Advancing climate resilient housing at COP28

Written by Ariana Karamallis

Build Change’s Ariana Karamallis and Juan Caballero together with partners and speakers from our joint UNFCCC side event, “Housing and Climate Adaptation for the Most Vulnerable.” 

Build Change recently returned home from COP28, the largest and most well-known global climate change conference hosted annually by UNFCCC and held this year in Dubai. Our delegation to the conference included Juan Caballero, Chief of Programs, and Ariana Karamallis, Global Advocacy & Development Associate, who spoke at six different events and engaged with many of our key advocacy and fund development partners to advocate for climate-resilient housing. Resilient housing must be a key aspect of the climate agenda if we are to meet the increasingly urgent adaptation needs of billions of people worldwide.

This was Build Change’s third COP, and we are happy to see our impact in the space growing. In the first year, Build Change built momentum by advancing housing in built environments and resilience spaces, and in the second year, there was finally a recognition by others that housing as a concept is a critical lever for climate action as reflected by the publication of the Sharm El Sheikh Adaptation Agenda. In this third year of our representation, our leadership alongside partners driving housing issues forward was more relevant than ever to achieve greater impact in housing as a climate mitigation and adaptation solution.

Government delegations speak in support of The Buildings Breakthrough on Multi-Level Action, Urbanization, Built Environment and Transport Day.

Policy Actions in the Built Environment Signal Significant Progress, Still Require Stronger Housing Focus

December 6th–Multi Level Action, Urbanization, Built Environment and Transport Day–was filled to the brim with discussions exploring how to make the built environment—and all the industries, sectors, and stakeholders that feed into it—carbon neutral, resilient, and sustainable.

This included the launch of the Buildings Breakthrough, which aims to “strengthen international collaboration to decarbonize the building sector and make clean technologies and sustainable solutions the most affordable, accessible, and attractive option in all regions by 2030.” Not an easy task, especially considering how little discussion there was of strategies and solutions for the most common types of buildings out there: informal buildings and housing.

This reality will need to be acknowledged to achieve the objectives of the Buildings Breakthrough. We will also need lots of collaboration, lots of political will, lots of innovation, and lots of finance—especially considering the number of buildings that need to be built (or retrofitted!) between now and 2050 to meet the growing population and rapid urbanization needs.

The reality is that most buildings built today are not formal. They are self-built and built informally. We need to drive policy to address the elephant in the room: informally built buildings and housing. We must include informal housing in our thinking, solutions and strategies as we move forward with the Buildings Breakthrough.

Juan Caballero speaks at “Delivering the Buildings Breakthrough: Pioneering leadership for a low-carbon and resilient world,” an Implementation Lab hosted by the Building to COP coalition.

Addressing Both Quantitative and Qualitative Housing Deficits Will Be Necessary for Resilience, Especially in Africa

Kathy Baughman McLeod, Will Wild, Naa Ayeleysa Quaynor-Mettle, Juan Caballero, and Sheela Patel were all panelists at the Building to COP Implementation Lab on December 6th. Sheela, Naa, and Juan all drew attention to the need to create housing solutions for the most vulnerable populations as a key adaptation priority. 

In Africa, where Build Change started work this year, the population is estimated to reach 3 billion by 2050 and 80% of the buildings that will exist in the region by that time are yet to be built. Of these, nearly 90% will be residential. Despite this—and the growing population and housing needs across the rest of the Global South, too—there was insufficient mention of how to translate ambitious and important mitigation targets to the adaptation needs of the 3+ billion people set to be living in inadequate housing by 2030, let alone 2050. 

We need to think differently about how to address policy barriers related to land and tenure security, which prevent access to safe housing for millions across Africa. As the African population grows and urbanizes over the coming decades, governments must find means to provide safe, resilient, permanent homes for millions of people. 

By 2030, 40% of the world’s population will be living in inadequate housing. Most of these people are living in informal, self-built homes that need to be retrofitted or rebuilt to be climate and disaster-resilient—especially considering the realities of an increasingly warming world. These communities not only live in the most vulnerable physical circumstances but, due to poverty, land insecurity, and the ripple effects of a life characterized by informality, are without the financial and technical resources, political representation, or voice required to access safe, resilient housing and basic services. 

Mitigation Benefits of Housing Are Also Critical to Reaching Net Zero

Juan Caballero speaks at “Housing and Climate Adaptation for the Most Vulnerable Populations,” together with Nate Matthews of Global Resilience Partnership, Chrispin Chavula of Habitat for Humanity Malawi, and Abednego Changa of the Zambian affiliate of Slum Dwellers International.
Watch the video here.

But many of these homes do not need to be rebuilt. Just before COP28, Build Change launched our latest study, “Saving Embodied Carbon through Strengthening Existing Housing,” based on findings from over 300 case studies, this report finds that not only is incrementally upgrading existing housing a transformative solution with innumerable social benefits–especially when implemented using a homeowner-driven approach like Build Change does–but it offers tremendous environmental benefits as well. By applying the findings from this study, we estimate there’s an opportunity to save 4.8 gigatons of CO2 emissions while addressing the more than 268 million inadequate houses1 globally.

Retrofitting is cheaper, costing about 23% less than building new, and can save 68% of embodied carbon per house, indicating major environmental benefits as well. In communities across the global south, retrofitting for disaster and climate resilience needs to be the go-to first strategy for addressing the global housing deficit. It is an investment not only in a building but in a community and the people living there, too. 

“We should be doing COP for the most vulnerable if we want to make the world safe and resilient for us all…How we design and finance our informal sector is how we will define resilience in the future.” 

Cerin Kizhakkethottam from UN-Habitat at UNFCCC side event 
“Housing & Climate Adaptation for the Most Vulnerable Populations

If we want to make a difference, we need to focus our efforts on creating policy, financing and technology solutions that reach the billions living in self-built, informal homes and include resilient housing as a key adaptation priority. 

Activating the Loss & Damage Fund and Increasing Adaptation Finance 

But there are big picture items–and finance–needed to fully activate these initiatives. While the operationalization of the Loss & Damage Fund is a strong step forward, it requires more funding to effectively address the extensive challenges posed by climate change impacts on vulnerable communities worldwide. While the establishment of a framework for the Global Goal on Adaptation does indicate progress, it is so far missing the funding needed to enable countries to implement robust strategies, build resilient infrastructure, and enhance adaptive capacities in the face of evolving climate threats. 

Mia Mottley, the Prime Minister of Barbados, spoke to the urgent need to bridge the adaptation finance gap when she addressed COP28, saying, “Loss and damage alone is only a part of the equation. Because for every dollar that we spend before disaster, we can save $7 in damage, and indeed in loss of lives…We continue to need significant funds for adaptations for countries that simply will not be met unless there’s a different approach to how we address the capitalization of the international financial institutions [and] the commitment of countries…If not, we will not make it possible for countries to access the funds necessary to avoid the damage.”

Amid these high-level global events, we must not forget who continues to bear the brunt of climate change’s impacts. The needs of those most vulnerable to climate change must be at the center of every finance mechanism we create, every policy decision our governments take, and every new technology we develop. We need to raise the call for climate and disaster-resilient housing, using the launch of the Buildings Breakthrough and the momentum gained at COP28 as an opportunity to bring stakeholders together to transform our global systems, addressing barriers around policy, money, and technology to increase access to resilient housing and drive impact at scale. 

Watch Build Change at COP28:

Check out our full list of COP28 engagements here and watch recordings of some of the events at the links below: 


  1. International Finance Corporation, World Bank Group, Introducing the Adequate Housing Index (AHI), A New Approach to Estimate the Adequate Housing Deficit within and across Emerging Economies (2021). ↩︎


Curaduría Cero is a program launched by the Colombian government in 2017, which focuses on formalizing the houses constructed without building permits and whose value does not exceed 135 times the minimum monthly wage in Colombia, which is approximately $33,750 US. 

The legislation which established Curaduría Cero was enacted in 2017 by President Juan Manuel Santos, but it took some time before the Curaduría Cero offices were operational and able to provide services to the public. In 2018, Bucaramanga and Medellin set theirs up, and at the end of 2020, Mayor Claudia Lopez launched Plan Terrazas in Bogota. The main goal of the Plan Terrazas program is to provide the services of a Curaduría Cero, called Curaduría Publica Social in this case, streamlining acts of recognition (a kind of retroactive construction permit that includes the required minimum structural and habitability upgrades).

Additionally, by providing free technical assistance, and over $10,000 US of stacked subsidies to structurally strengthen and add a second story, the program aims to improve the safety and quality of vulnerable housing, as well as to enable homeowners to generate additional income by renting out the newly added second floor.

Build Change began its operations in Colombia in 2014 and, through its technical assistance and capacity-building programs, it has served as a trusted advisor to the Colombian Ministry of Housing, the city governments of Bogota and Medellin, and other government entities, at both the national and local level. The organization has focused on advising policy, as well as developing technical tools and workflows to facilitate improving the habitability and structural performance of informal housing. In line with this approach, Build Change has leveraged the Curadurías Cero as a strategic catalyst for promoting resilient housing solutions as they integrate the regularization of informal housing with the provision of free technical assistance to homeowners, facilitating the upgrade of their homes to meet required building standards.

Over the years, Build Change has been raising awareness to create demand for resilient housing, reforming policies to reduce bottlenecks and drive change at scale, improving access to finance to make resilient housing affordable to those in need, and building local capacity to develop engineering, construction, and program expertise.

At the national level, the organization has focused on ensuring that structural improvements are included in housing programs and supporting the development of what will be the first national code for retrofitting informal housing once approved. Locally, we have mainly worked on amendments of urban regulations and modification of subsidy policies, developing digital tools to make processes easier, faster and ultimately more efficient.

