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Build Disaster Resistant Housing

Change Construction Practice Permanently



Dear Friends,

Here is something you may not know.

A global lack of safe housing will leave a third of the world’s population vulnerable by 2030. Let that sink in for a moment. That’s nearly 3 billion people at risk of losing loved ones, their property or their livelihood to an earthquake or windstorm.

Yet, it doesn’t have to be this way. SAFE HOUSING IS A HUMAN RIGHT. It’s not optional, only for the 1%, or only for developed countries.

In 2018, Build Change took the message to governments and at-risk people worldwide that they don’t have to exist at the mercy of Mother Nature any longer. Substandard housing is a man-made problem that has a man-made solution. And around the globe, people and governments responded. Build Change and the World Bank founded the Global Program for Resilient Housing, aimed at making housing a bigger part of the global development agenda and providing safe, sustainable housing in regions prone to disaster and climate stress. Both Colombia and Guatemala made retrofitting part of their national housing policy, with the Duque Administration in Colombia specifically committing to 600,000 resilient home improvements over four years. Everyday citizens in the Philippines showed that they would retrofit their houses, if financing options were created to meet their needs.

But responding to the housing crisis takes more than advocacy—it also takes on the ground action. In 2018, Build Change worked in 12 countries around the globe, not only responding to disasters but preventatively addressing the substandard housing challenge head-on. I am particularly proud of our PDR3 coding team that came in runner-up globally in the 2018 IBM Call for Code competition. Build Change’s Nepal-based team successfully trained engineering software how to quickly identify buildings for retrofitting. This revolutionary innovation is scalable to any country around the globe and allows construction to start quickly, getting families back in their homes as soon as possible. Heading into our 15th Anniversary in 2019, we look forward to deploying this new approach in some of the world’s most vulnerable communities.

Today’s innovation will save lives tomorrow, and in the years to come. In 2018, Build Change proved that when you bring people, technology, and money together, lasting change results.

Here’s to our global team of staff and volunteers, donors and partners of all types willing to do the urgent work of building that change, brick by brick, day by day.

Dr. Elizabeth Hausler
Founder & CEO


Build Change saves lives in earthquakes and windstorms


Worldwide Activities in 2018

Disaster Prevention and Advocacy for Safe Housing

Benjamin Franklin once said that “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure”. He couldn’t be more right when it comes to protecting people and property from earthquakes and windstorms. Build Change’s approach to prevention involves educating people and governments about their risk while simultaneously working to prevent disaster in the first place through resilient construction.

In 2018, Build Change worked intensely to convince governments to improve their housing policies. Both Colombia and Guatemala adopted retrofitting as a national priority, with Colombia specifically committing to 600,000 resilient home improvements over the next four years. The government of the Philippines has also agreed to adopt a safer design for new houses, while Haiti, Nepal and Indonesia have all also made commitments to improve the quality of post-disaster construction.

Build Change is also working at the highest levels of thought leadership and international development to drive investment in the safety and structural integrity of millions of homes in the developing world. In September 2018, Dr. Elizabeth Hausler, Founder and CEO of Build Change, delivered a compelling TED Talk to senior global policymakers, donors, and social entrepreneurs in New York. “It’s time we treat unsafe housing as the global epidemic that it is. It’s time to strengthen every building just like we would vaccinate every child in a public health emergency” Hausler said.

After 14 years of leading by example, Build Change joined the World Bank in launching a new initiative, the Global Program for Resilient Housing, in October 2018. This is the first time that the world’s leading development finance institution has focused on improving the safety of existing housing rather than on broader infrastructure projects or new construction initiatives.

In 2018, Build Change also began tearing down one of the major global barriers to families retrofitting their own homes— lack of access to conventional credit. In the Philippines, Build Change launched a resilient housing loan program with local financial institutions serving over 200,000 families. The first loan was issued in metropolitan Manila, and once scaled, can finance resiliency across the nation in 2019. Build Change also started partnerships with three local microfinance providers and one rural bank, training them on resilient housing and helping them to develop loan options that give families the financial tools to make their homes safer.

Indonesia is one of the countries in which Build Change conducted concurrent prevention and post-disaster activities in 2018. To help scale Build Change’s prevention work in the country, the National Disaster Management Agency (BNPB) endorsed the development of a safe house awareness mobile app based on what was previously developed in Nepal. The new app will roll out in the second part of 2019.

While St. Lucia largely escaped unscathed from the vicious 2017 hurricane season, concern for its housing stock motivated a study through the just-created World Bank Global Program for Resilient Housing. Build Change supported the Bank with an expert verification of housing data, and by conducting a feasibility study for home repair, retrofit, and replacement options.

A woman and her child depart a training with local microfinance lender ASHI in the Philippines.

In Latin America, families increasingly looked to retrofitting as a tool to keep themselves and their property safe. By the end of 2018, reconstruction work was either in planning or actively underway at 300 homes in Bogotá and Medellin, Colombia. Build Change also kicked off a project in September, 2018 with Project Concern International (PCI), as part of an ongoing collaboration with their Barrio Mio program supported by USAID’s Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance. Build Change will support the six municipalities around Guatemala City, Guatemala in implementing and scaling preventive retrofitting in existing housing in 2019.

