June 29, 2015

Measuring Results: An Interview with Douglas K. Smith

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Douglas K. Smith is the Chairman of the Board of the Rapid Results Institute, Inc. Both as a co-leader of McKinsey  and Company's worldwide organizational practice and subsequently as an independent consultant and advisor, he has crafted a variety of management innovations and disciplines including the core disciplines for team performance, horizontal organization, and performance-driven change. He authored a number of seminal articles and books, including management books such as The Wisdom of Teams, The Discipline of Teams, Make Success Measurable, and Taking Charge of Change; and other books of history (Sources of The African Past), journalism (Fumbling the Future), and social and moral philosophy (On Value and Values). Doug is the chief architect of several results-driven leadership programs and organizational transformations, including NeighborWorks Achieving Excellence, a program causing profound shifts in hundreds of affordable housing organizations across the US and The Sulzberger Program, for leaders of news organizations seeking to navigate the profound changes affecting their industry.

In your opinion, what are the key indicators of successful results in affordable housing? In the the US, in developing countries?

For any individual or family, the essential indicator of housing affordability is the percent of that individual/family's income required for the residence.  This amount must reflect all costs related to housing: the residence itself, utilities and maintenance -- EVEN TRANSPORTATION IF THAT IS ESSENTIAL TO AFFORDABILITY.  The 'affordable' percentage may vary by country.  In the US, though, it is somewhere in the vicinity of 30% of income.

With this figure, the indicator for the society in question (country, city, neighborhood and so forth) would be the actual number as well as percent of the population who live in affordable housing -- that is, how many individuals/families -- and what percent of the whole -- actually have affordable housing?

What should companies, NGOs, and governments, be measuring?

See answer to first question. This metric/goal -- number and percent who spend less than, say, 30% on all-in housing costs -- ought to be the "North Star" all companies, NGOs, governments and so forth pursue.  

In doing so, then, such enterprises and so forth should then measure/monitor the productivity -- the efficacy -- of all their various strategies and programs by asking/measuring/evaluating: Does program X or strategy & increase the number/percent who have affordable housing?  On a comparative basis, do X and Y outperform/underperform other efforts?  

With regard to this last point, though, any comparisons must be as close to apples-to-apples as possible.  A program aimed at homeless people, e.g., ought not be compared to strategies aimed at, say, first-time homebuyers.

Doug, you pointed us to SuccessMeasures.org; can you tell us about what they are and how they help with measuring impact?

I have no first hand information here -- I do know that many, many folks with whom I work think highly of Success Measures.

Do you see any progress in the use of impact metrics to alleviate poverty?

Yes.  Perhaps the most important progress of all relates to how folks/enterprises/efforts who care so deeply about alleviating poverty now recognize that goals, outcomes and related metrics are essential to their work.  That was not always the case.

What approaches do you see with NGOs like The Gates Foundation - what should they be doing differently?

Like so many others, I welcome the resources and sincerity of Gates and others who have joined in attempting to make a difference.  I also believe all such efforts would gain in impact through paying more attention to actual results-driven implementation than elegance of strategy and policy.  There is a regrettable tendency of caring, smart folks to spend more effort on solving things on paper than on the ground.  If you or others would like to learn more about on the ground, performance-driven approaches to making real impacts, I recommend visiting The Rapid Results Institute website as well as various efforts that use what I call a challenge-centric, performance-and-accountability method (e.g. Achieving Excellence, The Sulzberger Program). 

Challenge Centered Transformation Programs build on my management principles and philosophy developed with colleagues and clients over more than three decades of guiding real performance and change. These programs are highly leveraged -- that is, they invite leaders from dozens to scores of different enterprises to participate simultaneously in structured programs that produce real results. By requiring participants to identify essential challenges facing their respective enterprises -- then lead real performance against those challenges -- the programs' impacts vastly outweigh the costs. This leverage of multiple enterprise challenges proceeding simultaneously produces a return that often exceeds 25-to-1 when compared to the real costs.

Can you describe what you mean by Challenge-Centric transformation programs in more detail?

Sure. These programs are:

Challenge-centric: Participants must identify one of the most critical challenges facing their enterprises and commit to success against those challenges. Criteria are provided to ensure that the challenges selected are likely to produce significant innovation, new capacity and/or capability, growth and sustainability. In this sense, Challenge Centered Transformation Programs(SM) differ from executive education and/or leadership programs that are almost always curriculum-centric and focus mostly on personal development of participants instead of enterprise-wide transformation.

Performance-driven: Participants must commit to success. They must identify the outcome-based goals that, when achieved, answer the question, "What does success look like for this challenge?" These programs provide participants tools, frameworks and understanding for how they can and must build similar commitments to performance from the many people, both within and beyond their enterprises, whose contributions are key to success.

Personal: Challenge Centered Transformation Programs(SM) focus on enterprise not personal challenges. Yet, because the challenges identified inevitably demand more than 'business as usual', participants themselves can rarely succeed without stepping beyond their comfort zones as leaders. They must take risks -- and, in doing so, provide the intensely personal leadership demanded by real change. Participants arrive in these programs as leaders. The design and experience of the programs provide them the chance to grow further as leaders by doing something real: leading performance and change.

