UVU MBA student help answer the call for sustainable refugee housing solution

Media Contact: Patricia Monsoor pmonsoor@uvu.edu land: 801-863-5483 cell: 650-454-6441

In response to the UN Refugee Agency (UNCHR) issuing a policy on alternatives to refugee camps, a local Utah-based company, two UVU Woodbury School of Business faculty and staff members, and a handful of Woodbury MBA students are changing and improving the face of refugee housing forever.

“Alternatives to camps should ultimately be more sustainable and cost effective, because they harness the potential of refugees, rationalize service delivery, and allow for more targeted assistance to those most in need. Achieving these objectives, however, should be offset by the reductions in direct assistance, as more refugees become self-reliant and are able to meet their own basic needs.”

-Policy from UNHCR on alternative refugee camps

With the UNHCR estimating 21.3 million refugees worldwide, and the demand for continuous monetary contributions in excess of hundreds of millions of dollars for resettlement and emergency relief, it is clear that the traditional methods to shelter and support this displaced population are far from sustainable.

Enter Laki Technologies, UVU Director of Technology Commercialization Kent Millington and UVU Woodbury School of Business Professor Jim Mortensen. Laki, owned by two Washington-state construction professionals, Dee and Steve Bates, immediately realized they could answer the UNHCR’s call with their sustainable Geofoam Shelters and Grow Houses. Their building technology allows quick integration into any environment, while providing refugee communities the opportunity for self-reliance and optimization of individual potential.


A group of Professor Mortensen’s MBA students who collaborated with Laki, created an executable business plan that investigated the practicality of using Laki’s unique building materials, combined with an Aquaponic technology to provide a long-term solution and commerce for refugees, abroad and right here in the United States.

The project scope entailed conducting a feasibility study evaluating the refugee housing solution by Laki. Their findings in the study were astonishing. Refugee communities using Laki Geofoam Shelters and Grow Houses would save the UNHCR more than $360 million per 10,000 people compared to the current resettlement methods.

“Right now, this stands as the only global solution that is scalable in providing the basic needs for the refugee and resettlement communities, as well as establishing self-sustaining, collaborative communities,” says Professor Mortensen.

The structures provide the essential characteristics of ideal shelters:

  • -Seemingly indestructible shelter that is fire proof, termite proof and resistant to small arms fire and mortar blasts
  • -Indoor climate control
  • -Anti-fungal/anti-viral/anti-bacterial coatings that reduce odors and the spread of infectious disease
  • -Quick and easy to assemble – eight unskilled workers can put up the structure up in 20 minutes
  • -50+ year durability, as opposed to maximum five years
  • -The ability to accommodate aqua-structures for food production

Equally important as all the physical attributes is how the Geofoam shelter ultimately leads to a better quality of life. “It reinstates individual dignity and hope,” says Laki co-owner Dee Bates. “This is way more than a safe housing project, it is a plan to provide education, and independence through viable agriculture business in a community setting.”

Refugees will be trained on Aquaponic farming techniques with the Geofoam shelters where they can grow fruits, vegetables, hone and fish year-round in a sustained eco-system environment. Because the Geofoam is so insulating, the operators are able to maintain the internal temperatures of the grow houses to within a quarter of a degree centigrade using a DC powered heat pump and resistive heat panels. Geofoam farming can recycle up to 90% of water. Hydroponics and aquaculture can satisfy nutritional needs, and the grow houses allow for farming in extreme climates like the Middle East, and U.S. deserts.

“The refugees will quickly be able to transition away from UNHCR aid and eventually not need any subsides outside of what they’re able to grow and produce within their own home,” says Millington. “They’ll not only help themselves, but their community to build enterprise and collaboration. It’s a win-win.”

The business plan that the MBA students crafted confirmed the expectations of Laki Technologies, and their shelters’ ability to transform the way the UNHCR transitions refugees.

“This was an incredible project to work on because I was integral in creating a plan that could change the world on such a massive scale,” says former MBA student Brian Hortin. “It enforces the global movement to transition displaced people from “surviving” to “thriving” and true restitution is found.”

The 12-month business plan continues to unfold with other variations and uses for Laki Technologies including humanitarian aid and education facilities, government housing, hospitals, aid stations, housing for migrant workers and low-income housing solutions all over the world.

In fact, in November 2016, Laki Technologies received a distress call from colleagues connected to the Navajo Nation community, after a family’s “box” house was destroyed in a harsh winter storm.

“We just knew we had to do the next right thing, and that was to get down there right away, transport and put up our pilot Geofoam house for them immediately,” says co-owner Dee Bates.

The Bates Brothers, and their unlikely volunteer posse of feisty grandmothers, mothers, children and a group of all-around “good guys” ranging from 60 to 10 years old, fearlessly took to the open road to shift the housing crisis paradigm – and fast. Within 24 hours of the call, the wheels literally went into motion with Knight Transportation providing the trailer and truck for the first trip to the Navajos to bring them the house, get materials transported and lay the foundation. “It was a last minute God send,” says Dee Bates.

The Navajo family didn’t know what to make of this friendly, motley crew that came with “house in hand” and the promise of a new future. 43 percent of Navajos subsist below the federal poverty line of $24,250 for a family of four and 49 percent of reservation households report an annual income of less than $25,000. 44 percent of adult Navajos on the reservation have not finished high school, and only seven percent have college degrees. Just 22 percent of Navajo adults hold full-time jobs. The Navajo nation covers more than 27,000 square miles (about the size of West Virginia) extending into Arizona, New Mexico and Utah.

Mortensen, Millington and especially the MBA students know that the Laki Technologies and Aquaponics project more than a simple MBA assignment in the Woodbury School of Business – it is a unique project that has the potential to become one of the most effective global movements in recent history, and in the end will provide the work skills and necessary self-governance experience for all those who are displaced worldwide.

For more information on the Laki Technologies or sister company  GroEco projects, contact Dee Bates 801-651-0260. For information on the Woodbury School of Business full-time and part-time MBA program, visit www.uvu.edu/mba.

Fourth region (Section 1)