Lend your nationality and swap passports to those in need

Dutch Design Week 2015 is a misnomer, the event actually runs over nine days across 100 locations displaying the experiments and ideas of 2400 designers, including works by students from the Design Academy Eindhoven. Participating designers often focus on environmental problems, but this year many tackled humanitarian problems such as the flow of refugees from the Middle East. As example, Eindhoven graduate Stefania Vulpi created a conceptual online system that allows a network of people to temporarily share nationalities.

Vulpi designed a website called Universal Unconditional that offers a hypothetical platform to allow people to swap citizenship. “It’s a crazy idea, but it’s also crazy wonderful to think about it,” Vulpi told Dezeen, “Of course I couldn’t make it real, but I wanted to see how it could work.”  Her design stemmed from her own frustration over the ongoing stream of refugees coming to Europe from the Middle East.

The website seeks to connect global participants willing to give up their national identities for a limited time to other people in need. Users could also ask to borrow specific citizen rights to healthcare, asylum, or employment, depending on their needs.


Vulpi designed a suite of documents to go with the site, including official stationery and a passport that would clearly identify the holder as a member of the UNUN Embassy, with their lending and borrowing status noted.

“I think design has two ways of influencing or helping, and one is very practical – creating systems that can help or facilitate integration,” Vulpi said, “The other side is to create scenarios, question the rules, and question the system…shine a light on it.”

Vulpi’s design is provocative fantasy, but the practical aspects of her scheme are clear to anyone who has lived in a zip code populated by multinationals. I’ve witnessed the consequences of “wrong nationality” in business settings, where inability to get timely visas caused cancellations of conferences, training events, and trade shows. I’ve seen it affectrecreation, when couples or families with different nationalities fail to get visa approvals before their pre-paid flights leave. It prevents kids from competing in international school tournaments because they hold a passport with restrictive travel rights.

I can imagine the pandemonium swirling around embassies and airports if catastrophic weather events make large populations homeless, or disrupt power and water supplies – forcing immediate evacuation beyond national borders. And I haven’t even mentioned the millions fleeing war zones.

Her website site also offers services for people in need, bringing together professional citizens that can volunteer legal aid, translation or medical help.  This is a feature that has is being adopted by many NGOs including the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and International Rescue Committee which are adding platforms to their own sites to encourage personal involvement in their missions.

See this project displayed at the Design Academy Eindhoven graduate exhibition as part of Dutch Design Week 2015, which runs through 25 October

Curious about how your own passport stacks up? Check out these stats from Passport Index:

American and British passports are the jackpot of all travel documents, allowing visa-free entrance to 147 countries (out of a global country count of 196 nations – notional as there is debate as to whether statehood is officially recognized for all). Compare that to the limited travel for Iraqi nationals (38 visa-free travel destinations), Yemeni (41), Lebanese (44), Syrian (48) and Jordanian (49). People in Arab Gulf states fare better; Saudi and Bahraini (61), Qatari (66) and United Arab Emirati (104). (Did you know the UAE issues passports to its prize falcons?)

The worst passport privileges append to the Palestinian Territories (28), and the best in the region attach to Israel (127).

Images from Stefania Vulpi/Dezeen

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