Solution Overview & Team Lead Details

Our Organization

Every Shelter

What is the name of your solution?

Shelter Depot

Provide a one-line summary of your solution.

Refugee-led hardware stores that empowers self-reliance and sustainable homes with innovative goods and services through non-traditional ownership pathways.

Film your elevator pitch.

What specific problem are you solving?

Today, over 100 million people are displaced. The World Bank predicts this number will grow to over 240 million displaced and in need of shelter by 2051. Less than 0.1% will ever be resettled leaving 99 million people in need of more sustainable solutions. On average, a person displaced today will be away from home for over two decades, but the current refugee relief system for the majority of refugees focuses primarily on the first 1-2 years of displacement: the Emergency Response Phase. This phase is heavily dependent on cheap imports and band aid solutions. This is the beginning of a vicious cycle of endless aid and painful dependence. In an emergency, free aid is necessary and welcome, but in ordinary life, everyone deserves the dignity of choosing to pay for quality. The current model for displacement isn’t working. It’s time to build more sustainable solutions now so we can meet this critical and growing global crisis.

What is your solution?

Every Shelter created the Shelter Depot concept to fill in a critical gap in the refugee aid ecosystem. Shelter Depot is a home improvement store that offers shelter-focused products and services currently not accessible to the most refugees in camps and settlements. Shelter Depot aims to enhance and increase displaced peoples’ agency in their own housing decisions by providing market access to resources, tools, and training, as well as offer work for credit opportunities where residents can sign up to be trained to participate in a work day for either cash, credit to the store, or products they produced. 

Shelter Depot platforms and facilitates low-carbon materials and products. One of our goals is to facilitate local and refugee innovations by creating a platform and marketplace for these new products, ideas, and services.

  1. Interlocking Stabilized Soil Blocks: stabilized earth bricks made locally in camp without the need for cutting down trees and vegetation, baking with fuel, or transporting materials from overseas

  2. Clean cookstoves: reduces wood consumption and efficiently transfers heat to a cooking pot

  3. Solar lighting: soon solar lighting will be available in Shelter Depot

  4. Sustainable local forestry products: part of Shelter Depot’s work for credit opportunities include planting trees for sustainably harvest shelter poles and carbon offset market-backed reforesting work.

  5. Palm frond roofs: a local Ugandan NGO can now offer to train refugees how to make these roofs from local African Fan Palms instead of less sustainable imported options.

  6. Bashe Bora: Every Shelter hires refugee and Ugandans alike to take billboard vinyls bound for the landfill and repurpose them into high quality shelter roofs lasting years instead of months like the current aid tarps

As Shelter Depot grows in scale and sophistication, each location will be supported by a software-enabled backend where stores can be efficiently managed by a regional manager and impact shared with donors and partners alike.

Who does your solution serve, and in what ways will the solution impact their lives?

Shelter Depot was created to be an adaptable solution to fit in any refugee camp context. We started with our pilot in Uganda, but the problems remain the same in refugee camps around the world. The adaptability of Shelter Depot comes in with the community’s input into sustainable solutions using local products and services. Every Shelter is creating a brand new ecosystem to support the physical needs of refugees for the long haul; a more holistic, localized method that puts refugees at the center of their own recovery. 

Shelter Depot started as a pilot in the Bidi Bidi Refugee Settlement in the northwest part of Uganda close to the South Sudan border. The Bidi Bidi Refugee Settlement is the 2nd largest refugee settlement in the world. It comprises roughly 270,000 refugees most of whom fled from violence in South Sudan. Because Bidi Bidi is extremely remote, once shelters begin to fail, refugees typically have to travel hours or even days to procure basic shelter materials often made in factories far away at expensive rates with no easy way to transport their goods. 

What if instead of cheap imports, locally made materials and products with a far lower carbon footprint were available to refugees? What if instead of spending time and resources on materials far from their shelters, we could give refugees ownership of their homes within their camps? 

Our model is designed to break the cycle of dependency that traditional humanitarian aid perpetuates. We're not just providing handouts, we're creating jobs and supporting local economies. By operating at a profit, we're able to ensure that our stores can last over time, creating sustainable solutions for communities in need.

How are you and your team well-positioned to deliver this solution?

Shelter Depot is designed to operate with local autonomy  with the ability to respond to the unique needs of the community around it. In order for a Shelter Depot to succeed, the community around it either finds value in our offerings, or they decide not to opt in. With this model, refugees now have purchasing power instead of being handed goods with no value or usefulness in their everyday lives.

