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APRIL 2023 

The Belldegrun Center for Innovative Leadership is partnering with the United Nations in asking students to identify a challenge related to the increasing numbers of environmental refugees and propose a solution. Communities in the US and around the world are experiencing more severe and unpredictable weather patterns, natural disasters, changing local ecologies, and rising temperatures and sea levels. These environmental changes are expected to displace millions in the next few decades. Alongside this new reality are conversations regarding resource management, infrastructural planning, economics, and human rights, raising questions about how to prevent, minimize, and manage physical damage, send and distribute aid, rebuild, and integrate refugees into new communities.  

For this Impact Challenge, we ask students to consider these questions and propose innovative solutions to challenges related to supporting environmental refugees. Environmental refugees are legally defined as those displaced from their communities by climate change. They are often an invisible group who are not legally recognized as refugees internationally, which limits their access to certain rights and aid systems. We look forward to hearing your ideas!

BCIL Impact Challenge: Identify a challenge related to the growing numbers of environmental refugees and propose a solution. 

Winning Entries will have the opportunity to pitch their idea to members of the UN who focus on how climate change affects communities around the world, as well as receive a complementary experience.

Due Date: Proposals are due June 9, 2023 by 8:00 a.m. PST through this form

Criteria: Submissions will be judged by a panel of judges based on the following criteria:

  • Innovation: Is the proposed solution creative and unique?
  • Feasibility: How realistic is the proposed solution, and how would it generate buy-in? 
  • Impact: How significantly will the proposed solution address the challenge you identified?

Guiding Questions


Your submission can address individual or multiple challenges, and you should feel free to explore additional questions not listed below. 

Prevention & Preparation

Gov’t Policies & Legal Framework: How might we promote or improve the rights of environmental refugees?

Infrastructure & Engineering: How might we leverage innovative infrastructure and engineering methods to proactively prepare for and prevent displacement while also ensuring these solutions are sustainable, affordable, and accessible to all members of the community?

Response & Resettlement

Aid & Support: How might we design aid and support systems that address the unique needs and challenges of refugees?

Reception & Placement: How might we create effective and efficient reception and placement systems that prioritize the safety, well-being, and integration of refugees in their new host communities?

Acclimation & Recovery

Equity & Inclusion: How might we ensure that refugees maintain dignity and self-sufficiency throughout the recovery and acclimation process?

Social Reintegration: How might we enable refugees to rebuild their lives and livelihoods in new communities while also fostering social cohesion, cultural exchange, and mutual understanding within the host community?