Figure 1 – Record of Build Change’s Impact, “Safer Buildings”, in Colombia (log scale) as compared to key policy changes influenced by our work over time.

The chart tracks improved houses directly impacted by programs which have received inputs from Build Change from 2014 to 2022 (Figure 1). It also highlights how each policy milestone where Build Change has had some influence or participation not only positively impacts a given amount of houses, but also has supported and enabled sustained scaling of resilient housing programs in the country, particularly in the years 2020-2022, which saw a 210x increase.

Curaduría Cero and the ongoing efforts of Build Change have made substantial contributions to the regularization and improvement of informal housing in Colombia. As the country progresses on its path towards creating a more resilient urban fabric, the continued collaboration between government initiatives and Build Change will be crucial in further scaling the impact already achieved and ensuring a better future for the Colombian people.

Rebuilding in Haiti After the 2021 Earthquake: An Interview with Haiti Project Manager Pierre Paya

Pierre Paya is the Haiti Project Manager and a civil engineer. He joined Build Change in 2015 and has experience in building and infrastructure construction projects in France, Africa, and the Middle East. 

Build Change has been working in Haiti since 2010. Can you tell us more about what you’ve been doing and your impact to date?

Build Change has been supporting families in Haiti to repair and rebuild their homes to withstand future earthquakes in a way that supports livelihoods and long-term economic recovery. As part of this, we work with builders and blockmakers to increase local capacity and improve the quality of construction materials available on the local market.  

Over the past decade, Build Change has worked in the Port-au-Prince area, in Cap Haitien and Trou du Nord in the North, and in the Southern Peninsula following Hurricane Matthew. Since the 2021 earthquake we have concentrated our efforts in the Les Cayes region, in the south. The technical and financial assistance we’ve provided since 2010 has resulted in more than 135,000 safer people, over 27,000 safer buildings, and created over 10,000 temporary jobs.


Sylviana pictured in July 2022 in front of her home that was severely damaged in the 2021 earthquake, and in January 2023 following technical and financial support from Build Change

What has been Build Change’s response following this latest earthquake in August 2021?

Build Change’s priority following the earthquake was the safety and well being of our staff and their families, as well as the status of our past programs in the area. We rapidly assembled a team to begin reconstruction and strengthening work on six houses belonging to former employees, and revisited schools we had assessed in 2016 to evaluate the level of damage. 

We began to lay the groundwork for a larger program by coordinating with national and local government agencies, and connecting with blockmakers who had participated in past training programs. A key objective was to understand their capacity to provide quality concrete blocks for safe reconstruction in the region.

Build Change engineer and trainer Wismick with block makers in Les Cayes who recently completed training to support production of higher-quality cement blocks

Over the last 18 months, our work has evolved to support homeowners to rebuild and strengthen their homes in Chantal, at the invitation of the Ministry of Public Works, Transport and Communication (MTPTC), the Unit of Housing Construction and Public Buildings (UCLBP) and the mayor. We are training local block factories in parallel to support production of high-quality blocks and economic recovery.

How has Build Change’s previous experience in Haiti supported this latest response?

Leveraging our past experience in Haiti allowed us to respond immediately—Build Change was one of the first organizations to start reconstruction following the 2021 earthquake, and is still one of the only organizations rebuilding permanent housing. While other organizations made significant efforts to evaluate and assess buildings, there has been very limited implementation beyond temporary tarps and tents. 

This time around we simplified operations, work, and logistics and employed very few international staff members. We are currently utilizing the expertise and training of our Haitian staff, as well as tools that were already approved by the government. 

Tell us more about how Build Change supports families to rebuild homes that will withstand future earthquakes.

Build Change provides direct support to families through a combination of technical and financial assistance using our homeowner-driven reconstruction model.

On the technical side, our engineers carry out assessments and offer homeowners prescriptive solutions to address the structural weaknesses of their home that are most commonly exploited by hurricanes and earthquakes. Financial assistance comes in the form of cash grants given to the homeowner, who is then responsible for purchasing construction materials and paying the builder. We support homeowners to engage a builder and provide them with construction guides, training, recommendations, and regular visits to ensure good quality construction—the cash transfers are conditional on construction quality and progress.  

In addition to technical assistance and access to finance, Build Change trains homeowners to lead the repair and reconstruction of their homes

Can you speak to the challenges Build Change faces in Haiti that might not be the case elsewhere? For example, how is the current civil unrest and gang warfare in Port-au-Prince impacting your work?

A common barrier to resilient housing globally is the lack of enforcement of building regulations, and this is particularly apparent in Haiti, where coordination with the local building authority is challenging, and there is a complete lack of enforcement of laws relating to urban planning, construction permitting or material quality. 

The ongoing socio-political and economic crisis and the worsening situation in Port-au-Prince presents a number of unique challenges that affect the whole country: the crisis significantly increases the vulnerability of homeowners, frequently leaving them unable to access credit for home improvements and without basic services such as electricity and water. In terms of our program, cost increases due to high inflation and gasoline shortages bring uncertainty to our budgets and raise operational and construction costs, while roadblocks and an absence of infrastructure complicate our logistics. 

In spite of these constraints Build Change is making great progress delivering permanent housing solutions, by implementing with local staff and suppliers using our homeowner-led operating model. Unlike contractor-led programs, working directly with homeowners means our operations continue independently of national reconstruction strategies and are unaffected by political shifts and corruption. 

Build Change engineer Obed supporting a builder at work in Chantal

What do you predict for the future of Haiti, with regard to building hurricane and earthquake-resistant homes?

The need in Haiti is huge: close to 140,000 homes that were damaged in past earthquakes still need to be repaired or rebuilt, and thousands more undamaged homes need strengthening if they are to resist the next earthquake or cyclone. 

What makes us hopeful is that Haitians understand the risks they face and there is widespread demand for safer, better housing. 

Additionally, Build Change and our partners, as well as others, have already developed the technical tools and systems to improve the whole construction value chain—including materials production, designs for housing strengthening, and builder training to improve construction quality—for better housing supply. We’ve also already proven that homeowner-driven programs can be replicated at scale, and that their efficacy only increases in periods of political instability and socio-economic crisis. The main challenge will be whether Haiti can mobilize enough funds for the reconstruction. It’s been over a year since the event, other disasters have occurred, and the international response to this one has been fairly limited.

Local trainer Wismick providing training to employees of a block making factory in the South

When I Met Build Change / Noong Makilala Ko Si Build Change

A bilingual blog in English and Tagalog by Ritche Miñoza, Builder Trainer, Philippines

When I was a young man I was already in the construction industry. When I got married, I had moved to Gui­uan, Eastern Samar, when an unexpected typhoon arrived, Typhoon Yolanda. After the typhoon many organizations gave aid, and one of those was Build Change. Noon pa man ay marunong na ako sa konstruksyon. Binata pa ako ay nasa konstruksyon na ang trabaho ako. Nang makapag-asawa ako ay lumipat ako sa Guiuan, Eastern Samar. Sa hindi inaasahang pagkakataon ay dumating ang isang napakalakas na bagyo, iyon na nga ang Bagyong Yolanda. Matapos ang bagyo ay marami ang nagabot ng tulong sa Pilipinas at isa na doon ang Build Change.

Together with TESDA (the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority), Build Change looked at the situation and condition of the houses, and called in local home builders. This group was invited to undergo training and pass a test to receive an NC-11 certificate, which certifies you as a carpenter or mason. I wanted to participate because of the certificate, although I told myself, “I know enough already.” Even my wife asked me why would I want to undergo training, when I knew how to build houses already. I told her I needed the certificate in case I decided to apply for a carpenter or mason job—at least then I would have a supporting document. So I attended the 15-day training. Kasama ang TESDA, tiningnan ng Build Change ang sitwasyon at ang kalagayan ng mga kabahayan. Ipinatawag nila ang lahat ng mga marunong gumawa ng bahay para sa isang training. Kung sino man ang makakapasa ay makakatangap ng NC-11 bilang patunay at sertipikasyon sa pagiging isang ganap na karpintero o mason. Gusto kong sumali para sa NC-11. Nagtaka ang aking asawa dahil alam niya naman na marunong na ako sa konstruksyon. Ipinaliwanag ko sa kanya and importansya ng NC-11. Kung mayroon ako nito, maari ko itong i-presenta sa papasukan kong trabaho bilang katibayan na nakaattend at nakapagtapos ako ng training. Kaya naman umatted ako ng 15 days training na may kasama pang allowance.

The hands-on component of Ritche’s builder training in November, 2014.

At the beginning of the training I rarely listened because I knew that I could already build houses. I even thought that perhaps our trainers were not as skilled as me, so when they asked me questions, I confidently replied that “I’d rather do it in the field.” I was not alone; my fellow trainees and I would boast about our accomplishments and knowledge of carpentry and masonry. Some of the trainees did not finish the training, because they thought it was just a waste of time. So only a few of us finished. Habang nagtatrainig ay halos hindi ako nakikinig, kasi malaki ang tiwala ko sa sarili ko na marunong na ako. Hindi rin ako tiwala sa mga nagtuturo kaya naman madalas kong sinasabi kapag may mga tanong sa akin ay sa aktwal ko na lang gagawin. Halos lahat kami ay ganun ang pagiiisip. Kahit nagsasalita at nagsasagawa ng pagtetraining ay hindi kami nakikinig bagkos ay nagyayabang pa kami dahil marunong na kami sa pagmamason at pagkakarpintero. Hindi na rin nagpatuloy ang iba kong mga kasama dahil sa alam na nga namin kung ano ang kanilang mga itinuturo at mukang nagsasayang lamang kami ng aming mga oras at panahon kaya naman kaunti lamang kaming nagpatuloy.

