ‘non-Western’ conceptualizations of  politics, ranging from work on postcolonial theory, through non-Western relational ontologies and beyond (Tickner 2003b; 2007; 2013; 2003a; 2008; 2002; Tickner and Querejazu 2021; Blaney and Tickner 2017).

  • Prof. Godefroid Muzalia Kihangu, Institut Supérieur Pédagogique de Bukavu, Democratic Republic of the Congo. 

    • Godefroid Muzalia Kihangu is Professor at the Department of History and Social Science at the Institut Supérieur Pédagogique de Bukavu (Democratic Republic of the Congo) and director of the Conflict and Human Security research group at the University Research Centre of Kivu ( (GEC-SH). The GEC is a leading Congolese research center that explores security politics, humanitarian crisis, and conflict. It comprises a team of over a dozen locally-embedded researchers who will contribute to HUD’s conceptualization,  implementation, and overall success.

Advisory Board


  • Ursula Biemann, Swiss Video Artist and Theorist, who recently designed a university for indigenous people in Colombia;

  • Andrew Clapham, Professor of International Law, with extensive in violence prevention within humanitarian contexts.

  • Jose Dario Rodrígues who co-directs the Centro de Investigacion y Educacion Popular Programa Por la Paz in Colombia;

  • Iain Bryne who works closely with the Gender and Refugee Migrants team in his role at Amnesty International.

Project summary