What other insights would you like to share in terms of measuring outcomes?

There is a profoundly important difference between actual outcomes versus metrics.  One of the essential principles of successful change is this: performance is the primary objective of change, not change.  Far too many efforts -- including but not limited to policy/strategy efforts that get stuck on design instead of actual doing -- fall into the trap of change for the sake of change.

And this trap extends to the arena of metrics themselves.  Far too often, well intended leaders recognize the importance of performance.  Yet, the path chosen is to select and implement the 'metrics' needed to monitor performance -- and that, then, leads to just another form of what I call 'activity-based' change where 'putting in the right metrics' becomes the activity in question.

Look again at the all-important North Star mentioned above: How many folks in our (nation, region, state, city, town, neighborhood, ethinic group, sociodemographic group, etc etc) have all-in housing costs less than 30% of income?

An outcome here would move the percentage from some level to a higher level.

The myriad metrics needed to monitor progress toward that outcome (metrics monitoring various strategies, inputs, intermediate outputs, etc) are all very important.  But if an effort got so involved in installing and using those metrics to the neglect, even abandonment, of the North Star outcome, then that effort would have fallen into the trap of activities versus outcomes.

May 27, 2015

Affordable Housing: Moladi's Hennie Botes on Innovation & Perseverance

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Hennie Botes founded Moladi in 1986, after building a global business as an entrepreneur and inventor.  His ability to think outside the box has led him to found a company that is revolutionizing the affordable housing market through design, innovation, and good-old fashioned ingenuity.

Can you tell us about how Moladi came about? How did you come up with the concept?

I think it starts with Abraham Maslow and food and shelter.  Without the basic needs of life, little else can happen.  So that's why housing is priority - across Africa and across the developing world.

But let's start at the very beginning. As it happened, my first invention was a plastic baby bath that fit across the bathtub and gave young mothers an easy and safe way to bathe their newborn children.  The design was sold the world over, and gave me the freedom to found Moladi. 

Moladi was the result of my own difficulties with building with brick and mortar. 

In South Africa, and many developing countries, we suffer from a colonial mentality.  Our education system does not teach us how to plant and grow food or build things.  And that is a tragedy. Africa will have to uplift itself, and learn how to build things itself.  

The challenge for so many local housing developments is the lack of skill. We know how difficult it was to put bricks on top of each other in a straight line, and, once the wall is built, to plaster it.

Moladi was a way I saw to build a construction system which could evolve into a job-creation tool itself, since it does not require skilled labor - in fact, over 90% of a construction team on a Moladi housing site consists of unskilled laborers.  

My first attempts at building the right mold was not exactly a success but the geese on the farm got a dam as result. Gradually, and this the way with all innovation, you learn from your mistakes.  The result was the Moladi building system.

You say system, and not house. What do you mean by that?

We're a system, a way of thinking, not simply a product, and that is why we are different. 

The Moladi building system, which incorporates green technology and sustainability also happens to provide the best solution to address six key challenges that hinder the successful implementation of low-cost housing projects in Africa:

- lack of sufficient funds
- shortage of skilled labourers
- lack of resources
- work flow control 
- time constraints 
- wastage. 

So the Moladi building system involves the use of a unique removable, reusable, recyclable and lightweight plastic formwork mould which is filled with an aerated SABS (South African Bureau of Standards) approved mortar to form the wall structure of a house in just one day.

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The process involves the assembly of a temporary plastic formwork mould the size of the designed house with all the electrical services plumbing and steel reinforcing located within the wall structure which is then filled with a specially formulated mortar mix to form all the walls simultaneously.

We use Moladi technology as a means to alleviate many of the cumbersome and costly aspects associated with conventional construction methods without compromising on the quality or integrity of the structure. When we first started, people would say things like Moladi structures won't last.  Now we have some that have been around for 30 years. From the very start, we were focused on solving the problem of affordable housing.

I thought the world would chop a path to our doorway asking for the solution, but it has't been that easy.  

And why is that? 

The masonry industry likes to protect its knowledge and its interests.  Change has never been easy. But now things are changing. Whether through necessity or because of desperation, we are seeing more and more interest from private partners and governments that view us as a building block for the country's future.

We work hard to gain social acceptance from the local communities we work in.  That is something that makes all the difference.  Add to that the we are cost effective, we create local jobs, and we are environmentally sustainable, and you understand why we are now growing at a much faster pace.  We've also added toilet systems, window and door systems, and kitchen systems to the Moladi system, all at a much lower cost than the hardware store.  Now we are in a position to say that we're world leaders at building entire village housing ecosystems.

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Are you finding interest for Moladi extends beyond Africa?

Yes, that is most definitely the case. We have been in Mexico, in Panama, in Haiti, across Africa, and now we are in talks in Nepal.  Moladi is currently deployed in 18 countries, reaching 20 within the next three months by adding India and Sri Lanka to our list.

