Shelterbox: Innovating Relief Efforts for a Changing World

Image courtesy of Shelterbox. Here CEO Kerri Murray delivers a kitchen set to a widowed Moroccan woman after an earthquake in the Atlas Mountains.


In the world of humanitarian aid, where crisis and chaos often prevail, Shelterbox brings lifesaving assistance to those the direst of circumstances. At the helm of this global organization is Kerri Murray, whose journey from corporate boardrooms to humanitarian frontlines has reshaped the landscape of disaster response. Murray’s background has helped her bring a unique perspective to the space —an approach grounded in strategic planning, efficiency, and scalability.

Let’s take a closer look at how Shelterbox helps people in dire straits around the world, and how Murray’s leadership plays a big role in it. We’ll see how business smarts mixed with kindness makes a real difference in the world.

Preparing for the Worst Day Ever

“Shelterbox is a global humanitarian relief organization that is preparing every day for the worst day ever,” Murray says. “We focus on providing emergency shelter and essential supplies to those who have lost everything in an instant due to disasters, conflicts, or the impacts of climate change.”

The people at Shelterbox work tirelessly to meet the needs of thousands of people people who have lost the ability to meet their basic needs. The non-profit offers light, water filtration kits, funds for buying food, and other essentials. The goal is to help people rebuild their lives. The project started from humble beginnings with a a single box containing basic supplies for diaster victims.

Now, Shelterbox has gone global and has evolved. As Murray described Shelterbox’s response to various disasters, including earthquakes in Turkey, Syria and Morocco, it became apparent that their approach isn’t one-size-fits-all. Each disaster calls for multiple unique solutions tailored to the specific needs of the families affected.

“We started 24 years ago with a singular box and everything was put inside the shelter box,” Kerri says. “And while the shelter box is still an important icon, we have moved far beyond the box. What we do now is really customized shelter and aid solutions that are meant to really meet people in the moment they’re in and the crisis they’re in. And it’s always different.”

Whether it’s giving tents, sleeping bags, solar lanterns, cooking sets, or water purification containers, Shelterbox has stayed agile and adaptable, ensuring they can address the needs of communities everywhere.

“You have eight aid organizations that may be bringing in food and water, but how are you going to boil water? How are you going to prepare a hot meal? So we bring basic things like a stainless steel cooking set to help a family restore a sense of routine and normalcy. Basic things like what are you going to sleep on? So it could be lightweight mattresses, it could be blankets, it could be ground mats, also essential items, just tools that you might need to help with the repair process.

Kerri with villagers who lost loved ones after a massive earthquake in the Atlas Mountains

From the Boardrooms to the Humanitarian Frontlines

Murray’s journey to leading Shelterbox shows how different experiences can shape someone’s path in unexpected ways. Before eventually taking on her role at Shelterbox, she worked for more than a decade at GlaxoSmithKline, where she helped build billion-dollar brands. (yes, the place where they make Advil and vaccines) Her time there gave her valuable skills and insights that she brings to her work now.

Strategic Planning

Murray draws from her strategic planning and leadership experience to bring a level of discipline and efficiency that elevates Shelterbox’s operations. She understands the importance of clear vision, effective communication, and data-driven decision-making—traits honed in the corporate world but also indispensable in the nonprofit realm.

“I would say just in terms of how I organize my thinking and how I organize leading the organization is really having a clear vision of what we’re trying to get to. I would say being able to communicate that vision and rallying people around it (is important)…So having that overarching purpose and strategic plan, a roadmap, and executing that well at a tactical level (is key).”

Using Revenue as a Guide

Murray has made it a priority to build a culture of innovation, accountability, and results-oriented action. The goal has been to organize the team more intentionally around areas that help drive business and growth. It was tough to do, considering that revenue at a nonprofit can often be inconsistent.

“It’s been brick by brick. It hasn’t happened overnight, but it has happened. When I look back to where we were versus where we are today and now serving hundreds of thousands of more people every year, that feels really great.

Kerri Murray of Shelterbox delivering essential aid

Lessons from the Field: Stories of Impact and Resilience

Perhaps the biggest measure of Shelterbox’s success lies in the stories on the ground. Here are some of the more recent campaigns Murray and her team have been a part of.

Earthquake in Syria and Southern Turkey

Take the case of families in Syria who lost everything in a devastating earthquake in early 2023. With winter in full force and no shelter to shield them from the cold, they faced an uncertain future. But thanks to Shelterbox’s intervention, they received tented shelters and many much-needed supplies, helping them rebuild their lives amidst the rubble.

“We have been working particularly in Syria for the last 12 years,” Murray explains. “It’s the longest and largest piece of our work and it’s in one of the world’s worst conflict situations. And particularly for us, it’s been in Syria, and we often will bring aid into Syria through Turkey, so we have different suppliers that we’re working with. And so we ended up sending in tented shelter.”

Moroccan Earthquake

Shelterbox is also helping coordinate relief efforts in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, where a massive quake killed thousands of people and almost completely destroyed dozens of mountain villages.

“I had met a group of women whose husbands were crushed to death and died in their homes in the earthquake,” Murray recalls. “And many of them literally were sleeping outdoors. They had nothing. So being able to just help support them with the immediate needs and just the surprise on their faces that we were there to help them, particularly that we’d come all the way from the U.S. to help them in their greatest time of need when they had been waiting.”

Image courtesy of Shelterbox

The Russian Invasion of Ukraine

Murray and her team were also one of the first shelter providers on the ground during the initial stages of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. With millions of people fleeing their homes in eastern Ukraine and seeking refuge in the western parts of the country and neighboring countries like Poland, Shelterbox quickly made a difference as it offered aid to those affected.

“You had, most of the people that were fleeing were women, children, and elderly, very few men because the men had to stay behind if they were between 20 and 65,” Murray says. “And so you had a lot of people fleeing with just a bag, a little more than they can carry on their back at most. And they had no idea when they’d be able to return or what they would return to. And so we had multiple different aid packages and responses really just designed to meet people in the immediate moments that they were in at that time. And we’re still working in Ukraine. It’s really about trying to bring hope and a lifeline to people in their greatest time of need.”

Shelterbox is actually more active than it’s ever been as it assists disaster-affected communities worldwide. The past two years have been the most expansive in the organization’s history in terms of impact. They’re now helping hundreds of thousands of people every year access shelter across the world, with projects in the Lake Chad Basin, Burkina Faso, and the Philippines. At any given time, Murray says teams are working in at least 12 countries.

Building for the Future and Inspiring Action

Looking to the future, Murray speaks with passion about Shelterbox’s plans for expansion. “We are committed to scaling our impact and reaching even more people in need,” she said. “This means building deeper partnerships in the field, working with local organizations, and being prepared to respond to crises wherever they may occur.”

As Shelterbox keeps growing, Murray hopes to build more support. “Everyone has something to contribute,” she says. “Whether it’s your time, talent, or monetary resources, every contribution makes a difference in the lives of those we serve. People can make an impact. Whether it’s donating, volunteering, or simply spreading awareness, everyone has the power to change lives and create a better world.”

As I reflect on my discussion with Kerri, I’m inspired by her dedication and commitment to serving others. Shelterbox isn’t just about providing shelter; it’s about bringing hope to communities facing their darkest hours. Murray’s journey from the big corporate life to the gritty frontlines of humanitarian work shows us how mixing business acumen with a big heart can be a blessing to so many. Through organizations like Shelterbox, I’m reminded that even in the worst of times, there’s always hope—and that together, we can build a brighter future for everyone.

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