The Bartlett Development Planning Unit



The RELIEF Centre aims to speed up transitions to sustainable, prosperous societies in the context of mass displacement, to improve the quality of people's lives.

relief centre

18 June 2018

The RELIEF Centre is a centre for research and learning focused on inclusive growth and prosperity. It is about the prosperity of Lebanon in particular, but it is also part of a larger agenda for developing sustainable ways to improve the quality of life of people throughout the world. In every country in the world, the means and mechanisms to turn the wealth our economies generate into prosperity, and to share the benefits of that prosperity more evenly across all social groups, is severely lacking. This is one of the major challenges for future global prosperity. The RELIEF Centre brings Lebanese and UK institutions and expertise together to address this challenge.

Prosperity is about more than income or wealth of GDP growth. When we talk about prosperity we mean a holistic notion of progress which takes into account the multiple dimensions of people's lives. These include personal dimensions such as health, education, and meaningful membership in a community, as well as external or environmental factors such as high-quality public services, safe and health urban environments, and availability of good jobs in one's place of residence.

In the context of Lebanon, developing an agenda of prosperity is particularly urgent because of the pressures that the country is facing as a result of the ongoing refugee crisis. The arrival of over a million Syrian refugees since 2011 has put enormous strain on public services and infrastructure, jobs and wages, and educational opportunities. It has also created social tensions between host and refugees due to increase competition for scarce resources.

Addressing these challenges through the lens of prosperity enhances the potential of future economic development and growth in Lebanon. The task ahead is to use cutting edge research and innovation to maximise the benefits of economic growth and to do so in a way that is inclusive of all members of society.

In collaboration with local communities, the Centre will explore how endeavours to promote economic growth can intersect with improvement in people’s quality of life. Community researchers will design metrics for, and measure, the prosperity of their local areas and how it changes over time. We will work with new learning technologies to enhance the educational and skills of more people living in Lebanon, in the fields of sustainable design, post-conflict urban regeneration, and education.

The centre will also examine how Syrian refugees can work alongside their host Lebanese communities to design more resilient and better quality living environments. It will also look at how new technologies can be used to deliver affordable education to both refugees and Lebanese citizens, equipping people with the skills and capacities for managing conflict, and improving their environments and well-being. In addition, the centre will conduct research into how Syrian cities, institutions and communities can be rebuilt and strengthened once the current conflict is over.

The RELIEF Centre is funded for five years by the UK Economic and Social Research Council under the UK Global Challenges Research Fund. It is led by the Institute for Global Prosperity at UCL and is a collaborative project between the American University of Beirut (AUB), the Centre for Lebanese Studies and University College London. UCL's Development Planning Unit, the Department for Civil, Environmental & Geomatic Engineering, the Institute of Education, Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis and the Institute for Security and Resilience Studies are all partners in the Centre.

View the RELIEF Centre website here.


Research questions

What does inclusive growth and sustainable prosperity look like in the context of large-scale movement of people?
How can we improve the quality of life for all in urban environments in Lebanon?
How do we drive innovation and measure value creation in the context of Lebanon?
How can the research and knowledge transfer capacities of Universities be reconfigured to develop innovative responses to these challenges?

The RELIEF Centre programme consists of four research themes based on the research questions:

Research Strand 1: The Vital City
Research Strand 2: Creating Value
Research Strand 3: Future Education
Research Strand 4: Prosperity Gains and Inclusive Growth

Our objectives

  • Develop an innovative and integrated approach to sustainable prosperity for all in Lebanon based on social and economic inclusiveness
  • Work closely with stakeholders - including academic networks, policy makers, business, civil society organisations and communities - to co-design and implement new options for sustainable prosperity
  • Develop new measures of value that enable good decisions through data sets
  • Develop sustainable collaboration between UK and Lebanese Higher Education institutions to develop innovative responses to research that could be relevant to other contexts of movement/migration
  • Demonstrate and develop the role of social science in leading new forms of multidisciplinary knowledge production across disciplines and sectors
  • Use digital technologies to build new knowledge sharing platforms for innovative forms of collaboration between Universities and communities
  • Develop a new generation of scholars able and trained to work across disciplines and to use quantitative and qualitative data, to co-produce research excellence that ensures long term change

There are 65.6 million forcibly displaced people in the world (UNHCR, 2017). This means that 1 in every 122 people on the planet is now either a refugee, internally displaced or seeking asylum (UNHCR, 2014). Given the magnitude of displacement today, movement can no longer be considered an anomaly. It has become the "new normal" around the globe, whether people are "hosts" or "movers".

Low and middle income countries host 86% of the world's refugees. Lebanon hosts the most refugees in relation to its population, with 183 refugees per 1,000 inhabitants (UNHCR, 2016). This presents challenges to its economy, local infrastructure, and education system.

There is growing evidence that inequality is harmful to individuals and societies. Prosperity is negatively affected by poor educational opportunities, health, social cohesion, and employment prospects (OECD, 2015; Legatum Institute, 2015). Many countries do not have systems that can spread the benefits of prosperity more evenly across their societies, a problem that is only aggravated by mass displacement.

By contrast, social and economic inclusion are strongly associated with more sustainable, prosperous lives. Achieving inclusive growth involves looking beyond monetary indicators and GDP, to quality of life and well-being. Steps towards greater inclusiveness in sectors including education, innovation, entrepreneurship, infrastructure, public services, public policies and health and wellbeing can therefore address the detrimental impacts of inequality.