You know, all materials used in the construction of Moladi homes, other than the formwork, are sourced and supplied from within the local community. Other than contributing to the local economy, this drastically reduces the need for additional and unnecessary transport and handling of goods and building materials. This follows from the logic that the fewer the number of operations, the higher the quality of the product, resulting in a predictive timeline and ultimately cost savings.

Can you tell us about the local benefits of building a village with Moladi?

For starters, the local impact is immediate.  We are a major job-creation strategy at the local level. But most important is the change in the lives of Moladi customers. A house is still a castle.  It is an asset for wealth creation and empowerment. 

We see three types of developments - upgrading informal settlements, green-field development, and rural village development.  Governments now understand how critical infrastructure and housing is for a prosperous future, for lifting citizens out of abject poverty.

That's really why we do this.

You mentioned sustainability.  How are Moladi houses more eco-friendly than traditional building techniques?

We have found that we are about 61% of the CO2 footprint for the same size of a house built with traditional brick and mortar.  That's because we don't use bricks at all, and two, we recycle our moulds which are used to build 50 houses out of one set of moulds.

Add to that the fact that a house is built in a day, and you significantly reduce material wastage.  That in itself adds to both cost effectiveness, cycle time, and sustainability.

What are your plans for the future?  

We are expanding across the world. And we are not just housing for the poor. We think that decent, beautiful houses don't have to be the province of wealthy citizens.  That is why design and aesthetics are important as well.  We want our houses to fill residents with joy and pride.  

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It is not an accident that developers in the richer countries protect their markets from competition.  But the world is getting smaller every day, and the tide is shifting.  We want to partner with private companies across the globe, creating new business for them as well as us.

Despite all the bad news you hear about in the news, I feel optimistic about the future, and the real impact Moladi is having on the war on poverty.


Continue reading Affordable Housing: Moladi's Hennie Botes on Innovation & Perseverance.

January 13, 2015

Adrian Woolridge: "Capitalism begins at home"

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Once again The Economist’s Adrian Woolridge writes about the issues surrounding housing for the poor:

to fix the housing problem one has to solve a lot of others: obtaining land and getting permits; persuading banks to provide mortgages to poorer people; and getting sluggish utility firms to provide electricity and water connections.

Perhaps the biggest obstacle is desire.  The vested interests are not really interested in a systems-based solution.  Exhibit A = Haiti.

Until we get good governance, not much is going to change.

January 12, 2015

5 Years Later: The Sorry Plight of Haiti

5 Years After Haiti's Earthquake, Where Did The $13.5 Billion Go?

That's the title of an NPR story that covers the sad plight of Haitians who are still in the street.

A few points:

- Cholera was brought to Haiti by Nepalese soldiers quartered in a United Nations peacekeeping camp that spilled its waste into a tributary of the Artibonite. Over the past four years, cholera has struck more than 720,000 Haitians and killed almost 9,000.

- Less than a penny of every aid dollar goes directly to a Haitian organization.

- it cost more than $33,000 to build a new housing unit in one post-earthquake program... That's five times more than one nonprofit, called Mission of Hope, spends per house, using local contractors.

- Harvey Lacey tried to make a difference

January 29, 2014

Whatever Happened to the $300 House?

The Harvard Business Review blog titled Whatever Happened to the $300 House? gives us less than half the story of what's been going on. I'd like to set the record straight for those of you who've asked: "what's going on?"

Here's a chart to explain the journey so far >>


Part of the confusion stems from the idea of ownership.  You see, the $300 House is not a project with an "owner" per se.  Rather, it's an idea - to get individuals, businesses, and institutions to participate - collaboratively, if possible - to come up with solutions to solving the problem of affordable housing for the poorest of the poor.  

To me what matters is that the journey has actually begun, with individuals, institutions, and businesses working on it at their own pace. Some are choosing to work in an open spirit of collaboration, while others have chosen a more traditional, closed approach. Both are fine. But to say that the only thing that's happening with the $300 House is what's happening at Dartmouth is just missing the boat.  

September 19, 2013

Solving the Roofing Problem for Rural India?

The folks at ReMaterials are working on creating affordable, high-quality building materials out of waste. Here's their story, sent in by Hasit Ganatra

roofahmedabad.jpgIn order to understand the housing situation in the developing world, we traveled through villages and slums in four states of India: Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, and Maharashtra. While many aspects of life in these areas were eye opening, we were particularly struck by the lack of adequate roofing available. Nearly 80% of the families we talked to could not afford adequate roofing and were left with the poor quality options of corrugated cement or metal roofs, which are both suboptimal as shelter and hazardous to health. As demonstrated by the picture (right) from a slum in Ahmedabad, India and quotes from users, most of the rural population of India cannot fulfill the basic human need of adequate shelter.

  • "My top most priority is to get my house fixed, especially the roof"
  • "We cannot sleep inside the house. Even at night, it is hot and suffocating"
  • "I cannot get my son married because no family is willing to give their daughter in such a house"
  • "We cannot afford concrete slab roof and there are no other options"
  • "It doesn't feel like a home"
  • "We have to fix the roof 5 to 6 times a year because of wind, rain, dogs and monkeys running on the roof."