Ritche with his fellow builder training program graduates in November, 2014 in Guiuan, Eastern Samar, Philippines.

During the training, my mind slowly changed. I had many questions, but our Build Change trainers/engineers were always able to answer and explain them. The picture above shows us, the only ones who passed the training by Build Change. Build Change gave us hands-on projects and that is when my knowledge about construction changed. Noong makita ko ang koneksyon, doon na unti unting nagbago ang takbo ng isip ko. Marami pa pala akong hindi alam at mga katanungan na naipaliwanag naman ng mga trainor at Engineer ng Build Change. Sa larawang ito ay makikita ninyo kaming mga pumasa sa training at pagsusulit na ibinigay ni Build Change. Kami din ang inuna nilang bigyan ng mga proyekto at doon na nagbago ang aking kaalaman sa konstruksyon.

Even now that I live in Manila, there are people in Guiuan asking me when am I going home, so I can build their house. I have learned so much about construction since then, and I’m still learning. That’s why my life changed after that training, and now I work at Build Change. Kahit na ako ay nandito ngayon sa Maynila, may mga nagtatanong kung kailang ako makakauwi sa Easter Samar para makapagpagawa sila ng bahay. Ngayon ay marami na akong kaalaman sa konstruksyon at patuloy pa itong nadaragdagan kaya naman napakalaki ng pinagbago ng buhay ko simula noong nakapag-training ako kay Build Change, lalo pa ngayon na dito na ako nagtatrabaho.

From Trainee to Trainer: Ritche leads a training in Laguna, Philippines in May, 2018.


My Experience Designing Assessment Tools in Partnership with the German & Philippine Red Cross

By: Samantha Lisay, Architect and Designer, Build Change-Philippines

One of my first projects with Build Change was to design forecast-based financing resources for the German and Philippine Red Cross. The aim of forecast-based financing is to use science or forecast models to identify where to give aid even before a disaster strikes. This specific project focused on lessening the damage to vulnerable housing caused by typhoons by temporarily strengthening them 2-3 days before the forecasted storm. Build Change was tasked with coming up with resources such as an assessment form, shelter strengthening guide, and a post-disaster assessment form to make this rapid strengthening response possible.

Designing Material Resources

As Build Change’s resident designer, I quickly jumped into creating these materials, only to realize that this was not an ordinary design challenge.

When designing the assessment form, we took into consideration the criteria for receiving the shelter strengthening kits (SSK), including the type and condition of the house. As a designer, it was my job to not only make things visually pleasing, but to make sure that a non-technical person could confidently and accurately evaluate a house and determine if it required strengthening or not.

The assessment form I designed to support the German and Philippine Red Cross on this project.

For the shelter strengthening guide, it was really important that I work with Build Change engineers to come up with ideas about what a homeowner could do to reduce the damage to their house during a typhoon. It was quite a challenge, considering the strengthening had to be simple enough that a non-technical person, a nanay (mother) or tatay (father) for example, could understand and share this information with others. Also, the kit needed to be simple enough that it could be installed in just a few hours.

The shelter strengthening guide Build Change designed for this project.

I enjoyed the process of thinking through this project with the team, brainstorming and imagining potential scenarios, with the goal of reducing damage and strengthening houses before disaster strikes.

Another important part of this project was creating a way to give feedback about how the shelter strengthening actually worked in the form of a post-disaster assessment. Again, the main consideration for this form was, “Could a non-technical person actually use this?” I’ve always thought that design should be client-centric, and in this case, user-centric. I also made sure that everything was technically correct, visually pleasing, and of above all, easy to use.

The post-disaster assessment form, designed to collect data on how well homes we protected survived typhoons.

The Importance of Consultations and Field Tests

Example of a focus group discussion with the Philippine Red Cross.  

As with any design project, consultation and testing are extremely important. We may think we have a good design, based on our standards, but the people who will actually be the end-users should always be consulted, and the methods we propose must be tested on-site. For this project, Build Change held focus group discussions with the Philippine Red Cross staff and ran field tests in which we vetted our planned approach. Out of these sessions came a lot of great feedback, that I was personally grateful for, even though it meant that I had to go back and make several rounds of edits. Many revisions and discussions later, we produced the final resource materials, and I’m proud of the process and end result. The final product is truly a design produced through collaboration between Build Change, our Red Cross clients, and our users in the community. I look back on my experience designing for the Red Cross fondly, and I always try to remember some of my personal lessons learned: that materials must be technically sound, and always vetted and field-tested with our clients and users. This is the only way to make sure the people that most need these resources ultimately use them when their lives and homes are at stake.

Everyone Asks: How About Sustainability?

By: Marv Riego – Program Officer, Build Change-Philippines

We are in a constant search for sustainability. Every day, we think of innovative ways we can make our programs sustainable, decreasing communities’ dependence on the help we provide, enabling them to run the programs even after we leave. The question is HOW?

Here at Build Change-Philippines, sustainability is one of our key considerations when delivering programs. We ensure we design, develop, and implement programs that deliver permanent change and enable communities to follow safe construction practices, all by themselves. Our “Steps to Sustainability” are:

  1. DESIGN and DEVELOP sustainable materials;
  2. COMMUNICATE materials to partners;
  3. FIELD TEST the materials with the community and implementing partners; and,
  4. TRAIN the trainers.

The needs of our communities are constantly changing. Build Change deliberately DESIGNS and DEVELOPS sustainable materials so that we ensure our programs are adaptable to these evolving needs. For example, materials designed for our Disaster Resilient Housing Program can be updated, combined with new materials, or used for another program which may be interrelated. This way, materials can evolve to take on a holistic approach, targeting multiple community issues using one sustainable set of tools.

Example of a booklet for homeowners in the Philippines.

Another way that we design our programs to be sustainable is through our homeowner-driven approach. Build Change COMMUNICATES with homeowners, builders, and partner institutions to understand their needs, and how to meet them. Involving these stakeholders at the conceptualization phase creates not only commitment, but also ownership. Once you feel that something is yours and that you are a part of it, you give greater importance to it. Program-wise, you want to make sure it works and becomes successful. If participants see something that does not fit or add up, they will initiate a fix and improve it themselves, because they not only want the program to continue, but also to prosper.

A Community Visit in Baler, Aurora in September, 2019.

Moreover, communicating with your target audience localizes your approach, and identifies which strategies make the most sense based on the community’s unique culture, beliefs, and values. Materials that are sensitive to these critical factors show respect to the local community, which is a must-have, especially if programs are to continue over the long-term.

The next step is for any materials we develop to undergo a FIELD TEST. Field testing gives the materials a thorough trial with the target audience in the environment in which they will be used. Just like the COMMUNICATE step, the goal of this step is to gather real-life, local feedback from the community and implementing partners on the materials under development. For the staff of partner institutions, for example, they will ultimately be responsible for presenting the materials they are piloting to their clients. Materials related to safe construction methods may be technical, and our partners must make sure they are comfortable discussing the topic, presenting the materials, and answering questions either in the office or out in the community. The objective of field testing is to get real comments and feedback to improve the materials (and overarching program if necessary). Once the materials and programs are localized, and all comments and feedback are taken into consideration, the communities are one step closer to carrying out the program by themselves.

Field Testing Informational Campaign Materials in Cabanatuan in January, 2020.

Last but not least is to TRAIN the trainers by delivering Training of Trainers (TOT) sessions. One of the most effective ways to do this is to identify local community members and empower them with the knowledge to teach others.  These community members should fully understand the community needs, speak the local dialect, and should be trusted within the community.  Conducting a successful Training of Trainers requires a deep understanding of even the smallest details: how to deliver the materials, how to answer questions, which words to use, which points to emphasize, etc. We ensure trainers are capable, well-equipped and confident, and also that trainings are uniform and consistent. Ultimately, using the Train the Trainers approach, we build a pool of competent trainers who can reach more people and replicate our program delivery, making it sustainable and accessible to a wider audience.

A “Training of Trainers” Session in February, 2020 with Partner Microfinance Institution ASKI in Tuguegarao.

In all of these efforts, we ultimately want our community members and partners to own our programs, because committed people, who believe in your mission, will work hard to make it sustainable.

Challenges to Disaster-Resilient Housing in the Philippines

Roel Ombao – Project Engineer, Build Change

I joined Build Change- Philippines in mid-2018, because the program caught my attention. I am interested in working to support low income families so they can have homes that are resilient to earthquakes and typhoons, events which are not new to every Filipino. I have done several post-disaster reconnaissance surveys after earthquakes and typhoons and it breaks my heart to see houses collapsed and hear the stories of someone passing away after being crushed by a collapsed wall.

Photo Taken After The 6.7 Magnitude Earthquake In Surigao, February 10, 2017

After working for almost two years now with Build Change, I have come to realize that disaster resilient housing is a complex issue with many challenges, a few of which I will highlight here:

First, Money or Access to Financing: Low income families are not catered to by most commercial banks and lending institutions. Most of these clients access funds through micro-finance institutions or informal lending. These institutions offer limited loan amounts, which in most cases means a homeowner cannot afford to build a new house or fully strengthen their existing house as a one-time construction. Most families build or improve their houses on an incremental basis, step-by-step over time, which can increase the chances of building it poorly.

Second, Engineering and Permitting: Low-income families often cannot afford to hire building professionals such as engineers and architects. Applying for a building permit is also a challenge as the process is long, requires further funds and involves a lot of paperwork, such as engineering and property documents. Property documents are an essential part of the permitting process and most low-income families do not have tenure and official rights over their land.