Post-Disaster Recovery

A disaster lasting a single minute often requires years of recovery. Such is the case in Nepal, which continues to recover from a 2015 earthquake that left hundreds of thousands of Nepalese homeless. Build Change has stepped up to the challenge of helping Nepal rebuild, often working in difficult- to- access rural communities. In 2018, Build Change finished a 29-month-long rebuilding project with the American Red Cross, which directly involved more than 2,800 homeowners. Build Change also started three new projects with UNOPS which aim to increase the demand for retrofitting; train field engineers and builders; and provide technical assistance to vulnerable families that have not yet started rebuilding. Through these projects, more than 31,000 people watched a theater performance on how to build back safer, while 71,000 saw a retrofit awareness movie. In addition to reaching families through theater, Build Change is also using technology to get information into homeowners’ hands. In August 2018, a major update to the Surakshit Ghar “My Safe House” Mobile App enabled homeowners to directly select a house floor plan and download its design and bill of quantities. In just four months, 384 homeowners downloaded a drawing.

The vulnerable countries of Southeast Asia were again battered by extreme weather in 2018. Indonesia faced back-to-back tragedies when an earthquake hit Lombok province and a short time later, another earthquake and tsunami struck Sulawesi. Build Change assessed the reconstruction needs of both populations with reconnaissance visits, and also worked with Oxfam to provide a training for 90 local builders. Simultaneously, engineers and other specialists from Build Change also responded to Typhoon Mangkhut in the Philippines.

Build Change project engineer Gaspard Pierristal (left) plans workshop activities with members of Team Rubicon as part of a project with Mercy Corps in Puerto Rico.

In the Caribbean, Build Change and long-time partner Mercy Corps joined in 2018 to strengthen roofs and provide safe reconstruction and retrofitting advice in rural areas hit by Hurricane Maria. After 14 years of working abroad, Build Change was thrilled to bring safe housing solutions to US citizens for the first time.

Build Change also collaborated with the World Bank on visits to the island of Dominica to provide technical assistance in the wake of Hurricane Maria’s catastrophic 2017 direct hit.

Better Building Materials

Poor-quality building materials are common in the developing world, and make buildings more prone to collapse during earthquakes and windstorms. To help more families access quality construction materials (while also providing a much-needed source of income) Build Change has created brick and block making cooperatives in some of the most at-risk locations around the globe, while advocating for improved construction standards.

The REZO program in Haiti produced over 13 million better quality concrete blocks up to 2018— enough to build an estimated 24,000 safer homes.

Families in Haiti learn how locally produced concrete blocks can be used to build disaster-resistant homes.

Elsewhere in the Caribbean, Build Change completed the “Jamaica Informal Building Sector Study”, with support from the Japan World Bank Program for Mainstreaming Disaster Risk Management in Developing Countries, administered by the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR). This study focused on how to reduce the prevalence of substandard construction, which currently comprises more than 60% of the housing in the urban Caribbean, and which often uses poor quality building materials. Moving forward, this study will provide key guidance to governments throughout the region on how to build more resilient housing.

Meanwhile in Indonesia, the Bata Jaya brickmaking cooperative, which is managed by Build Change, produced more than 3.2 million quality bricks in 2018.

Building a Better Life, Brick by Brick

Bahtiar started his brick-making business ten years ago with his own money and the help of two good friends. His business grew rapidly, and one kiln quickly grew into four. Just over three years ago, a significant drop in brick prices forced him to sell three of his kilns. He had to borrow from informal money lenders just to keep his business afloat and keep food on the table for his family. Over the following two years he became increasingly more in debt. When he joined the Bata Jaya Cooperative, he was able to start taking control of his finances. Bahtiar worked closely with Build Change to streamline his production and improve brick quality. The consistency of his products meant the cooperative would often buy his bricks, which in turn enabled him to slowly pay off his debt. He’s now debt free and has used his latest savings to repair his kiln roof. He now employs six people. “I am much more careful with my finances now than I was before and pay attention to every stage of brick production. Better quality means I can sell my bricks much faster. It usually took me weeks to find a buyer but now I can sell all my bricks within days”.

Scaling Disaster-Resilient Engineering with Information Technology

In October 2018, Build Change earned international recognition through IBM’s prestigious Call for Code competition. The Nepal-based “Post-Disaster Rapid Response Retrofit” (PDR3) team earned second place out of 2,500 submissions from 156 countries for their innovative use of artificial intelligence (AI) to identify vulnerable Nepali houses that would be good candidates for seismic retrofitting. By linking AI with 3D modeling, the PDR3 team created a tool that can be up and running within days of a disaster to help families assess the damage to their properties and how to fix it. Looking forward, Build Change plans to extend this technology to other vulnerable regions in Asia, Latin America, and the Caribbean.

Also in 2018, Build Change continued to partner with Simpson Strong-Tie for a second year on the Fellowship for Engineering Excellence. Juan Carlos Restrepo, an experienced Colombian earthquake engineer, was chosen to help Build Change continue to identify and implement innovative solutions in the Philippines and Colombia, two countries where disaster prevention is especially key.


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“It’s time we look at unsafe housing as the global epidemic it is, threatening 1/3 of the global population.”
–Dr. Elizabeth Hausler
       September, 2018



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