As we understood the gravity of the problem, we realized that the primary cause of the situation is a lack of options in the market, making people have to choose between the affordable but inadequate options of corrugated metal or cement sheets,and the adequate but unaffordable option of concrete slab roofs.

panels.jpgWe researched existing materials to find one that met our criteria of cost, properties, and toxicity, but no such material was available. Consequently, we decided to develop our own. Over the course of two years, we experimented with a variety of raw materials to find the ideal combination and process to yield a product that had the properties of strength, insulation, and waterproofing necessary for adequate shelter. In order to keep the cost of production low and to serve an additional social purpose, we focused on using waste as input. In December 2012, our experimentation yielded fruit as we developed a rigid tile, mainly from packaging waste and added a custom waterproof coat to get a panel ideal for roofing. Tests of our material revealed that it can hold at least 800 lbs, is waterproof, and provides better insulation than every available option, including concrete slab roofs. Furthermore, it costs 60% less than concrete slab roofs, thereby eliminating the current market gap between adequate and affordable.


Solar cells and LED lights have been successfully embedded in the roofing panels, thereby allowing the product to simultaneously provide reliable shelter, lighting, and additional electricity for the same house. As shown in the picture below, we have used the solar-embedded panel to successfully charge an iPhone. We envision our product as a one-stop solution to address the issues of waste management, affordable housing, rural electrification, and clean energy in the developing world.

rematerials_solar.jpgDue to the strength, insulation, and affordability offered by our panels, we noticed that there are a plethora of fields outside of roofing in which this product could be used, such as furniture, partition boards, false ceilings, and insulation.

For more info, you can reach Hasit here >>

July 5, 2013

Impact Innovation: IKEA's Refugee Shelter for the UNHCR

Back in May of 2011, we received an e-mail from IKEA asking to participate in our $300 House workshop. I was very excited to hear that IKEA wanted to "look into what it takes to develop a flatpack, low cost house for refugee areas (temporary living, not in slum)."

Over the next few months we exchanged emails and phone calls, but nothing concrete (pardon the pun) seemed to materialize...

Now, it's here!  The IKEA Foundation announced its flat-pack houses - refugee shelters which are a significant step up from the tent cities we associate with refugee camps. It's part of the IKEA Foundation's commitment to refugee children around the world.

ikea2.jpgAccording to the folks at IKEA: "Many of the current shelters used in refugee camps have a life span of approximately six months before the impact of sun, rain and wind means it needs to be replaced. Yet long-term refugee situations mean that, on average, refugees stay in camps for 12 years."

The UNHCR says it is installing 50 shelter prototypes (weighing 100 kilos each) with flexible solar panels on the roofs for power and specially made walls that can deflect heat during the day and retain it at night.The prototypes, with their semi-hard plastic walls and roofs made from composite material and with room to house five people each, have cost $US8000 apiece, and the UNHCR wants feedback from refugees before approving more wide-scale production. Over time, the UN agency expects the price for the new shelters to come down to about $US1000, which is still double the $US500 it pays for each of its refugee tents.

The prototype shelters were all made by hand in Sweden, although not in IKEA factories. More than 15 million people were living as refugees around the world last year. Almost 29 million were displaced within their own country - the highest combined number in two decades, as per UNHCR.

Kudos to IKEA and the UNHCR.  Now how about trying something like this?

June 8, 2013

$300 House: an update from Harvey Lacey

I just chatted with Harvey this weekend, and here’s a video he shared that shows his work at Haiti Communitere. The camera follows a group of women from Cite Soleil in Port au Prince as they build a house using styrofoam collected from the streets, canals, and ravines as a source material.


What’s great about Harvey is his passion for doing something. He always has something profoundly insightful to share.  He strongly advocates the empowerment of women as the gamechangers in the community, which, if you watch the video, is exactly what happens!

$300 House: an update from the Dartmouth posse

Here's a link to an article by Dartmouth's Julia McElhinney which tells us more about what they've been doing with the $300 House concept.  Led by Jack Wilson, the project is helping Haiti's former Prime Minister, Madame Michèle Pierre-Louis, who asked Dartmouth to support the work of her non-profit FOKAL in developing a park in the neighborhood of Martissant, Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

March 3, 2013

Crowdstorm: The Future of Innovation, Ideas and Problem Solving

crowdstorm.jpgI recently received a copy of Crowdstorm: The Future of Innovation, Ideas and Problem Solving from Shaun Abrahamson.  Shaun, for those of you who don't know, was the mastermind behind our $300 House Open Design Challenge. He convinced Bastian Unterberg and Peter Ryder to donate their time and host our contest on the jovoto platform. I got a call from him out of the blue, so to speak, and a week and a half later, the contest was on. 

Now the three of them have collaborated (again) to give the rest of us a deep look at "how to leverage external talent to address all kinds of creative and innovative challenges."