Third, Capacity of Local Builders and Material Quality: Most builders available in the community do not have complete knowledge of safe construction. As a result, construction is often done in a way which will put the people living in the structures they build at risk in times of major earthquakes and typhoons. In addition, the market for concrete hollow blocks (CHB), the most common wall material used in house construction, is not regulated or checked. As a result, there is a large amount of substandard CHB available in the market, which can be attractive to the consumer, considering it is lower in cost.

So how can we address these challenges? Build Change works with microfinance institutions (MFIs) that provide financing to low income families. Loan amounts are tailored to the client’s capacity to pay. To help more families afford to strengthen their homes, we have developed simple tools, materials, and training packages to allow these families to have access to good designs and trained builders. There isn’t the capacity for each and every house to be individually engineered, which is why we develop tools so local builders can evaluate deficiencies, and then prioritize how to address them through an incremental build, leading to a more resilient house.

An Excel-Based Home Strengthening Calculation System Designed for Use in Locations Without Internet Access


Build Change’s Builder’s Guide for the Philippines

Our program will not entirely solve the challenges of access to disaster-resilient housing in the country, but it is definitely a good starting point. At the same time, we will continue to work to support the government in developing regulations and processes that will make disaster resilient housing accessible to low income families. This could include financial subsidies or loans, information dissemination on the need for disaster resilient housing, and/or releasing a new building code that would simplify the construction process and ensure quality.

Sometime in Nepal

By Elizabeth Rees

Earthquakes destroy homes and livelihoods.

Nepal lies in one of the most seismically active regions in the world and has a long history of earthquakes. Globally Nepal ranks number eleven in vulnerability to earthquakes.

In April 2015, the 7.8 magnitude Gorkha earthquake, which was followed by the 7.3 magnitude earthquake of Dolakha, led to over 90,000 casualties, affecting one-third of the Nepalese population. There was extensive damage to both public and private buildings. In total, approximately half a million houses were destroyed and more than 250,000 houses partially damaged, resulting in thousands of families living in temporary accommodation that was both inadequate and unsafe.  The necessary skills for building safe earthquake-resistant housing were not in place.

It was not until December 2015 that the central government appointed the National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) to lead the post-earthquake reconstruction process. Following this decision, Build Change set up its Nepal office.

In 2019, during my time volunteering for Build Change Nepal, two programmes were ongoing:

  • The Socio-Technical Facilitation and Consultation (STFC) project was a three year intervention covering three consecutive construction seasons (March 2018 – February 2021). Funded by the Government of India (GoI), it was supporting 23,088 earthquake affected households in two municipalities and eight rural-municipalities of the Nuwakot district.
  • Seismic Retrofitting of Unsafe Housing in Nepal was funded by the Department of International Development (DFID, UK)) to increase awareness of retrofitting across all 32 earthquake-affected districts.

Both programmes helped rebuild safe homes, increase homeowners’ awareness of earthquake-related disaster risk and their understanding of earthquake-resistant construction.  Both programmes trained local masons and other homeowners, providing theoretical and practical knowledge, as well as guidance on how to obtain government housing grants. Not only did this increase awareness about the importance of safe construction, but it created jobs and improved the local economy.

In earthquake-prone areas, teaching communities how to build their own affordable, earthquake resistant houses is fundamental to a safer and healthier future.

Following a MSc in Geophysical hazards and a few years working in Exposure Management in the Reinsurance Industry, I got the opportunity to volunteer with Build Change Nepal. Keen to support the Nepal team and learn how post- reconstruction programmes are implemented, I left for Kathmandu in 2019.  I flew immediately after a best-friend’s wedding — perhaps not wise in retrospect — so what stood out when I arrived bleary eyed? Not the majestic mountains (which were sadly hidden behind a dense carpet of fumes) but the warm smiles and holey roads!

Living and working in Nepal I visited places tourists never see. I visited residential homes which had been particularly badly damaged due to them being constructed from traditional stone masonry in mud mortar (these buildings lack any seismic-resistant features). I was welcomed by families who offered me pints of yak milk — the motto was ‘better and stronger than water’. I was repeatedly complimented on how extremely tall I am (I’m 5’9 by the way). I had innumerable conversations with engineers and architects who had worked on reconstruction projects since 2015: how were their past projects run,  were they successful, and why had the donor money stopped or disappeared?

I also experienced skilled Nepalese driving (not for those with a weak stomach) and the odd landslide or two delaying your journey for… well, how much time do you have?  There was no Royal Automobile Club or other commercial roadside assistance, just large dollops of community strength, determination and grit, to solve whatever problem needed solving together.

My task was to support the programme manager in the two existing programmes and develop Build Change Nepal’s internal and external communication. A broad and exciting role.

Although run differently, the two programmes ultimately had the same goal: to save lives and livelihoods.

The sheer scale of the STFC project (reconstructing 23,088 houses compliant to NRA guidelines) meant coordination was set up in a tightly-tiered framework. The framework worked, milestones were met, but communication was crowded within the programme. One of the many important aspects of this project was visibility; branded uniforms felt like a milestone itself.  Donors deserve to be recognised for the role they have in all projects and showing the impact they are having is a key part of this.

The Seismic Retrofitting of Unsafe Housing project was smaller and less rigid. From the outset of the reconstruction effort retrofitting was seen as key, with 63,000 homeowners listed by the government as retrofit beneficiaries. However, due to various factors (e.g. very low level of knowledge on retrofitting, changes in tranche deadlines, delays in MOU signing and project rescoping) the project needed to revise its approach. That said, how the local team adapted to these changes was impressive, showing resilience and determination. There was real belief in the project, which kept the participants and the project going.

Food for thought

Working on both these programmes made me think about the following:

  • The reconstruction process can be very slow; timing is everything. Many houses had been built before our programmes even started, and these houses were often not compliant with NRA.
  • The superhuman efforts people go to make a project happen and succeed is phenomenal and inspiring. Truly.
  • Communication, transparency and accountability are key when development agencies work together.
  • Is there space to set up Disaster Risk Financing in Nepal so that the delays between earthquakes affecting communities and state institutional response funding need not happen?

Having the opportunity to volunteer and live in Nepal was hands-down one of the best things I have ever done in my career and has helped me understand the complex nature of recovery and reconstruction. I am fortunate that I am able to take this experience with me in my new role at Start Network – a disaster risk financing organisation for emerging nations.

I would like say a special thanks to Mobina Ghimire, Alastair Norris, Arun Kumar Sharma, and Sandeep Shakya, who supported me during my time at Build Change Nepal and made my experience one I would never forget.  I learned more from them than vice versa.

Animals First Floor, People Second Floor
The Man That Introduced me to Yak Milk

Delivering Value in Resilient Housing

Visiting households for shelter repair following Typhoon Ompong in Buguias, Benguet Province, Philippines.

By Kim Acupan, Project Manager, Build Change Philippines

As I was going through my MBA in 2017, I was certain that I wanted to focus on non-profit housing projects. And what better way to marry my civil engineering and business backgrounds than to work with an innovative, non-profit social enterprise that has the mission to save lives in earthquakes and typhoons in emerging nations, including in the Philippines!

I started my Build Change journey as an intern in 2017 and joined full-time 18 months later. I must admit that there was a lot of adjusting and learning that happened and are still happening, given that this is my first time in the non-profit, disaster risk reduction/development sector. Organizational principles may be the same but terminologies and especially mindsets are quite different.

Coming from an operations background, I cannot not help but think of the concept of operational excellence, and how it relates to the issue of the housing backlog in the Philippines, especially in the area of resilient housing. I’m passionate about finding answers to questions like “How do we develop effective tools and resources for our partner organizations and end-users?”, “How do we manage resources sustainably throughout the house strengthening process?”, and most importantly, “How do we ensure that our capacity as an organization is maximized for global impact, without compromising quality?”

In an ideal world, resilient housing is one of the basics for living, especially here in the Philippines where natural disasters are pretty much part of life. But can we really make resilient housing accessible to all Filipino families, especially at the base of the pyramid?

Two interesting approaches are ‘Building Better Before’ and ‘Building Back Better’ – which are quite literal in this industry. Operating in both pre- and post-disaster contexts, we implement projects in the most effective and resource-efficient manner wherever possible, especially considering the economic capacity of our target end-users. But as I have realized in post-disaster shelter programs, REAL impact can only be achieved if efforts and resources are well-coordinated with all the other organizations involved, otherwise delivering real long-term value is difficult to ensure. That is why I am convinced that Build Change is on the right track in advocating for prevention work, i.e. BUILDING BETTER BEFORE disaster strikes. I cannot even imagine how the Philippines still has the capacity to keep on responding to all these disasters! But then again, the issue of urgency comes up…

Moving forward, simplification of complex engineering solutions and making use of digital technology wherever applicable are priorities of Build Change in terms of implementation. From my experience, the process of simplifying complex systems takes a lot of guts and creativity, including the exploration of digital tools for populations that do not yet even have full penetration of internet connectivity and mobile phones. But going back to our ideal world, we know that digitalization is critical. We might not be there yet, but our team is working on it, and I am confident that we are again on the right track to an effective and efficient scaling-up.

Finally, before developing any product or service, it is always advisable to fully understand the whole value chain first, especially the gaps and pain points of partner organizations and target end-users. Build Change’s homeowner-driven construction is exactly that! We make sure that we visit communities ourselves and experience their realities first-hand.

Understanding post-typhoon situations of affected families in Tuba, Benguet Province, Philippines.