Scott Key, the Team Lead/CEO, has worked in the refugee shelter goods space since his time in his master’s degree program at Rice University in 2012. Scott and his partner Sam Brisendine (Every Shelter Board Member) worked towards providing Syrian refugees on the border of Syria and Lebanon with a modular shelter flooring system they created called Emergency Floor.

Loise Wanjohi is our Director of Programs & Operations in East Africa. She has worked for Every Shelter in Uganda since 2020. She oversees both Shelter Depot and our other project, Shelter Workshop: Uganda which produces tarps from used billboard vinyl ultimately to be used for refugee shelters. She lives and works in Kampala, Uganda.

Joseph Otika runs the Shelter Depot in Uganda, and he and his staff live in Bidi Bidi and the surrounding areas. Joseph conducts community sensitization meetings where he and others listen to the questions and concerns of the community members in Bidi Bidi. One such concern came from Elias Angani, a Refugee Welfare Council Chairperson, who passionately presented us with the idea to provide seed and agricultural tools for the people in the community he represents. 

Finally, Every Shelter is driven by data back results. We have engaged Kuja Kuja to survey the community both before Shelter Depot began, and in the coming months to ensure Shelter Depot is a wanted and needed aid. 

Which dimension of the Challenge does your solution most closely address?

Support informal communities in upgrading to more resilient housing, including financing, design, and low-carbon materials or energy sources.

In what city, town, or region is your solution team headquartered?

Bidi Bidi Refugee Settlement, Kampala, Houston Texas

In what country is your solution team headquartered?

  • Uganda
  • United States

What is your solution’s stage of development?

Growth: An organization with an established product, service, or business model that is rolled out in one or more communities

How many people does your solution currently serve?

Since February, about 1700 people have been served.

Why are you applying to Solve?

Refugee camps and settlements are highly regulated and bureaucratic settings.There are many gatekeepers and well-meaning policies with unintended consequences that stifle innovation and individual flourishing. A leading academic as it relates to identifying both problems and solutions in this space, Dr. Alexander Betts, has referred to them as “warehouses for people” in the sense that they act like purgatories. Basic needs may be met, but human potential and dignity languises.

The fact that the first Shelter Depot is operational is no small miracle. It took four years of research and persistence to sort through the red tape and win over gatekeepers. All this is to say that systemic change in this space is extremely challenging and learning from other successful systems entrepreneurs through Solve will be a game changer for scaling this concept in its complex environs.

In which of the following areas do you most need partners or support?

  • Business Model (e.g. product-market fit, strategy & development)
  • Technology (e.g. software or hardware, web development/design)

Who is the Team Lead for your solution?

Scott Key

More About Your Solution

What makes your solution innovative?

The underlying truth behind the Shelter Depot concept is that refugees are already market participants. Markets emerge within camps and settlements nearly as fast as the first shelters do. It is a universally observable behavior in the refugee sector with many distinct manifestations around the world. In light of increasingly constrained aid budgets to effect change, Shelter Depot is a model that builds on these entrepreneurial and market-participatory behaviors to accomplish enhanced shelter, WASH, and livelihoods goals in a manner that is nimble and responsive to the real time needs of refugees. 

Current geopolitical and sector trends position Shelter Depot to be a timely concept; the growing duration of displacement, the increasing prevalence of cash-based assistance, and the universally felt challenges which seem endemic in the global supply chain of physical goods. 

First, the nature of displacement has changed dramatically since the inception of the UNHCR in the 1950’s. It is rare for a contemporary displacement event to not evolve from an “emergency response” into what the sector deems a “protracted crisis.” In fact on average a person displaced today will stay so for over two decades. If a displacement crisis had the early advantage of catching the attention of the global media and thus an outpouring of philanthropic support, that spotlight fades quickly. This new, but common “protracted” phenomenon necessitates the need for strategies that exit “aid” and adopt “development” strategies to stretch budgets. This constraint is an opportunity to reimagine old systems and build a refugee-led approach built upon the natural market-participation seen in camps and settlements across the world. 

Second, the growing prevalence of cash-based assistance necessitates a supply-chain counterpart. Money is good, but only as good as the purchasable solutions at hand. Camps and settlements, despite their rich marketplaces, often lack important product offerings due to risk-averse, capital-constrained merchants. Refugees often have novel needs not experienced by their host community neighbors. This is often caused by restrictions imposed by the host country limiting household advancements deemed to be too “permanent.” Though solutions may exist regionally (solar lighting, long-lasting temporary roofing) an organic emergence of these products / solutions are highly improbable. This is a gap Shelter Depot can fill. Shelter Depot is the needed physical goods complement to the efficacy of cash. 