The scale, and sometimes protracted nature of displacement crises, requires new sustainable approaches that go beyond the once dominant model of humanitarian relief. These interventions are needed quickly, as competition over resources grows in some areas of the world. To be effective, they would need to create a 'level playing field' based on social and economic inclusiveness for "hosts" and "refugees". It follows that then interventions addressing challenges brought about by mass displacement include equipping populations with the skills and education needed to strengthen their economic, physical, governmental, social, political and environmental structures.

The RELIEF Centre brings together a group of world-leading senior academics from across UCL and Lebanese Higher Education institutions with expertise on sustainable prosperity, economics, engineering, internet technology, anthropology and sociology, urban design, education, and regional expertise on Lebanon and the Middle East. It addresses the themes of migration, mobility and development as well as innovation and inclusive economic growth. The Centre stems from UCL’s Institute of Global Prosperity’s (IGP) RELIEF network, with experts from across UCL as well as organisations and NGOs working in the MENA region and elsewhere. The RELIEF network grew out of UCL’s Refuge in a Moving World interdisciplinary research network, a joint IGP/UCL Institute of Advanced Studies initiative.

Research themes

The Vital City
The Vital City explores the complex entanglements in space and time of displacements, crisis and city futures focusing on the actual vitality of cities in Lebanon. It looks into infrastructure and services, infrastructure scarcity, overlapping claims over spaces and accesses to services in the context of a crisis laden, latent conflicts, and the actual complexity in the governance of local areas. This theme also takes into consideration the local context in which diverse communities, NGOs and individuals interact as agents in the reproduction of space, in order to understand how to make more resilient and better-quality living environments.

Creating Value
This research strand develops new models for assessing the value of successful community-driven projects in terms of job creation, health and well-being, and capacity for innovation. It will blend together an innovative range of data and empirical methods, developing data metrics to provide robust evidence for policy interventions directed towards improving the public realm in Lebanese cities so to improve productivity, capabilities and wellbeing for refugees and hosts. The programme works closely with Lebanese universities to develop new ways in which higher education institutions can generate value and improve human and social capital via community-based initiatives.

Future Education
Future Education works on co-designing the appropriate education and learning opportunities for communities impacted by mass displacement. This research strand will work with local academics, policy makers, teachers, teacher-educators and community members to design and embed scaled up online and blended learning to address pressing educational and training needs. Projects include online professional development for teachers of vulnerable children (with local blended support), training for community researchers in research skills, and crowd-sourcing data for the other research themes.

Prosperity Gains and Inclusive Growth
Prosperity Gains and Inclusive Growth explores what prosperity means for people in Lebanon and how it can be achieved in the context of large-scale displacement in an inclusive way that benefits all residents. The research developed in this theme will be used to develop innovative tools and frameworks which residents can use to monitor the prosperity and quality of life in their community.


Primary Management Group

The Primary Management Group is responsible for the day-to-day guidance and management of the RELIEF Centre.

Professor Henrietta Moore
Principal Investigator

Dr Andres Vicente
Centre Administrator

Ms. Rachel Saliba
Lebanon Coordinator

The Vital City

Professor Howayda Al-Harithy


Professor Camillo Boano

Dr Fouad M. Fouad

Professor Nick Tyler

Dr Nasser Yassin

Ms. Joana Dabaj
Research Collaborator

Dr Hanna Baumann - UCL Institute for Global Prosperity
Post-Doctoral Research Associate

Dr Harriet Allsopp
Research Collaborator

Creating Value

Professor JP MacIntosh

Professor Michelle Baddeley

Professor Mike Batty
Research Collaborator

Dr Sarah Wise
Research Collaborator

Dr Ana Tomičić
Post-doctoral Research Associate

Future Education

Dr Elaine Chase - UCL Institute of Education

Dr Eileen Kennedy - UCL Knowledge Lab, UCL Institute of Education
Senior Research Associate

Professor Diana Laurillard - UCL Knowledge Lab, Institute of Education

Dr Mai Abu Moghli - UCL Institute of Education
Research Associate

Dr Tejendra Pherali - UCL Institute of Education

Dr Maha Shuayb - Centre for Lebanese Studies


The Vital City: Time and space in the unpacking of displacements, crisis and city futures in Lebanon

In January 2018, UCL's Institute for Global Prosperity in collaboration with the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut (AUB) hosted a two-day workshop in Beirut. The workshop was organised by RELIEF Research Strand 1.

Learn More about Vital City

Using a blended learning approach in teacher professional development and community research training

In August 2017, members of the RELIEF 'Future Education' research theme co-hosted a workshop, which aimed to reveal future directions in supporting teaching and research activities of people living in Lebanon; in particular exploring the usefulness of MOOcs (Massive Open Online Courses) and blended learning.


Moving from 'burden sharing' to inclusive prosperity: A RELIEF workshop

In April 2017, the UCL Institute for Global Prosperity and the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut hosted a one-day workshop on the use of the team 'burden sharing' to refer to the demand on resources placed on Lebanon since the arrival of over 1.5 million refugees from Syria since the beginning of the Syrian civil war in 2011.

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