With all that, is operational excellence really one of the solutions to the Philippines’ resilient housing backlog? Yes, it is! All non-profit organizations, including government agencies, may have their respective ‘whys’ – visions of having sustainable social impacts to essentially upgrade quality of life – but if not coupled with the most effective and efficient ‘hows’, resources will not be maximized and efforts will eventually become irrelevant.

But, of course, nothing can be supplied without demand. At the end of the day, innovations are made by people for people. However the human race progresses, we should always bear in mind that people come first, especially the most vulnerable and the most exposed. And I believe that that is one of the greatest challenges posed to us in Build Change as an organization – how to create demand for resilient housing at all levels and in all aspects of society, and subsequently deliver it in the most effective, efficient, and excellent way!

Bridging the Gap: Tech to Non-Tech

By: Marvin Riego – Social Marketing Associate, Build Change-Philippines

‘Retrofitting’, ‘Gable Wall’, ‘Trusses’, and ‘Splicing’ are just some of the words that did not make sense to me before I joined Build Change. I wasn’t even aware that the Philippines ranked as the 3rd most disaster-prone country in the world! I just knew that we got geographically lucky, securing spots on both the Pacific Ring of Fire and the Pacific Typhoon Belt.

It was when I did my first community immersion that things started to get clearer. We advocate for safer houses and schools and to do that we have to RETROFIT. To retrofit means “to furnish with new or modified parts or equipment not available or considered necessary at the time of manufacture.” Taking this definition into a disaster resilience and preparedness context, it means adding different parts of the house which were not built during the original construction to strengthen it in preparation for natural and man-made disasters to reduce casualties. Of course, all this is a lot to take in, especially if you are talking to a non-technical person with little to no background in construction and engineering — like me.

In Build Change, we understand that MONEY, TECHNOLOGY, and PEOPLE need to work together in order for change to happen. There should be enough MONEY for people to build safer houses, TECHNOLOGY must be locally available and cost-competitive, and PEOPLE should want to live in a safe house. Which leads me to my question: How do we expect people to want to live in a safe house if they don’t understand the concept? ‘Retrofitting’ seems to be a very daunting word that not everyone can understand. Moreover, people sometimes argue that the house they currently live in has been standing there for decades, going through only minor repairs after every disaster. This reaction often happens if people are presented with jargon and technical terms which they have never heard of or used before.    

Getting people to understand is one thing, but teaching them practical applications is another. Both present a whole new level of difficulty in explaining technical concepts and terms to non-technical people like me. This is where we must make things simple, put ourselves in the homeowner’s shoes, and use our interpretation and translation skills.

Translating technical materials does not only mean expressing the sense of words in another language, in our case, from English to Tagalog. It encompasses simplification of technical concepts for various audiences —who may or may not be part of the program — adapting to their different backgrounds and levels of comprehension. We make sure we present a concept in its simplest form for better understanding to gain buy-in. Furthermore, we endeavor to represent not only the technical aspect but also the non-technical part of the program. As catalysts, we believe that with better understanding comes trust and confidence empowering individuals, families, communities and partner institutions to spread awareness about highly technical concepts to wider audiences.

However, the struggle is real. Simplification is far from simple and translation requires effort. The process includes engineers explaining technical concepts to non-tech team members, then the team collaborating on understanding complex concepts, simplifying terms, explanations and ensuring accuracy and consistency. Finally comes field testing where these simplified concepts are rolled out to the community. Each activity calls for different actions, each with different challenges, and it all requires a great deal of time and effort.

When making our work as simple as possible to understand, two major factors we’re conscious of are ACCURACY and CONSISTENCY. We make sure not to lose the essence of these concepts in between translations, sharing only what is correct in its simplest form, and can be verified by engineers, architects and other technical practitioners. We avoid sharing false information and wrong ideas which may lead to confusion. Coordination and open communication between technical and non-tech teams has always been the key. We strive to build credibility so that homeowners, builders, and partner institution staff are confident in sharing our resources with others.

When things are done right, it opens doors to a world of possibilities. In the end, we don’t want only engineers, architects, and other technical people to understand and implement the concept of retrofitting for disaster resilience. We want to empower everybody, especially people who are frequently struck by disasters, to improve their way of life through the help of these resources and materials. Ultimately, the goal is to reach more people, spread awareness, change behavior and build safer and disaster resilient communities, one at a time.

The Pacific Ring of Fire
The Pacific Typhoon Belt
Theory of Change
Field Testing of Simplified Tools and Materials in the Community
Tech and Non-Tech Teams Working Together

Enough is Enough

The unconscionable death of George Floyd requires we all take action.


Safety is at the heart of what we do in the resilient housing movement.  Here at Build Change, we believe in the fundamental right of people everywhere to live safe lives, regardless of the color of their skin. That safety starts at home—but we must acknowledge that even home is not a safe place for the many black Americans who have lost their lives at the hands of police.    

Breonna Taylor was killed in bed.  So was Dominique Clayton. Botham Jean was eating a bowl of vanilla ice cream in his living room.  And Atatiana Jefferson was babysitting her nephew.

As an organization headquartered in Denver, Colorado we cannot remain silent while we watch our fellow citizens of color live in daily fear for their lives, even inside their own homes.

At the same time, we also acknowledge the legacy of segregation and redlining, which even today continue to make many minority-majority neighborhoods in the United States inherently unequal places to live.  It is not a coincidence that communities of color have also been disproportionately impacted by COVID-19, as marginalized healthcare options, mistreatment by police, and lack of access to affordable and safe housing are all the fruit of the same poisonous tree.

How can we help?

Right now, we are mourning, and we are raising our fists in solidarity with everyone marching and speaking out about racial violence.  We are amplifying the voices of black, indigenous, and leaders of color through social media.  And we are listening, so we can learn from and become a better ally of communities of color in the United States.

While we listen, we will #saytheirnames:

Matthew Ajibade

Tanisha Anderson

Anthony Ashford

Aaron Bailey

La’vante Biggs

Sandra Bland

Freddie Blue

Rumain Brisbon

Michael Brown

Patterson Brown

Philando Castile

Wendell Celestine

William Chapman II

Keith Childress Jr.

Alexia Christian

Jamar Clark

Stephon Clark

Dominique Clayton

John Crawford III

Tyree Crawford

Terence Crutcher

Michelle Cusseaux

Albert Joseph Davis

Billy Ray Davis

Christopher Davis

Brian Keith Day

Michael Lorenzo Dean

Samuel Dubose

Jordan Edwards

Salvado Ellswood

Miguel Espinal

George Floyd

Ezell Ford

Ronell Foster

Peter Gaines

Eric Garner

Brendon Glenn

Akai Gurley

Mya Hall

Eric Harris

Kevin Hicks

Anthony Hill

Dominic Hutchinson

Botham Jean

Atatiana Jefferson

Bettie Jones

Lamontez Jones

David Joseph

India Kager

Felix Kumi

Victor Manuel Larosa

Quintonio Legrier

Marco Loud

Asshams Pharoah Manley

George Mann

Joseph Mann

Kevin Matthews

Michael Lee Marshall

Christopher McCorvey

Laquan McDonald

Natasha McKenna

Keith Harrison McLeod

Randy Nelson

Michael Noel

Paul O’Neal

Dante Parker

Dyzhawn Perkins

Richard Perkins

Nathaniel Harris Pickett

Junior Prosper

Eric Reason

Jerame Reid

Tamir Rice

Darius Robinson

Tony Robinson

Torrey Robinson

Troy Robinson

Calin Roquemore

Antwon Rose II

Jonathan Sanders

Michael Sabbie

Antronie Scott

Walter Scott

Demarcus Semer

Frank Smart

Alonzo Smith

Sylville Smith

Alton Sterling

Darrius Stewart

Breonna Taylor

Christian Taylor

Terrill Thomas

Pamela Turner

Benni Lee Tignor

Willie Tillman

Mary Truxillo

Phillip White

Christopher Whitfield

Janet Wilson

Alteria Woods

I Survived a Typhoon; Now I Train Builders on Disaster-Resilient Housing to Protect Other Families from the Same Thing/ Nakaligtas ako sa Bagyo; Ngayon, tinututruan ko ang mga Builders ng tungkol sa Disaster-Resilient Housing para maprotektahan ang iba pang mga pamilya mula dito

A bilingual blog in English and Tagalog by Raquel “Rocky” Lagramada, Senior Builder Trainer, Build Change Philippines


In November 2013, a super typhoon struck the Philippines. Locally named ‘Bagyong Yolanda’ and internationally called Typhoon Haiyan, it struck Eastern Samar in Leyte. One of the places that was hit was my birthplace in Guiuan, Eastern Samar. It is one of the moments in my life that I will never forget./ Noong November 2013, isang super typhoon ang humagupit sa Pilipinas. Pinangalanan itong “Bagyon Yolanda” dito sa Pilipinas at tinawag naman itong “Typhoon Haiyan” ng buong mundo. Ito ay nanalasa sa silanganang bahagi ng Samar, Leyte at isa sa mga lugar na tinamaan nito ay ang aking lupang sinilangan, ang Guiuan, Eastern Samar. Isa ito sa mga sandaling hindi ko malilimutan sa buong buhay ko.


