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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.

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

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 >>

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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.  

June 15, 2011

$300 House: Open Design Challenge Winners

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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."

May 27, 2011

299 Design Ideas for the $300 House

Thanks to everyone for their enthusiasm and support!  VG and I are thrilled to see the creative suggestions and the spirit of co-operation that became more and more evident as the $300 House Open Design Challenge went along. 

Special thanks to the Jovoto team - Nathalie, Nadine, Peter (x2), Bastian, and Shaun at Mutopo for making this happen - without your generosity we'd never have gotten off the ground.  Thanks also to Scott Tew from Ingersoll Rand for your willingness to try this experiment.

Now, let the judging begin!

March 10, 2011

Building a $300 House for the Poor: HBR interviews VG

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VG explains the rationale behind the $300 House. Watch >>

February 13, 2011

Design for the Other 90%

“The problem is that 90 percent of the world’s designers spend all their time working on solutions to the problems of the richest 10 percent of the world’s customers. A revolution in design is needed to reverse this silly ratio and reach the other 90 percent.”

Paul Polak in Out of Poverty: What Works When Traditional Approaches Fail

Here are Paul’s 12 steps to practical problem solving for the poor:

  1. Go to where the action is.
  2. Talk to the people who have the problem and listen to what they have to say.
  3. Learn everything you can about the problem’s specific context.
  4. Think big and act big.
  5. Think like a child.
  6. See and do the obvious.
  7. If somebody has already invented it, you don’t need to do so again.
  8. Make sure your approach has positive, measurable impacts that can be brought to scale.
  9. Design to specific cost and price targets.
  10. Follow practical three-year plans.
  11. Continue to learn from your customers.
  12. Stay positive: don’t be distracted by what other people think.


For all the designers out there, these principles should be applied to the design and implementation of the $300 House.  Paul Polak’s approach at D-REV and  IDE is the direction is which Design must go if is to make a difference in the world.

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