Third, the world has seen an utter shake-up of the global supply chains we once took for granted. The aid sector has not been immune to these challenges. Out of necessity, the sector has grown its efforts to source locally. Creating marketplaces in settlements gives locally produced and sourced goods an opportunity to succeed. They can become outlets to hyperlocation production of goods consumed regularly by displaced populations. 

Shelter Depot fundamentally seeks to improve the efficacy of existing refugee aid sector goals as an alternative, evidence-based distribution model. It is the agency-imparting alternative to traditional in-kind aid distributions. It is ultimately about market access, responsive and nimble solution models, localization of goods production, and a vehicle for micro-financing and product subsidization. 

What are your impact goals for the next year and the next five years, and how will you achieve them?

1 year goals: 

  1. Double number of cash sales at Shelter Depot each month. Each sale represents an entire household whose shelters and therefore lives have been impacted through their own agency.

  2. Double and diversify the work for credit opportunities available. Work for credit is an extremely popular option with 10 people signed up for every 1 available opportunity. By increasing and diversifying, we will be able to offer greater options to people and reach those who cannot do physical work.

5 year goals:

  1. Have a Shelter Depot in every zone of every settlement to reach every shelter. Currently Shelter Depot is located in zone 5 at the Bidi Bidi Refugee Settlement. With a settlement this large, zone 5 is not easily accessible to anyone else living in other zones. If we could provide a Shelter Depot in each zone, everyone will get the opportunity to choose if and how they improve their shelters.

  2. Package up Shelter Depot like a franchise for other NGOs (Non-Governmental Organizations). We aspire to work collaboratively with others. To know one refugee context well, means you only know that one refugee context well. When an NGO is already in a camp or settlement space, they know the people and culture better than we do. Our goal allows NGOs to take our model and use it in the unique context they already know.

Which of the UN Sustainable Development Goals does your solution address?

  • 3. Good Health and Well-being
  • 6. Clean Water and Sanitation
  • 7. Affordable and Clean Energy
  • 11. Sustainable Cities and Communities
  • 15. Life on Land

How are you measuring your progress toward your impact goals?

Data is paramount to the work we do. Monitor and evaluation is built into the requirements in order for us to work in a refugee camp or settlement. Therefore we collect data in the following ways:

  1. At the Shelter Depot store front we collect daily, weekly and monthly data to monitor how many people are working for credit, how many items are sold, and how many trees have been planted. (UN 3.9, 6.4, 7.1, 11.1, 11.c, 15.3)

  2. Kuja Kuja surveys the community both before Shelter Depot began, and in the coming months to ensure Shelter Depot is a wanted and needed aid. 

  3. We plan to create an impact spreadsheet to take all of these data points and tie them to each social metric it impacts.

What is your theory of change?

Our mission is to build localized refugee-aid ecosystems centered around the needs (stability), preferences (agency), and aspirations (opportunity) of refugees.

Activities: Refugees come and purchase an item needed to improve their shelter.

Outputs: Their shelter is improved and their family can live in a clean, safe environment.

Short Term Outcomes: Refugees gain stability in their shelters. 

Long Term Outcomes: Refugees have their needs met.

Activities: Refugees come and choose items they need instead of being handed things they don’t. 

Outputs: Their shelter is improved based on the needs and desires of their unique family.

Short Term Outcomes: Refugees gain agency in their lives.

Long Term Outcomes: Refugee’s preferences are recognized and not marginalized.

Activities: Refugees come to work for credit or cash.

Outputs: They have the ability to improve their shelter or take cash to purchase other things they need or want. 

Short Term Outcomes: Refugees are given the opportunity for work.

Long Term Outcomes: Refugees have their aspirations to work met.

Describe the core technology that powers your solution.

Technology is all around refugee camps and settlements, but rarely makes it inside. Shelter Depot breaks down the barriers of entry to make these technologies readily available to people who need it most. 

The items available at Shelter Depot use technology to improve the lives of refugees. Things like clean cookstoves have been around since the 1950s. This technology drastically reduces the amount of wood consumption and transfers heat to a cooking pot more efficiently. Solar lighting brings light into dark houses who otherwise do not have access to electricity. Local knowledge like how to use African Fan Palms can use the innovations and ideas of people in Uganda to solve the failing roof problem we often see in camps.