The book is especially useful for folks behind the corporate iron-wall who are looking to bring in new ideas, products and services, business models, etc. from the outside, but don't really know where to start. Sure, you can read Henry Chesbrough and John Hagel and JSB's stuff (btw, did you know that Chesbrough once worked for JSB at PARC?), but this is the first book that walks you through a detailed process, step-by-step, and explains what your business needs to do to build an "open innovation" capability:


This book will teach you and your organization:

  • how to weigh the business benefit of crowdstorming with an organization's legal, confidentiality, and brand needs
  • what kinds of questions to ask crowdstorm participants
  • how to compel a community to participate and reward them when they do
  • how to recruit the best people to join your conversation
  • how a coalition of partners can enhance crowdsourcing
  • how to organize participants for the best results
  • how to monitor a community in support of community management
  • how to evaluate results
  • the technology alternatives to enable crowdsourcing

Now, you too can be an A.G. Lafley and bring in all kinds of new, externally developed products into your business!

Go read it now >>

Thanks also to Nathalie Sonne who managed the community for us on jovoto!

February 22, 2013

TEDxGateway, Mumbai: The $300 House

Watch for Harvey Lacey, Patrick Reynolds, and Mahindra and Mahindra:

February 18, 2013

Harvey Lacey's Ubuntublox House


Harvey Lacey's entry in the $300 House Design Challenge placed a respectable 12th, but what sets him apart is his relentless drive to make a difference. A welder by profession, he's the "redneck innovator" from Texas - using ingenuity, hard work, and not-so-common sense to build a new type of structure built of Ubuntublox - blocks built of recycled styrofoam.

WATCH THIS FIRST >> Here's a must-watch video clip from the Discovery Channel.

Here's the original Ubuntublox house:

And, here's a clip using the remains of pressed Vetiver (khus in India), a plant used in Haiti for its fragrance:

Naveen Jain wrote a wonderful article about Harvey in Forbes. In it, he describes how "Harvey is helping to solve more than just one global problem with his Ubuntu-Blox project; he is addressing at least three acute needs: plastic pollution reduction, the global housing crisis and extreme unemployment in underdeveloped countries."


How did Harvey Lacey get into this?  On the phone, he told me about his childhood, growing up poor in a trailer park. Once, when he had no food in the house, his gypsy friends brought his family a truck-full of food. Harvey has never forgotten that act of kindness, and now its seems he is paying it forward, as the cliche goes.

For more info, visit HarveyLacey.com. The man just doesn't stop!

Continue reading Harvey Lacey's Ubuntublox House.

February 12, 2013

[UPDATED] Patrick Reynolds' "Village in a Container"

[UPDATE: I added a few notes at the end of this post based on emails from Patrick and Vivek]

I first learned about Patrick Reynolds during the $300 House Design Challenge when Vivek Bhatnagar submitted his work as an entry. Instead of a design or a sketch, Reynolds just went ahead and built a house, took some photos, and submitted his work... His concept: the "Village in a Container."

While the cost was somewhat more than $300, what he accomplished was startling.

Towards the end of last year, I was back in Texas, and went to visit Patrick to check out his concepts, and here's what I found.

In the classic tradition of the Edison-style inventor, I discovered Patrick in the heart of his solar powered farm, surrounded by experiments of all shapes and sizes. The house he had designed for the contest was there as well, smack-dab in the middle of scenic Central Texas:


Patrick Reynolds' house had been turned into a hunting lodge, and along with the main farmhouse and several other structures, was powered by the sun.  The "Village in a Container" idea, it turns out, is based on Patrick's business - which includes water treatment, solar-powered contraptions to treat groundwater, and now, "pop-up" houses. Patrick showed us around the house (the window awnings - below - are solar panels which power LED lights on the inside):

patrickreynoldshouse.jpgThe ground floor, complete with a sofa-bed, table, wall-AC unit, and the proverbial kitchen sink:

patrickreynoldshouseinside.jpgThe toilet under the stairs (is that good Feng Shui?) empties into an underground septic tank.

patrickreynoldstoilet.jpgUpstairs, the bunk bed stands next to a get-away door (in case of emergencies). A second wall-AC services the upstairs to provide relief during the hot Texas summer.

patrickreynoldshouseupstairs.jpgThe side of the house, showing the the two wall-AC units.

patrickreynoldshouseside.jpgBehind the house, Patrick's solar garden of arrays blooms - following the sun all day long.

patrickreynoldssolarflower.jpgPatrick also showed us his solar control room (the batteries last 15 to 20 years if looked after properly):

patrickreynoldscontrolroom.jpgAnd here's an experimental low-velocity wind turbine he has developed:

patrickreynoldswindmill.jpgThere were some other interesting experiments going on as well, like a solar-powered golf-cart, an outdoor rover for handicapped folks to get out into the wilderness and hunt, several experimental wind turbines, and a full scale manor house (not pictured) which Patrick was building by hand - brick by brick! But what impressed me the most was Patrick's generosity - of both his time and spirit!

