Ger Innovation challenge


In partnership with UNICEF Mongolia and UNICEF Global Office of Innovation

  Source: UNICEF Mongolia 2018

Source: UNICEF Mongolia 2018


Designing the 21st century ger for the well-being of Ulaanbaatar


Ulaanbaatar – home to half of Mongolia’s three million population - is one of the most polluted capitals in the world. Daily average of PM2.5 pollution levels are almost 30 times higher the level WHO recommends as safe.

The greatest contributor to air pollution is the use of raw coal for heating and cooking in gers (informal settlements) during the cold season. Ger dwellers are 57 per cent of the households in Ulaanbaatar. Overall, almost half of the population of Mongolia still lives in gers.

The ger remains central to Mongolian identity and culture, a centuries-proven structure that is cool in summer and relatively warm in winter, when temperatures can drop to -40C. However, in winter, ger dwellers must burn raw coal, rubber and even plastics to heat the gers, leading to extreme levels of outdoor air pollution levels in the city.

Unless concrete efforts are made to address this situation, exposures will increase in the coming years with significant health consequences for the city’s population, especially for children. Children are the most vulnerable to adverse health effects of air pollution from the day they are conceived.

In Mongolia, a 3.5-fold increase in fetal deaths have been documented between winter and summer. Air pollution is also linked with diseases that can be highly damaging for children, such as bronchitis and asthma, causing children to miss school and other important learning and development opportunities.

In last 10 years, incidences of respiratory diseases in Ulaanbaatar alarmingly increased including a 2.7-fold increase in respiratory infections per 10,000 population. Children living in a highly polluted district of central Ulaanbaatar were found to have 40% lower lung function than children living in a rural area.


To address the heat loss in gers which leads to energy inefficiency, increased use of fuel and air pollution, GerHub jointly with UNICEF Mongolia and UNICEF Innovation took a human centered design approach to solve this pressing challenge facing the residents of Ulaanbaatar. Together with our international partners including Stanford University, University of Pennsylvania, outdoor gear manufacturers Arc’Teryx and The North Face, architecture firm KieranTimberlake, we are seeking to improve the design of ger parts (door, floor and toono). Designs that can be open-source, sustainable, affordable, and can be locally produced and adopted by Mongolian communities. The approach is technologically innovative and culturally relevant: as we are not seeking solutions that require importation or that may have unintended negative consequences on local markets.

Through this initiative, we hope to:

  • Propose design solutions and improved building practices based on iterative prototyping and evaluation;

  • Incorporate feedback from ger households in our designs;

  • Understand and base design decisions on the ger’s thermal behaviour.

Through these three areas of action, we will empower ger dwellers with the ability to make immediate, incremental changes that decrease their reliance on dirty fuels, improve indoor air pollution in gers, and contribute to overall community health in the ger district. At scale, we could have direct impact on improving air quality and public health for children, as well as the quality of urban services and corresponding educational, health, and economic opportunities.

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