Farms Not Arms is a collective of designers, farmers, strategists, & agriculturalists who have come together to build an integrated, multi-agricultural educational farm model that heals our lands, our health, and our communities. Our first farm is in Bekaa, Lebanon and through a human-centered and systems-focused design process, we built a highly-efficient and productive farm model that brings refugees and the local population together to target nutrition, regeneration, and social cohesion.

This article is part 1 of a 3-part series that describes the food and agricultural project we have been building, starting with the systemic context.

The Syrian war has caused millions of refugees to flee Syria into its neighbor Lebanon, a massive influx now accounting for 25% of the entire Lebanese population, and has created enormous strain on a country that was already in trouble. Farms Not Arms initially set out to target refugee food insecurity in Lebanon, but during our initial research, the refugees had listed social tension as one of their biggest problems and feared being attacked for a refugee-only farm. …

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An international NGO set out to build community toilets in a Syrian refugee camp that I always visit in the Bekaa, Lebanon in order to promote better cleanliness and sanitation. The NGO worked for months and spent hundreds of thousands of dollars, maybe even millions, to equip these camps with bathrooms for the entire community. When they were done, they inaugurated the project, invited people, and celebrated their success. A few days later, the refugees put down the communal toilets and sold the metal sheets for $20 each.

You might be asking why is that? Surely, everyone needs toilets.

But if someone had stopped and asked these refugees what they need, they would have realized that toilets are the first thing they set up in their informal habitats. …

Building the Blueprint for a Decentralized Education System Starting With Refugees

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Education, if done right, should enable refugees to improve their lives. It instills in them the skill sets needed to secure employment and earn decent income to become more self-sufficient individuals that do not depend on aid to survive. In reality though, refugees face a debilitating education certification problem that is preventing them from reaping its full benefits.

Refugees in host countries, especially in the Middle East, are stuck in a vicious circle where only national public schools can provide them with certified education, yet those same schools fail in providing them with effective education. …

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This article was originally published on LinkedIn on August 15, 2017.

The design thinking process is one of problem solving, empathy, and innovation. It uses reality as a starting point and relies a lot on synthesis and analysis: on the ability to interact with people in real life, put yourself in their shoes, and build on what you encounter in order to reach new ideas and solutions for the problem you’re trying to solve.

As part of the process, design thinking encourages you to get creative first and let your imagination run wild with ideas before assessing what is financially and technologically feasible in order to finally come up with efficient and specifically tailored solutions. It is assumed that this creativity is innate, that everyone is a designer, and that everyone can be a creator. But what if this creativity has been forever suppressed? What if the act of free thinking itself is the greatest obstacle? …

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This article was originally published on LinkedIn on July 11, 2017.

Monday July 10 was the launch of my startup, ioi strategic design’s inaugural project, a 20-day bootcamp held at the Kayany Foundation’s Malala II School in Saadnayel, Bekaa, Lebanon for teenage refugee girls with a three-fold focus on critical thinking, digital skills, and mental health. The design of this project stems from my work on developing systemic strategies for effective refugee education that are holistic, skills-based, tech-focused, student-centered, and future-oriented, all of which are exemplified in the bootcamp itself.

The goal with this bootcamp is to simultaneously:

  • Train refugees on how to think critically using design thinking, by working on group projects to solve problems that they face in their local…


Jehane Akiki

I am passionate about the world and the systems that govern it.

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