UNHCR ‘s Innovation Unit brings together a number of UNHCR divisions, beneficiaries,  academia and the private sector to develop new ways to address the needs of refugees and displaced people.

The four ‘Labs’ within UNHCR ‘s Innovation Unit — the Emergency Lab, Learn Lab, Energy Lab and Link Lab — are applying refugee-centered solutions in the areas of shelter design, agriculture, economic self-reliance, assistance coordination and sustainable energy.

Translation Cards

When a humanitarian crisis develops, UNHCR is often one of the first agencies on the ground, providing people with protection, shelter and emergency supplies. One of the greatest challenges for field staff in the early stages of a crisis is communicating vital information in multiple languages. The Emergency Lab within UNHCR’s Innovation Unit has collaborated with Mercy Corps and volunteers from Google and ThoughtWorks to develop the Translation Cards app.


In order to determine how best to support refugees, we need to hear their voices and ensure them access to vital information. Translation Cards is a mobile and tablet App that assists emergency staff in doing this.


The App allows users to communicate with one another using flashcards with basic questions and statements, translated with ease into several languages. The App also allows humanitarian field staff to record their own flashcards and use voice recognition technology to determine language.

“One man from Afghanistan told me that it was the first time he felt ‘connected to the humanitarians’.”

The Emergency Lab has received encouraging feedback from refugee users, for whose benefit the App has been developed: “We were told that the information being shared was ‘very helpful’ and ‘very practical’ and answered key questions,” said a member of the Emergency Lab team.

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