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Sustainable innovations for humanitarian operations in refugee camps

Lysann Seifert (Faculty of Economics and Management, University of Kassel, Kassel, Germany)
Nathan Kunz (Coggin College of Business, University of North Florida, Jacksonville, Florida, USA)
Stefan Gold (Faculty of Economics and Management, University of Kassel, Kassel, Germany)

International Journal of Operations & Production Management

ISSN: 0144-3577

Article publication date: 28 February 2023

Issue publication date: 12 October 2023




Although the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) emphasize the importance of leaving no one behind, the opposite is happening for the world's 89 million forcibly displaced people who are mostly left out of SDGs’ reporting and progress. A key reason for this poor outcome is that host country governments plan refugee camps as short-term shelters, but refugees stay in these camps for more than a decade on average due to ongoing conflicts in their home country. This disparity between intent and reality prevents sustainable living conditions for refugee populations. Operational innovations are needed to find sustainable solutions that ensure a higher quality of life and progress toward sustainability in refugee camps.


Through an abductive case study, the authors develop a theoretical framework on sustainable operational innovations for refugee camps. The authors use this framework to analyze four sustainable operational innovations implemented in three refugee camps in Jordan.


The authors develop three research propositions that describe the conditions required for these operational innovations to succeed: they need to include specific needs and cultural preferences of refugees, they must accommodate host governments' restrictions that limit permanent settlement, and finally, technological innovations require careful data management policies to protect refugees. Doing this, the authors account for the broader political-economic and ecological environments that refugee camps are embedded in.


This paper opens a new area of research on sustainable innovation in humanitarian operations. It provides insights into key contingency factors moderating the link between operational innovations and sustainability outcomes. It represents one of the few studies that build their theorizing upon field data collected in refugee camps.



The field research for this study was funded and implemented with support from the DAAD Doctoral Scholarship (grant program number 57438025). The authors would especially like to thank UNHCR and their humanitarian partner organisations in the camps in Jordan, as well as the anonymous reviewers and editorial team who gave us helpful suggestions for improving this paper.


Seifert, L., Kunz, N. and Gold, S. (2023), "Sustainable innovations for humanitarian operations in refugee camps", International Journal of Operations & Production Management, Vol. 43 No. 10, pp. 1554-1586.



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