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Build Change

More than nine out of ten natural disaster-related deaths occur in developing countries. Many of these occur in overcrowded, unsafe neighborhoods where housing does not meet basic codes for resilience. Post disaster, NGOs and government agencies often rebuild in ways that are not culturally appropriate or even earthquake resistant. Build Change, a Denver-based nonprofit systems change catalyst, prevents housing loss caused by disasters. By mobilizing people, money, and technology to transform systems for regulating, financing, building, and improving houses around the world, Build Change puts resilient communities within reach. Using simple, culturally appropriate, and cost-effective retrofitting techniques, Build Change has overseen the reconstruction of thousands of homes, often revitalizing entire neighborhoods in Haiti, China, Nepal, and around the world.

Founded in 2004 by civil engineer Dr. Elizabeth Hausler, Build Change’s philosophy is distinguished by a homeowner-driven, cash-plus-technical-assistance approach.  Historically, much of post-disaster reconstruction is driven by top-down decisions made by large international NGOs. Build Change is committed to letting homeowners make the critical decisions about their own rebuilding.

Further, they are mindful of the crucial role of women in this process. Build Change’s emphasis on employing women trainers and engineers increases the number of mentors and role models for girls. In addition to employing women in traditionally male-dominated sectors, it also works alongside female homeowners, brickmakers, builders, and other community members to encourage female participation in resilient construction practice.

Build Change’s approach is fluid as rebuilding programs must fit within local contexts.  But their process can be distilled into six basic steps:

  1. Learn First: Build Change invests significant time during the beginning of the rebuilding cycle to get to know a local community and its resources.  Build Change especially emphasizes the human resources which might exist in a community: who are the local builders?  Who are the engineers?  What capacity do the local universities have?
  2. Design Disaster-Resistant Houses: The principles of anti-seismic construction are already understood. Build Change engineers see their role as marrying established anti-seismic engineering with local materials and resources.
  3. Build Local Skills: Training is probably the most essential dimension to Build Change’s programming. Frequently a disaster-affected community already has a body of masons, welders and builders. Therefore, what is needed is supplemental training to help local methods evolve to include anti-seismic techniques.
  4. Stimulate Local Demand: In Haiti, Build Change learned that demand for safe building was critical to ongoing recovery efforts.  Many of the masons there had trouble finding work once they had completed their training because the demand for safe building didn’t exist on the consumer side. That experience taught Build Change the importance of facilitating media and public awareness campaigns so that consumers clearly understand the benefits building safely.
  5. Facilitate Access to Capital:  A central plank of Build Change’s philosophy is making sure that willing builders can access the capital necessary to build safely.  In the developing world, where rigid or enforceable building codes are often lacking, good practices slip away when homeowners are denied access to financing.  A homeowner or a builder may want to build safely, and may know how, but without easy access to funding, substandard options can seem like the only option.
  6. Measure the Change: In order to continually advance its work, Build Change maintains a commitment to metrics and analytics.  The organization remains involved in all of their projects, consistently evaluating their programs and maintaining contact with beneficiaries in order to solicit ongoing feedback.

We had a chance to talk to Dr. Hausler to hear her thoughts on how to make a more resilient world on Social Design Insights. Listen to the episode below.

15 | A Homeowner-driven Approach to Rebuilding After Disaster


Social Design Insights would like to thank all those who make our weekly show possible: Baruch Zeichner, our Producer and Sound Engineer, Donna Read, for producing our video content, and Leah Freidenrich, Director of the Curry Stone Foundation. Our theme music for 2017 is "Sorry" by Comfort Fit. The break music is "New York Samba" by Bob James & Earl Klugh from their album "Cool."