UPDATE: After posting the blog post, I got a few additional points from Vivek and Patrick via email:

  • The house can be erected/put together by a team of two to four people without having to use any powered tools (other than a battery powered drill) in a matter of hours
  • It can house up to two adults and four children or four adults
  • The house, because of its design and durability of the components, is sturdy enough to last 20-30 years
  • Like a tree branch, the structure (has a light gage tube steel frame) has been designed to move gently with high winds so that it won't topple over or break (when anchored as designed)
  • In the frontal photo you will notice a removable panel in the exterior wall for access to an external module bathroom that may be desirable in some parts of the world

November 27, 2012

The $300 House: A Katerva Award Nominee


The $300 House has just been nominated for the Katerva Awards.

A few words about the Katerva Awards from the folks at Katerva: The purpose of the Katerva Awards is to identify and amplify the world's most innovative and promising new ideas and initiatives in sustainability. The Katerva Awards have been called the Nobel Prize of Sustainability by Reuters; they are the pinnacle of global sustainability recognition. Through them, the best ground-breaking ideas on the planet are identified and judged through a series of evaluation panels made up of the world's leading experts in the field. Katerva isn't looking for ideas that will improve the world in small increments. We are looking for paradigm-busting ideas. Our Award winners don't simply move the needle when it comes to efficiency, lifestyle or consumption; they change the game entirely. This is a celebration of radical innovation and an acceleration of much needed change.

Let's go!

Continue reading The $300 House: A Katerva Award Nominee.

October 22, 2011

The $300 House: One Year Later

$300 House for the Poor

[UPDATE: October 2012 - I'm back to work on the $300 House - Christian]

It's been a little over a year since the $300 House was introduced in this Harvard Business Review blog post

Today, I'm announcing that the project,which took on a life of its own, has been turned over to the folks at Dartmouth (led by Vijay Govindarajan) and the winners of our Open Design Challenge

After dedicating a year of my time to this project, I have decided to return to my family and my "day-job."

Here's a summary of what's happened over the past year, and what happens next: 

After the series of blog posts in Harvard Business Review, the $300 House was featured in stories by the EconomistThe Guardian, Fast CompanyCNNNew York Timesand numerous other media outlets.  VG was invited to discuss the $300 House with the Whitehouse and the World Economic Forum.  He's speaking at TEDx-New York at the beginning of the Year, and the $300 House was nominated as a "breakthrough idea" by Thinkers50.  I had the honor of speaking about the $300 House at The Guardian's Activate conference this past summer.

The buzz created by the idea led to our $300 House Open Design Challenge (hosted by Jovoto.com, and sponsored by Ingersoll Rand). Our Design Challenge winners - six individuals and one corporate team - are participating in prototyping workshops - one held by Mahindra in India and the other hosted by Dartmouth next summer.  After that, the Dartmouth team plans on a pilot project in Haiti.

In the meantime, teams from Dartmouth visited both India and Haiti to learn more about local conditions and make contact with potential communities.  We also conducted a detailed survey with the help of THL which covered 15 rural village communities across India - using an instrument created by VG and myself.

I want to thank everyone involved - especially the advisors, the Design Challenge winners, Shaun at Mutopo, Bastian and Nathalie at Jovoto, and Scott from Ingersoll Rand for their help and advice. Thanks to all of you for the hundreds of suggestions and discussions we've had over the past year - both positive and negative! Special thanks to Harvard Business Review for all their support. And finally, thanks to my wife and kids for their patience and understanding. 

Eric Ho of Architecture Commons  and an Open Design Challenge winner will be leading the team design effort on the $300 House prototyping workshop and the pilot project, working closely with the Dartmouth team. He's a great guy and a brilliant architect. Please join me in wishing him and the rest of the team all the best! 

My one regret: that I could not get past Ted Turner's executive assistant to get him to join the project at the very beginning. 

For further info, contact VG at vg-tuck.com or Eric Ho at Architecture Commons.

September 3, 2011

Dartmouth Team to Visit Haiti

A group of Dartmouth faculty, graduate students and administrators will be visiting a number of locations in Haiti from September 5-11, 2011 in order to sound out the possibility of moving forward with a "$300 House" pilot project that would be focused on the concept that good housing and community building are an integral component in the promotion of improvements in the health of the Haitian people. It is our hope that this model for very low cost housing, combined with sound infrastructure and creation of jobs can be adapted to meet the needs of challenged communities globally.

On the trip they will meet with community members, leaders and various organizations.

Team members include:

vmay.jpgVicki May, Professor, Thayer School of Engineering

Vicki May is an Instructional Associate Professor of Engineering at Dartmouth's Thayer School of Engineering and she is a registered Professional Engineer in the states of New Hampshire and California. At Thayer School, Vicki teaches solid mechanics, integrated design, and structural analysis. Prior to joining the faculty at Thayer, she was a professor of Architectural Engineering at Cal Poly State University in San Luis Obispo. She also worked in the Los Angeles area for a firm that specializes in seismic rehabilitation of historic structures. She earned her BS in civil engineering from the University of Minnesota and her MS and PhD degrees in structural engineering from Stanford University.