Before we evacuated to my uncle’s house, we prepared basic necessities we might need. Because of the severity of what I experienced that dawn, I feared that my family and I would not survive. However, I could not let my fear bring me down because two families were depending on me. The morning after, I thanked God because everyone from my family was safe. When we went back to our house, I got depressed looking at what was left: only a post remained and all of our clothes were gone. I didn’t know where to begin. I realized that we needed a house, one where my family and I could stay for a while, so I made a make-shift house out of the materials that were left by the typhoon. / Bago kami lumikas sa bahay ng aking tiyo, inihanda muna namin ang mga bagay na maari naming gamitin. Dahil sa tindi ng aming naranasan noong madaling araw na iyon, natakot ako na baka hindi na kami makaligtas. Ngunit hindi ko hinayaang panghinaan ako ng loob dahil dalawang pamilya ang umaasa sa akin. Kinabukasan, nagpasalamat ako sa Diyos dahil lahat kami ay ligtas. Pagbalik namin sa aming bahay, nanlumo ako sa aming nadatnan: tanging isang poste na lamang ang natira sa aming bahay at lahat ng aming mga gamit at damit ay wala na. Hindi ko alam kung saan ako magsisimula. Naisip ko na kailangan namin ng bahay para lamang may masilungan kami nang pansamantala, kaya naman gumawa ako ng bahay gamit ang mga natirang piraso ng kahoy mula sa nasira naming bahay.


My uncle’s house that we evacuated to after Typhoon Haiyan./ Bahay ng aking Tiyo na aming pinuntahan noong Bagyong Yolanda.
Top Photo: Our house after Typhoon Haiyan./ Ang aming bahay pagkaatapos manalasa ni Bagyong Yolanda. Bottom Photo: The make-shift house I built after Typhoon Haiyan. / Bahay na aking ginawa pagkatapos manalasa ni Bagyong Yolanda.

Because of this experience, I became even more determined to work hard, which was why I got myself a construction job as a laborer for Cordaid’s project in partnership with Build Change. / Dahil sa aking naranasan, mas naging determinado ako na magtrabaho ng mabuti kaya naman pumasok ako sa konstruksyon bilang isang laborer sa proyekto ni Cordaid sa pakikipagtulungan kay Build Change.


Fortunately, Build Change was looking for builders who wanted to receive a certificate after their training and exam. And with God’s mercy, I was picked to become a Builder Trainer. This is when I realized that builders have major responsibilities in building houses, as they are the ones that are responsible for the community’s safety through resilient construction. I have this saying, “stronger houses, towards stronger ties and safe families.” / Sa kabutihang palad, noong panahong iyon ay naghahanap si Build Change ng mga builders na gustong maging sertipikado pagkatapos nang isasagawa nilang training at exam. Sa tulong ng Diyos, isa ako sa mga napili na maging Builder Trainer. Dito ko napagtanto na ang mga builders ay may napakalaking responsibilidad sa pagbibigay ng seguridad sa buong komunidad sa pamamagitan ng matibay na paggawa ng mga bahay. Narito ang isa sa aking mga kasabihan na gusto kong ibahagi “matibay na bahay tungo sa matibay na pagsasamahan at ligtas na pamilya.”


Because of what I have learned in my training, I have persevered so that I can help those families whose homes were damaged in other typhoons. Because of the trainings that I run, local builders can make certain that the houses they construct will be stronger and safer. I also applied what I have learned to build my own family’s new house. Now, I am confident that our house can withstand any disaster our country may face. Every time we conduct training, I always tell the homeowners to prioritize strengthening their houses. Even now, I continue the mission I share with Build Change, which is to strengthen houses for communities. / Dahil sa mga natutunan ko sa aking mga trainings, nagpursigi ako para matulungan ko ang iba pang mga pamilya na nasalanta ng mga bagyo. Dahil sa mga trainings na aking naisagawa, makasisiguradong ang mga bahay na ginawa ng mga builders ay matibay at ligtas. Ginamit ko din ang aking mga natutunan sa paggawa ng bago naming bahay. Ngayon, tiwala ako na ang aming bahay ay kaya nang lumaban sa kahit na anong kalamidad na maaring dumating sa ating bansa. Sa tuwing nagsasagawa kami ng training, palagi kong sinasabi sa mga homeowners na bigyang prayoridad ang pagpapatibay ng bahay. Sa ngayon, pinagpapatuloy ko ang mission ng pagpapatibay ng mga bahay para sa mga komunidad kasama si Build Change.


Certified builders trained by Rocky, who is in the front row on the right. / Sertipikadong mga Builders na tinuruan ni Rocky, unang hilera sa kanan.
Rocky’s family’s new house, shown with the extra strengthening incorporated into the design./ Ang bago at mas pinatibay na bahay nila Rocky.

My heartfelt gratitude goes to the Build Change family for the trust they have given me.  Build Change truly believes in the principle of gender equality for female employees.  I pray that as a global team, we can continue to expand and do much more.  /  Taos puso ang aking pagpapasalamat sa Build Change Family para sa tiwala na binigay nila sa akin. Ang Build Change ay talangang naniniwala sa prinsipyo ng gender equality para sa mga kababaihan. Pinagdarasal ko na bilang isang global team ay sana mas madami pa kaming magawa at maipagpatuloy namin ito.


Since everyone currently spends most of their time at home due to COVID-19, for those who were helped by Build Change, I am sure they are not just safe from the virus, but also from the disasters to come.   Responding to COVID-19 is certainly a huge challenge, but I am confident that Build Change will continue to evolve and assist families that need to strengthen their homes. Safety has to come first, both when responding to pandemics and disasters.  / Ngayon, lahat tayo ay patuloy na namamalagi sa ating mga tahanan dahil sa COVID-19, para sa mga natulungan ni Build Change, sigurado ako na hindi lamang sila ligtas mula sa virus, ligtas din sila mula sa mga kalamidad na parating. Ang pagtugon sa COVID-19 ay talaga namang napakalaking pagsubok, pero ako ay kompyansa na si Build Change ay patuloy na tutulong sa mga pamilya na patibayin ang kanilang mga bahay. Prayoridad ang kaligatasan lalo na sa pagtugon sa pandemya at kalamidad.


Let’s all stay home and defeat this virus as soon as possible so that we can get back to the lifesaving work we were already doing. / Tayo ay manatili sa ating mga tahanan at labanan natin ang virus na ito nang sa lalong madaling panahon ay makabalik kami sa aming adhikain na makapagligtas pa ng mas maraming buhay.


Rocky leading a builder training in Samar. / Si Rocky habang pinangungunahan ang isang builder training sa Samar.

Home Safe Home

How Different Families Stay at Home During a Pandemic

By: Samantha Lisay, Architect and Designer, Build Change Philippines

It was March 12th, 2020 that the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic. Three days later, on March 15th, the whole of Metro Manila was placed in community quarantine, which basically means we have to stay home to be safe from the virus. Many people that live part-time in Manila for work went home to their provinces to spend the quarantine with their families.

It has now been sixty days since the announcement of the quarantine. I am with my family, in a two-bedroom, two-story row house inside a subdivision. Compared to most, I consider myself and my family lucky. Not one of the luckiest, but lucky indeed.

Looking through social media, I’ve noticed that different people and families have their own ways of coping with the required quarantine. There are a lot of different factors, but as an architect, I’d like to share my observations, based on what kinds of houses they live in.

Families Living in Big Houses
Children playing with their pets in their private outdoor area at home. Photo from Instagram (@dougkramer)

These are families that live on lots of at least 1,000 square meters (just shy of 11,000 square feet) and above, or enough to have a backyard. Activities inside a big house are pretty much endless, given the availability of space, and there is plenty of room for fitness, arts, or entertainment. The private outdoor area serves as an extension of the house. In times like these, people living in these kinds of houses turn to family bonding, and in some instances, helping others in need.

Social distancing is not a problem in this household, as everyone has the luxury of space. Often these are well-off families, who can whether the storm of the pandemic longer than others.

Families Living in Apartments, Condominiums, or Townhouses
Parents balance a meal with working from home. Photo by AFP/ Maria Tan.

For families living in condominiums, apartments, and houses such as ours, the walls of the house confine our activities during this quarantine. Each area or room inside the house, though not as big as in the large houses, is still very functional. One can read a book, work from home, exercise, or sit around all day. There is always a longing to go outside, so some families who have access to a balcony or a rooftop use it to their advantage.

Depending on the number of family members, social distancing may or may not be a problem. Being in the middle class, these families rely mostly on income through their employment or business, which can be done mostly at home.

Families Living in the Slums
A mother washing her laundry outside her home along the river in Manila. Photo by AFP/Maria Tan.

These are the families of daily wage earners and informal sector workers, where the house is one of the least of their daily concerns. Now in quarantine, the families living in these kinds of houses are confined indoors in very little space. Unlike the other types, spaces within these houses have to serve multiple purposes.  They also sometimes suffer from lack of proper ventilation, and even lack of natural light.

These conditions result in overcrowding inside the house, or uncomfortable indoor experiences.  Most of the people violating quarantine come from these families, as they need to earn an income and some would perhaps rather work or stay outside than stay inside an uncomfortable house.  These people are also among the most vulnerable, as they are unsafe from the virus both INSIDE and OUTSIDE of the house.

Imagining Safe Homes for All…

In the midst of this pandemic, I keep thinking about how our houses should be our sanctuary — the place where we feel the safest from crises and disasters. For the first time, we are all introduced to this kind of slow-moving disaster, where we are required to isolate ourselves and where we are mindful of the space we take up. In my observation, different families cope differently, based on their social status and the kind of house they live in. Many are considered lucky, having recreational options inside the house. But not everyone can afford these large, traditional houses. In fact, many families have to risk their lives going outside just because they don’t feel safe and comfortable at home. In my role at Build Change, I envision safer homes that will survive typhoons and earthquakes that are also safer for every day, pandemic or not. Homes where you can relax and be comfortable should be everyone’s right, especially during times like these.

How to Recover from a Pandemic: Lessons from Build Change’s Experience in International Disaster Response

A home built by Build Change in Banda Aceh, Indonesia as a part of the recovery from the Boxing Day tsunami.  

