Brighter Lives for Refugees campaign

For several weeks in 2014 and 2015, IKEA Foundation in partnership with UNHCR ran the Brighter Lives for Refugees (BLFR) campaign, an innovative fundraising initiative through which for every LED bulb or lamp sold in IKEA stores IKEA Foundation donated €1 to UNHCR. The campaign raised a total of €30.8 million, which has been used to improve education and access to renewable energy in refugee camps in Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Sudan and Jordan.


The campaign disseminated photos and videos containing highly emotive content through a range of communication channels: signs in IKEA stores, advertisements in the company’s catalogue and posts on Facebook and Youtube. Social media made it possible to reach a large audience in a cost-effective way while at the same time enabling interactivity. Most of the videos are in the form of a story which graphically illustrates life without access to energy while simultaneously connecting with the audience through references to common everyday activities such studying, sharing a meal, socialising or accessing water.   This emotive story-telling touched people’s hearts and aroused great empathy with those caught up in humanitarian crises.


The campaign was extremely successful not only in terms of fundraising but also in terms of increasing public awareness of the issue. Furthermore, between 2014 and 2018, thanks to the funds raised, a number of energy and education projects with very positive social and environmental impacts were implemented. The following poster shows some of the impact-related KPIs achieved:

For example, in Azraq (Jordan) the initiative funded the first solar plant constructed to power a refugee camp.  This project currently provides renewable energy to 5,000 shelters and it has reduced CO2 emissions by 2,370 tons a year.  It saves UNHCR an estimated £1.15 million annually and these savings mean that funds are now available to improve sanitation and shelters.


The success of the campaign can be attributed to a number of factors:

  • The partnership with UNHCR increased the visibility and credibility of the campaign.
  • Its ultimate purpose was to help vulnerable people mentioned in the news on a daily basis.
  • The name of the campaign made its purpose very clear.
  • It targeted IKEA customers, who represent a wide audience.
  • It presented a vision of hope which was solution-oriented (language of possibility).
  • It allowed IKEA customers and employees to participate and feel part of the solution.
  • The achievements of stakeholders were acknowledged and publicised.


Have you heard of this campaign? If you had known about it, would you have gone to IKEA to buy an LED bulb or made a direct donation to UNHCR?:


If you are interested in innovative fundraising campaigns, you might like to know about MSF’s  ‘medicine for someone else’s pain’ campaign too:


5 thoughts on “Brighter Lives for Refugees campaign

  1. Dear Julie,
    Thanks for writing about this campaign. To be honest, I have neither seen it before, nor I was aware about lacking light in refugee camps, which made it even more interesting to read your post. I find that this is an amazing campaign that makes a difference while simultaneously enhancing the brand of Ikea. Take the first picture with hundreds little white houses. Those, who have never seen a refugee camp like that before, would not wonder seeing Ikea’s logo surrounded by tiny wooden white houses – they almost look like Ikea’s own produce.

    I also completely agree with you that the campaign was so successful because it was truly touching. So many “tools” were used to inspire emotion in the public: poetry, a quirky voice, music, cartoons – it all reminds of childhood and invokes a sort of romantic melancholy. I would probably add that the campaign also owes its success to its simplicity. Simple message about a simple solution to a seemingly simple problem that creates so much grief – this is simply so catchy that it stays in the minds of whoever has seen at least one of these adverts.

    You’ve asked in your blog, whether I would buy a light bulb, had I seen the advert beforehand?… I probably wouldn’t (unless I truly needed a light bulb on that day), I would rather want to donate directly instead of buying a light bulb. The reason for this is because my attitude towards corporate fundraising is twofold. On the one hand, I impressed by the campaign and believe that is a great way to make one’s business purposeful, spread awareness and engage large numbers of people. On the other hand, I assume that this campaign increased the light bulb sales and no one knows what was the earnings margin after the donations were deduced comparing to the historic light bulb sales… I assume that the campaign resulted in an unprecedented profit from light bulb sales. And this is where I cannot find an answer, whether fundraising for a good cause while marketing on refugees is morally right thing to do. Therefore, you see – my heart is torn between the quality and emotional appeal of this campaign and second thoughts on the potentially dubious true goals pursued by it.

    Thanks again for sharing this, I enjoyed it so much!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Julie. I had not seen this campaign or fundraising strategy. But as usual, IKEA has a winning strategy. I know IKEA is partnering with UNHCR on the shelter issue. Thanks to IKEA, refugees (in the middle east- at least till I worked with HCR) now have better options of shelter – not the smallish plastic tent, which is the standard one, handed to the refugees the world over. But now they have the option of the larger, durable and sturdy housing units.

      I liked the Brighter Lives for Refugees campaign – because of its positive and empowering tone and not dehumanizing refugees and their journeys and lives and presenting them in the victim mode. The video is also very child-friendly and I love the usage of animation and images.

      However as mentioned by Pragmagreen above, I am not sure I would like to buy a bulb because having seen the abuse of funds by aid agencies (both UN and INGOs) I would want complete transparency of where my hard earned funds are going. If there is an app which shows the direct linkage of my contributions to a specific family which I can crosscheck/verify then, of course, I would like to contribute. But otherwise, if the funds go to IKEA (with no transparency about how much funds they raise and what part of it ends up for the refugees) and how UNHCR (or their partners) use the funds –then – I am not sure I would like to contribute.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi Shobha,

        Thanks for your interesting insights from a field-based point of view. IKEA’s shelters seem more comfortable than the tents indeed and I saw several videos where they were using design-thinking in order to adapt its design to the real needs of a specific refugee camp context (culture, insecurity, weather). In my view, IKEA has done a great effort to use its core business resources and knowledge in order to help refugees.

        I can imagine that the funds of aid agencies could be optimized even more. Many people have the same opinion as you. It is a very good idea to use digital technologies in order to have a better record of the employment of resources and thus easily detect specific inefficiencies within the current procedures. In fact, in the new’ GPA for Sustainable Energy Access in conditions of Displacement’ one of the working groups is focused on monitoring and evaluation (M&E) which is key in order to inform the best solutions to achieve the greatest energy efficiency. And yet, current uses of energy in refugee camps are polluting and inefficient (resulting in a waste of both fuel and budget).

        I’m looking forward to discuss further about your field-based view Shobha,



    2. Hi Pragmagreen,

      To be honest, I didn’t know about this campaign either until I did my research on sustainable energy access in conditions of displacement two months ago. Thus, it seems that many people didn’t know about it and probably only the customers who went to IKEA, or received its magazine, during the campaign’s period did.

      I quite understand your doubts towards corporate fundraising. It is true that very certainly IKEA’s bulbs sales increased during the campaign period and that this resulted in a rise of IKEA’s profits. However, it is also true that IKEA already has a huge success based on its core business and that it doesn’t really need to recur to a partnership with UNHCR in order to make a great profit. I personally think that given the achieved impact in increasing public awareness of the lack of energy in refugee camps and in donating such a figure to UNHCR, as well as the implication of IKEA’s corporate volunteers, it worth to support such a private initiative. It would be worst if they decided to do nothing although it is also true that ideally they could just donate the same figure without linking it to any specific fundraising campaign.

      Thanks for such an interesting comment Pragmagreen,

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thanks for sharing this campaign. I also hadn’t seen the campaign before and it was interesting to read about it in your blog. I liked the way you’ve embedded videos and links to demonstrate how the campaign worked. It’s also great to see the case studies and KPIs demonstrating the success of the project.

    Do have any information on how this campaign performed relative to other UN HCR campaigns?

    I also agree with the other comments made that transparency and accountability is crucial to gaining trust for charitable donations.


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