jwilson.jpgJack Wilson, Professor, Studio Art

Jack Wilson is an architect and planner and is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Studio Art at Dartmouth College where he teaches courses in Drawing, Architectural Design and Landscape Art & Design. He also teaches a course on Integrated Design at Dartmouth's Thayer School of Engineering. Until 2009 he was responsible for supervision of campus planning as well as project development, architect selection and design review for large scale capital projects at Dartmouth. In addition to teaching he currently also consults on the planning, design and construction of health care, institutional, commercial and residential projects. Prior to coming to northern New England Jack worked for a number of architectural firms in Philadelphia PA. Jack earned his AB in Art at Vassar College and his Master of Architecture degree at the University of Pennsylvania. He has given invited talks, and presented papers nationally and internationally and is active both at Dartmouth and locally on numerous committees and boards, including the Board of Directors of The Family Place, a non-profit organization in Vermont focused on building strong families in order to build strong communities.

mbode.jpgMolly Bode, Global Health Program Officer, The Dartmouth Center for Health Care Delivery Science

Molly Bode is a Global Health Program Officer at The Dartmouth Center for Health Care Delivery Science. Molly also serves as the Dartmouth Haiti Response Coordinator for medical and educational initiatives with partners in Haiti. In addition to working on Haiti projects, she helps coordinate other global health activities at the College including projects in Rwanda, India, other countries, and in the US. Prior to her current position, Molly served in a two-year fellowship in the President's Office and The Dartmouth Center working on projects for President Jim Yong Kim. She graduated from Dartmouth College in 2009 with a Biology and Film major and is currently taking Masters in Public Health courses.

tpavlowich.jpgTyler Pavlowich, PhD student, Ecology & Evolutionary Biology

Tyler is a second-year PhD student in the Ecology and Evolutionary Biology program at Dartmouth College. He has worked with fish and aquaculture for seven years, both as a researcher and extensionist to rural communities in Paraguay as a Peace Corps volunteer.

His most recent research has focused on the use of algae as a feed source for tilapia in integrated food-energy systems with Professor Anne Kapuscinski from the Environmental Studies Program. He is starting his dissertation and interested in how appropriate aquatic food production systems can contribute to ecological and human well-being.

Special thanks to Dartmouth for making this happen!

July 19, 2011

Businesses Take Up the $300 House Challenge

VG and I are excited to see the TATAs and Mahindra and Mahindras of the world enter the market for affordable housing for the poor.  When businesses view the poor as customers, they start designing products and services for them - at a price point they can afford.  Along the way, these same businesses learn what it means to truly innovate.

Read our post on the Harvard Business Review blog >>

June 30, 2011

The Mangyan Challenge: A Letter from Ian Fraser

Dear $300 House members,

I have followed with interest your design contest (even submitted an entry) and as the winners are announced I would request you consider an opportunity to field trial a/some most suitable designs in a real world situation.

I am trying to develop a self-help project to provide low cost, suitable housing, and a sustainable job/income for poor people particularly in the Philippines.

mangyan.jpgI am exploring working with a village of Mangyan people in the Puerto Galera area of Mindoro Island and I would ask you consider them as recipients of one or more of the successful design outcomes of the contest.

What I need is simply the design information and rights and a working relationship with the designers of a suitable $300 house that is worth investing over $20,000 to build 60 houses.

I advise that many outcomes could ride on the house design "working" and a lot of goodwill could be won or lost by the results achieved. The 60 houses I propose to build are only a small fraction of what is eventually required.

I am not working with the whole Mangyan population  The group I am working with is only one village and while they are 100% Mangyan people they are mostly in transition from their traditional hill-tribe culture into the today's life, culture and economy of the Philippines . They are maintaining many of their traditional values such as strong village group bonding, sense of culture and community, sharing, hard work and passive nature.

They struggle because of limited educational opportunities in the past but are trying hard to ensure their children receive education, health care and other benefits.

Some are share farming, some making handicrafts for sale in nearby tourist areas and some working as guides and labourers for the resorts and in the town. But, they do it very tough. Their houses are frankly very sub-standard and on a recent visit I was shocked. The photos I have included here are some of the better examples.

Their community is in many other ways very functional - they have a primary school and resident teacher; a church and resident minister/teacher; a community meeting place; limited town water-supply and some solar power.

They appear to have a well organized community management structure - it has respect, authority and is consultative and involving.

The leaders are currently having preliminary discussions regarding my proposal to build low cost houses for each of the 60 families in the village.

I stress this is not a headlong crash into a delicate sociological situation.  The project I propose addresses an immediate needs of a village that is well into cultural transition but struggling with very poor housing. The project treads carefully and only after wide consultation - especially it is lead by the people themselves. They have many advisers as well and I envisage the project will be ongoing for at least three years. The houses however could be built within 6 months - according to the level of local participation. A slower build rate would be desirable to enable training and high levels of villager involvement..

The village is located near an easily accessed major town and in reasonable proximity to Manila the capitol of the Philippines. I am confident that one or other of the major universities located in Manila - such as University of The Philippines, Ateneo De Manila, De La Salle or other would be interested to participate in this project from an advisory and academic point of view.