Which of the following categories best describes your solution?

A new business model or process that relies on technology to be successful

Please select the technologies currently used in your solution:

  • Behavioral Technology
  • Crowd Sourced Service / Social Networks
  • Materials Science

In which countries do you currently operate?

  • Uganda

In which countries will you be operating within the next year?

  • Uganda
Your Team

What type of organization is your solution team?


How many people work on your solution team?

Full Time: 2 Part Time: 6

How long have you been working on your solution?

The idea originated in 2019 with plans to begin the project in the summer of 2020. Due to COVID, our plans were delayed. We began again in 2022 and opened the first Shelter Depot in February of 2023.

What is your approach to incorporating diversity, equity, and inclusivity into your work?

Diversity: With our work, diversity is a welcome necessity. Working together is how Every Shelter makes an impact that will last a lifetime.Each store’s staff and its leadership reflects the community it exists in. Shelter Depot is a framework.

Equity: Everyone has the equal opportunity to thrive at Every Shelter. Shelter Depot levels economic playing fields with non-traditional pathways to ownership.

Inclusion: We want to hear and learn from everyone in the Every Shelter sphere. We want to have solutions that are an actual benefit to people. Shelter Depot structurally cannot succeed if we do not present a value to the community.

Your Business Model & Funding

What is your business model?

In simplistic terms, Shelter Depot is a hardware store in a refugee camp. As such it brings products and services that strike a balance of utility, desirability, and value to its customers, refugees and local Ugandans (like Lowes or Home Depot might in their context). Shelter Depot is a market-based alternative to emergency aid which in its context has long since disappeared.

Much like a Lowes in the Southern US wouldn’t carry snow-blowers, Shelter Depots are able to adapt to carry only products that match the contextual needs of the refugees in each given setting. In our pilot store, we carry basics like nails, sustainably harvested poles, upcycled tarpaulins, and jerry cans. We also are growing our inventory to carry products that may be less known, but highly desirable to our customers such as solar lighting, clean cookstoves, sustainable cooking fuels, and goods created by Ugandan NGO’s like home goods and roofing materials made from palm fronds. Since it is a retail setting, goods that don’t strike the balance of utility / desirability / value do not sell. In essence, this is an extremely compelling version of impact measurement. Because these offerings are not free (they cost money or time), if we don’t offer the right balance, the store doesn’t succeed.

Our customers are displaced people and local host country citizens. What they share in common is a lack of proximity to marketplaces that might sell similar goods. They are easily qualified in any global measurement of poverty. They all have housing and living frustrations and desire improvements. They are market participants in many facets of their lives.

We service these customers by creating market-based access to life-changing physical goods and services. By access we mean; proximity (bringing goods close), capital (providing non-traditional pathways to ownership), knowledge (educating and training on impactful options), and platforming (retailing the goods of locals and refugees). The goods are showcased and sold in “brick and mortar” settings within walking distance of our customers with product delivery options available for larger goods. 

To date, the most popular aspect of the stores are our Work for Credit opportunities (one of the non-traditional pathways of ownership). Whether a customer does not have cash or would prefer to preserve their cash reserves, each good is priced in terms of fiat currency or days of work required. Customers can see the work opportunities available to them at that time and sign up if that suits them. To date we have 10 customers waitlisted for every 1 WFC opportunity and are working to expand this oversubscribed aspect of our business. We have found a compelling Venn Diagram overlap with carbon offsetting and its marketplace whereby we are increasingly able to offer WFC opportunities growing trees paid for by partners facilitating investments. These externalized sources of funds are a revenue engine for Shelter Depot.

Do you primarily provide products or services directly to individuals, to other organizations, or to the government?

Individual consumers or stakeholders (B2C)

What is your plan for becoming financially sustainable?

Our ever increasing donor base is quickly covering our overhead expenses. We have hired a grants manager in the fall of 2022 to pursue grants at all levels, including governmental grants.  We also sell products through Shelter Depot. The plan is for Shelter Depot to become a self sustaining model much like any other business.

Share some examples of how your plan to achieve financial sustainability has been successful so far.

We successfully raised over $750,000 in 2022. We are well on our way to raise over $1.2 million to hit our budget in 2023. In 2022, we successfully won 9 grants totaling $225,000; one of which was $100,000.

Solution Team

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