Special Note: Echoing Green interviewed Dr. Elizabeth Hausler in January 2005 to talk about the impact of the Boxing Day (December 26th, 2004) tsunami on communities surrounding the Indian Ocean. Earlier this year, that disaster commemorated its 15th Anniversary, but the lessons learned in the aftermath of that tragedy are surprisingly timely to the global Coronavirus pandemic.  We’re resharing a section of Elizabeth’s interview because it’s a step-by-step prediction of what the global recovery from Coronavirus could look like.  

Introduction from Dr. Elizabeth Hausler:  What a unique moment we’re in. This is perhaps the first time (in the social-media era, at least) that the world has suffered a GLOBAL disaster of this scale at the same time.  It’s important to stop and recognize that many people have never suffered a disaster like this before. The need to better understand resiliency—the type of resiliency it typically takes a disaster to learn—is paramount.  In my role at Build Change, I’ve seen firsthand how communities have come back from devastating seismic and wind events and there are so many parallels to what we’re seeing now with COVID-19. Much like an earthquake or windstorm, the recovery from COVID-19 will require an economic effort to get people back to work, a strategic re-thinking of better health, regulatory, and business policy, and an increased reliance on technology of all kinds.  Also like the recovery from an earthquake or windstorm, housing as a sector will also have to be addressed.  People who can’t quarantine due to inadequate shelter are not only at high risk of becoming sick, they are also likely to be at extreme risk of falling victim to a future disaster.  These vectors between public health and housing require immediate economic and social action if we are to prevent disasters (of all kinds) from reoccurring.     


Echoing Green:  From your perspective as a social change innovator, what factors are critical in the reconstruction process, both in the short and long term? 

EH:  [In the initial relief phase], authorities and various organizations are in the process of meeting people’s critical needs with clean water, food, temporary shelter and sanitation.  Once this is accomplished, a transition occurs between the relief phase and the reconstruction phase. This new phase starts with short term reconstruction consisting of debris removal and construction of critical infrastructure, which presents a real opportunity to start providing jobs for people who are ready to go back to work.

The next step in the reconstruction process is not housing reconstruction; generally people are resilient, resourceful and can cope with temporary shelter, or make something for themselves that may not be so comfortable, but will do for a while.  What is really needed at that point is the restoration of economic infrastructure.  Beyond a job, people need to regain their livelihoods.  They need to be able to go back to work and start earning money again, and as we’ve heard in the media, a lot of these villages are highly dependent on fishing.  People need boats, marketplaces for selling fish and roads to transport their goods and services.  The tourist infrastructure needs to be restored and tourists need to be encouraged to come back into the region so that those people who depend on the service industry for their livelihoods can get back to work.

At the same time the economic infrastructure is being repaired, some kind of social infrastructure needs to be restored.  This is especially crucial for kids.  They need to get back to a normal way of life.  Their schools need reopened.  Also, adults and children alike may need psychological services.

At the very end is when we get to the housing reconstruction program.  It is important to get people into secure houses that are resilient to future disasters and that they are comfortable living in.

I cannot emphasize enough how significant it is to get to the economic rehabilitation as soon as possible.  There was a survey that was taken of people affected by the 2001 earthquake near Bhuj, India, and the majority of the respondents said they would have preferred more help in restoring their livelihoods, instead of assistance in building new houses.  Once people get back on their feet economically, they can contribute more to the housing reconstruction process themselves.

One of the critical challenges in this reconstruction process is going to be managing that transition from relief into development.  The agencies are usually different and their approaches virtually opposite.  The relief stage is this intense, “get in get out” drive to provide goods and service as quickly and efficiently as possible, like an adrenaline rush.  But the development stage is actually an exercise in restraint, patience and diligence in getting things right and in getting the right business models for the economic recovery to occur; in getting the materials and design for the houses right so that people will adapt the changes in construction practice permanently and will continue to build safe houses in the future, long after the reconstruction program is over.

Many lessons from past earthquakes and other disasters can be applied in this reconstruction.  There is no need to rush a reconstruction process; it is better to take the people’s needs into consideration and involve them in the process.  For example, there have been situations where an organization has gone in with a relief mentality and build a huge number of identical houses extremely quickly, without consideration whether the doors and windows should face the street or a courtyard; whether people wanted the toilet inside or outside; whether the people wanted a cooking area inside or outside; if the materials and architecture were appropriate for the local climate; if a permanent water source was available.  As a result, people rejected those houses; money and time were wasted, and people went back to living in their houses that were damaged and vulnerable to future earthquakes.

In other situations, organizations have built houses using materials, contractors and masons from outside the city or village.  They may not have trained or employed local masons and carpenters in the construction process.  Or they may have used materials that are not available locally.  Or they may have designed and built a structure that is simply too expensive to build without financial assistance or a subsidy on the materials.  The end result is that the local population does not have the skills and knowledge to build an earthquake-resistant house with locally available and affordable materials.  And an ideal opportunity to change the construction practice permanently has been missed.


Elizabeth Hausler, Ph.D. was a 2004 Echoing Green Fellow, and is the Founder and CEO of Build Change, an award-winning non-profit social enterprise, systems change catalyst, and the global expert on affordable, disaster-resilient housing in emerging nations. 

150,000 People in Better Housing: Nepal 5 Years On

Dear Friends of Build Change,

Five years ago, in the wake of a massive 7.8 earthquake that instantly destroyed more than a million homes in Nepal, Build Change began its most ambitious post-disaster program to date.

Nepal today is a country with better, stronger, safer housing, achieved through Build Change’s powerful combination of resilient building, national housing policy change, and pioneering technologies designed to empower homeowners to rebuild better.

Thanks to Build Change and its partners, more than 150,000 people are living in over 24,000 newly constructed or structurally strengthened houses.

Through “Build Back Safe” community engagement—forum theater, awareness flyers, and a retrofit awareness movie— Build Change has reached at least 378,000 people across all 32 earthquake-impacted districts.

More than 52,350 homeowners seeking advice on how to rebuild have visited the network of Technical Support Centers operated by Build Change and its partners. And by training more than 8,425 government engineers and construction professionals in safe building, Build Change is helping to ensure that future homes built in Nepal will withstand disasters and protect families.

While engineering know-how and in-depth community engagement are the cornerstones of Build Change’s success in Nepal, greater efficiency through technology has also been key to scale.

Technology innovations include the use of drones for rapid aerial assessments, the creation of a mobile app “Surakshit Ghar/ Safe House”, endorsed by the government of Nepal to aid homeowners in assessing their houses, and perhaps the greatest innovation of all: a 3D automated tool to make the retrofit design process 97% faster. Build Change’s advance on artificial intelligence won runner-up in IBM’s 2018 Call for Code competition, and is a first-of-its-kind use of the well-known Autodesk software programs Revit® and Dynamo®.

Nepal’s recovery is a study in the very human qualities of resilience, perseverance, and teamwork. These are qualities exemplified by our partners at all levels:  Nepali NGOs and universities, international NGOs and movements, UN agencies, central and local governments, individual donors, corporate partners, and institutional donors. You remind us that from the greatest challenges often come the greatest progress—a valuable lesson during a difficult time for so many around the globe.     

Finally, to our incredible, 98% local Nepali staff: your dedication inspires us all.  None of this would have been possible without you! 

Thanks to all for this massive but incredibly worthwhile effort! 

Noll Tufani
Country Director, Nepal
Global Director, Post-Disaster Programs
Director, New Frontier Technologies

A Few of Our Partners:

Resilient Housing in the Philippines, in the Era of COVID-19

By: Jessica Stanford, Country Director-Philippines

The COVID-19 pandemic is without doubt an unprecedented event, impacting lives, communities and economies around the world. As governments and nations work together to implement prevention, containment and mitigation measures, families from California to metro Manila are instructed to #stayhome, #shelterinplace to help curb the worst of this public health crisis.

But what if you’re one of the 1.2 billion people who live in substandard housing today? What if you’re a low-income household that depends on daily wage income now threatened by changing dynamics? How will this impact your capacity to shelter, safely in your home?

The World Bank estimates that three billion people will live in substandard housing by 2030. In the Philippines alone, 70 million people live in substandard housing, and this is projected to grow to 113 million people by 2030. Housing indicators are sliding backwards; rapid urbanization is driving precarious construction in oftentimes precarious locations.

Pembo, an informally-built community in Manila, where Build Change is working with families to protect their homes from the threat of earthquakes and typhoons.

Even as our schools, streets and open spaces empty, time does not stand still. On June 1st the hurricane season will officially start in the Atlantic. Between approximately July and November, typhoons will develop and build in the Pacific region. Earthquakes and subsequent tsunamis can strike at any time.

The Philippines ranks as the third most disaster-prone country in the world based on the World Risk Index. The country is in an area of high seismic activity, meaning future major earthquakes are likely and it endures approximately 20 typhoons a year and four to six make devastating landfall. In the final three months of 2019 alone, the Philippines was struck by two major typhoons and a series of magnitude 6+ earthquakes cumulatively impacting an estimated 4.5 million Filipinos and damaging over 1 million houses. Many thousands of families remain in communal evacuation shelters making recommended social distancing and self-isolation measures precariously difficult to follow.

When climate and seismic events strike, they dis-proportionally impact low-income families and those living in substandard housing. The solution? Support homeowners, through provision of technical, financial and policy initiatives, to strengthen their house before disaster strikes.

Before (above) and After: The Mendoza family of seven in Pembo, Manila were able to make their home safer through a house strengthening loan scheme.

There is a strong micro-finance industry in the Philippines with many micro-finance institutions (MFIs) working tirelessly to alleviate poverty and help raise the living standards of their clients and communities through the provision of financial services tailored to local needs. Through successfully combining a homeowner-driven approach to safe and resilient construction with client-centric financial services, Build Change is supporting MFI partners in the Philippines to provide house strengthening loans directly to low-income households living in substandard housing.