I have almost certainly secured financial support to build 60 houses with an average cost of $300 i.e. approximately US$20,000. I believe strongly that  other support programs are needed by this community all aimed at creating employment, land ownership and economic sustainability of this group. I am also working on these aspects. For example the villagers needs land to which they have clear title before the houses can be built. This is a priority matter at the moment.

There are many possibilities that can spring from this housing project for this village and in general I can see some very interesting possibilities if there was a house for $300.

About me: I am an Australian and semi-retired; briefly my back ground is as a businessman involved in R&D and manufacture of very advanced scientific components. At the same time I was a senior member of a consortium of Australian businesses that did many small development projects in S E Asia over 15 years (total value ~$150 million) - mainly in Indonesia - such as establishing/upgrading Environmental Monitoring Laboratories, Agricultural Science teaching and research laboratories, Occupational Health and Safety Laboratories.

I am a past Chairman of the Australian Scientific Industry Association, a founding director of the Technology Industry Exporters Group as well as various roles in commercialization committees interacting with universities etc.

Thank you for your time regarding this matter

I look forward to hearing from you.

Ian Fraser

IanFraser [ at ] sydney [dot] net

June 27, 2011

Awaken Mozambique: A letter from Felisberto Tole

Felisberto Tole is the team leader in Beira, Mozambique for Awaken Mozambique - an organization founded by an Australian college professor. He has just recovered, we've learned, from a fight with malaria.

I am writing to you from Awaken Mozambique an association here in Beira, Sofala Province, Mozambique. We would like to know how can we assist you , or what kind of information you need from us, and we can then take it from there. 

We have a lot of people in a situation of almost homeless or living in sheds. so  we look forward  to hear from you as far as we are concerned we are ready to help you help our nation in providing housing.

Rambique 089.jpg

We are engaged in helping the people to come out of extreme poverty by teaching and giving them money  for them to learn to do small businesses, so that they will be able to support their families, send their children to school, and afford to get medical help.

Rambique 085.jpg

Our target group are those people who,poor, who are living in desperate situations, most in rent house which are in very bad state, vulnerable to mosquitoes that causes malaria, cholera, most of them are not educated, without employment, and those with employment the salary is less than 100 USD - Imagine ? House to pay rent, food, 5 -7 kids in families and that is not counting with the other relatives, schooling, medicine as you can see the list goes on and on, these people have no access to Banks because the interest rate are very high and they have nothing to secure.

So these are the kind of people we are seeking to help, so that they might be able to help themselves through the business.

Rambique 082.jpg

Our biggest challenges are funds to enable us help the people. We are on a very high demand here, for the word of mouth about us has gone very far but we are not able to satisfy many due to the lack of finances.

We need training, coaching and expertise in creating businesses or services they will generate income for these families to run, which are reasonable to their level.

We need people to sponsor small businesses and yes keep in touch with them and see how your money can change a family for the better forever.

Well this can go on and on. But in general this is what we do and who we are and this is our heart.

If you have any questions please do contact.

Please find attached some photos as examples of the housing situations here.( may i add : houses without water , electricity - people use paraffin lamp and drink well water ... most because they can't afford to buy clean water )

Best Regards


June 15, 2011

$300 House: Open Design Challenge Winners

What began as a challenge in a blog post on the Harvard Business Review website has resulted in a collection of 300 design submissions from around the world. The $300 House Open Design Challenge is complete, with judges picking their final selections after much deliberation, and an extension, in order to go through the entries in detail.

Winners were selected in combination with votes from the community and a panel of judges comprised of expert designers, architects, and thought leaders. The winners share $25000 in total prize money which includes $10,000 in cash awards to the top 16 placements as voted by the community itself, and $15,000 in scholarships to attend a prototyping workshop for six participants (three selected by the community, and three by the judges panel).

The winners of the prototyping workshop scholarship are (listed by username):

An award of recognition for corporate participation goes to a team from Mahindra Partners - the jurors decided to judge corporate entries separately.

"We're delighted by the depth and breadth of the submissions we received," says Vijay Govindarajan, Professor of International Business and the Founding Director of Tuck's Center for Global Leadership. "Hosting this contest on Jovoto's open, co-creation platform gave us a wealth of ideas and identified the people who we believe have the passion, skill, and commitment, to take the project to the next level, prototyping and actually building a $300 house for the poor. We invite all the participants to continue the discussion at www.300house.com."

June 10, 2011

Results on June 15

The judges for the $300 House Open Design Challenge have requested more time to make their decision.  According to Dartmouth professor Vijay Govindarajan, the request for extra time is not unreasonable. "We want our judges to take their time, deliberate, and select the best designs. After all, we have 300 designs to go through - I'm not surprised we're overwhelmed, " he explains.

The new date for the announcement of the winners has been set at June 15.  We hope that the community understands why the judges are taking the extra time, and we look forward to sharing the results with everyone on that date.

Our Rebuttal to the $300 House Op-Ed in the NY Times

Have they stopped fact-checking at the New York Times

That's the question I asked myself when I saw the op-ed they ran on the $300 House.

VG and I wrote a rebuttal - here - on the Harvard Business Review blog.

Please let us know what you think by posting your comments at HBR, underneath the rebuttal.

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