Set to pilot at scale from March 2020, the rate of roll out and client take up is now more uncertain as quarantine measures come into force across the nation, and the world. Even if the containment measures put in place are successful in flattening the curve and avoiding the worst effects of a public health crisis, COVID-19 will still have a dramatic economic impact on individuals, families and communities as well as businesses and governments.

Individual homeowners may need to combine government financial relief packages and stimuli with calamity or emergency livelihoods loans, where available. MFIs, having already impacted their own liquidity by relaxing repayment collections during quarantine but still facing salary outlay and interest losses to wholesale funders, will need to re-assess their clients’ ability to repay and cope with increased delinquency rates and re-financing needs. All of this will take focus away from the essential, longer-term benefits of safe, resilient housing and slow down the implementation of urgently needed prevention measures in this area.

Build Change is therefore championing to work with government housing agencies, major development banks and others to review financial service options, either directly to homeowners or through well-established community MFI partners, to support households to strengthen their homes, ahead of the 2020 typhoon season and beyond.

Build Change’s global team is poised and ready to spring back into action to protect these at-risk communities, and many others, as soon as the public health situation allows. As the onset of COVID-19 has emphasized, in times of crisis, when #stayhome and #shelterinplace is the recommended course of action, there is a heightened need for everyone to have a safe and resilient house to call a home. This is Build Change’s mission, and YOU can help us make it a reality!  Safe housing is a human right, every day and especially during these extraordinary times.

Safety Starts at Home: An Update from Build Change Regarding COVID-19

Dear Friends of Build Change,

With millions in self-isolation or quarantined around the globe, homes are the front line in the battle against COVID-19.

More than perhaps ever before, our homes are the center of our lives, and our retreats (forced or not) from an uncertain world.  My hope is that wherever your home is, it is a place where you feel safe riding out this disaster.  I know that I am increasingly grateful every day for a safe home, for a yard my son can play in, for our health, and for a grocery store where I can still buy food (if not toilet paper).

But I am also reminded of the many people worldwide for whom self-isolation is even more daunting than it is in many parts of the United States, because of unsafe construction.  If you don’t feel safe in your home, you won’t stay there.  Poorly built housing makes public health emergencies worse, especially in informal neighborhoods that also lack water and basic sanitation.  Protecting people from disasters through resilient building is not just good construction policy—it’s good health policy.  And that’s why, even in the middle of a pandemic, Build Change’s work remains vital. 

When this disaster began to unfold in early February, my immediate concern was for Build Change’s staff and the communities where we work.  Resilient building—and building the trust to do it well—requires a commitment to get in the trenches and get your hands dirty. So we’re no strangers to taking swift action when it’s needed.

We first ensured that any staff person that had been in contact with an infected person immediately went into self-isolation. We purchased masks for our entire global staff for their (and others’) protection. We brought engineering staff that were assessing community needs abroad back to their home bases safely.  All of our in-country offices as well as our Colorado headquarters have transitioned to work from home, to the fullest extent possible.   Like many other organizations, our calendars that were once full of in-person meetings and events have gone empty to attempt to reduce the transmission of the virus.   

All of these actions were necessary to protect our staff and communities.  However, we need to look no further than a few weeks from now to the start of hurricane and typhoon season to understand the urgency of the work we were forced to leave unfinished (for now!) on the ground:

  • In the Philippines, Build Change is enabling community-based microfinance institutions to scale new house strengthening loan products so that more low- and- middle income families can have the option to make their homes safe before disaster strikes.
  • In Colombia, Build Change is working with the Government of Colombia to roll out a technical assistance platform that will allow the Government of Colombia to rapidly assess 600,000 poorly-built homes for resilient home improvements. These improvements also include things like sinks and kitchens and toilets that are critical for families to have proper basic hygiene—exactly the sort of thing that is more crucial than ever before if we are to fight COVID-19.

Our global team is poised and ready to spring back into action to protect these at-risk communities, and many others, as soon as the public health situation allows.  In the middle of this crisis, we will apply our creativity remotely to continue to innovate and serve our communities however we can.

In the coming days and months, I’ll be sure to keep you updated on how Build Change is responding to COVID-19, and I hope you’ll do the same with updates from your life and work.  ALL OF US HAVE A ROLE TO PLAY in building the more resilient future to come.

Stay Safe,

Elizabeth Hausler, Ph.D.

CEO and Founder

Build Change

Designing the Future: An Interview with the Nepal Architecture Interns

Architectural Interns with their supervisors at the Build Change Kathmandu Office. Left to Right, Front to Back. Aastha Sigdel, Ayusha Joshi (Design Support Team Leader- New Construction), Sandesh Devkota, Salina Pradhan (Technical Liaison Coordinator), Astha Panta, Suresh Twanbasa, Dikshya Pokhrel.

Over the past year, Build Change, in partnership with the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) provided placements to five architectural interns from Tribhuvan University. The five students gained invaluable experience while assisting Build Change and UNOPS with their work in Nepal.

The Architectural department at Tribhuvan University requires students who are in their third year to undergo an intern placement for a minimum of 90 days, with the potential to extend depending on the needs of both Build Change and UNOPS, and the availability of the students. A marking schedule was provided by the university and the marks given by supervisors at Build Change and UNOPS contributed to the interns’ overall course mark. The aim of the placement was to give the students exposure to a wide range of different architectural techniques and concepts, allowing them to build on their architectural knowledge and skills in a meaningful way. The placement also provided architectural support to the Build Change and UNOPS teams, across all of their operations.

The 5 interns: Astha Panta, Suresh Twanbasa, Aastha Sigdel, Dikshya Pokhrel, Sandesh Devkota were divided between the Build Change and UNOPS teams with a rotation between the organisations halfway through the placement.

After the students completed their placement and before they returned to university, Sujeena, (a Communications Officer from Build Change) caught up with them to chat about their experience.

Sujeena: Hello and welcome. Thanks for taking the time to sit down with me this afternoon. First, could you tell me a little bit about the work you have been doing during your placement? 

Dikshya: I have been working on the Socio Technical Facilitation Consultancy (STFC) project; in this project I have been assisting with the designing of new houses and other junior architect roles as necessary within the project.

Aastha: I have been working on the illustrations for the pictorial guide for retrofitting. This guide is a step-by-step picture guide to how to retrofit a traditional Stone Mud Mortar House (SMM). Working on this guide has helped me understand the complexities of how to retrofit a house, and has helped me learn how to draw elements in Sketchup.

Sandesh: I have been working on designing houses within the Autodesk Revit BIM software, this is a software that was new to me so I have enjoyed learning how to use the software to draw houses. I have been impressed by how easy the software is to learn and the quality of the work that I am producing with it.

Suresh: I have been working on designing a police station with UNOPS. I’ve found the process fascinating, there are many different concepts involved in the design. Compared to designing a house, it is a comparatively long process.

Astha: My work was on the STFC project and designing new houses for the earthquake affected communities of Nuwawkot.

Sujeena: How have you found the placement here at Build Change and UNOPS?

Dikshya: It is far more exciting and dynamic than I ever expected, I have really enjoyed both the atmosphere and the experience! Also the team members within Build Change that I have been working

closely with have been very supportive and approachable, especially Kriti. She has been able to take the time to explain things to me to make sure that I understand concepts.

Astha; For me, it’s been a very enjoyable path of learning about the reconstruction guidelines and the role that Build Change has within that. What drawings a homeowner requires, and what the process is of making those drawings from start to finish.

Sandesh: I have been impressed by how efficient and streamlined the process is to get a drawing to a homeowner. Everything is properly organized and managed and from initial request to quality check, to me it’s very smooth and efficient.

Astha: What I really enjoyed while at Build Change and UNOPS is how approachable the staff are, I never felt like my questions were trivial or irrelevant. I was able to ask anyone in the office a question and they would take the time to answer it.

Suresh: This placement has given me the opportunity to learn different types of architectural styles that are used in rural housing. Before I started my placement I did not know how to design and draw rural houses as all my focus had been on drawing modern, contemporary houses. I look forward to being able to use these skills that I have learned in my career.

Sujeena: What has been your favorite part of the placement?

Astha: For me it was the variety of work and the fact that the work never got boring. Because we were constantly shifting between departments and organizations, I was constantly learning and being challenged with new concepts and techniques.

Suresh: For me it was the innovative use of the Dashboard to assign work to each off us, how the dashboard keeps the progress recorded of all the drawings in one centralized place so that we could see what needed to be done at all times. Also the process of using Technical Support Centres (TSC’s) to provide remote communities with information about reconstruction and be the ability of the TSC’s to provide house drawings to the homeowner.

Dikshya: How collaborative the work here is, working at Build Change is very much a team effort. You need to think of the destination and the best way to get there as a team.

Sujeena: Do you know what you would like to do after university?

Astha: I have really enjoyed my placement with Build Change and UNOPS working on houses and police stations. With my placement I wanted to experience and be part of something that was new to me. This placement has given me that challenge. After I finish my studies I am interested in getting a job within a commercial architectural firm and have a few companies that I am interested in working for.

Suresh: The social enterprise, non-profit aspect of this placement was one of the main reasons that I applied initially. I was interested in seeing what help I could provide to the earthquake affected homeowners. It has been a very personally fulfilling placement because of that. It was also has furthered my belief that after I finish my studies I would like to work for a non-profit or a charitable cause. I’m not sure what direction that will take, but I have certainly enjoyed the charitable aspect of my role here.

Astha: I hope to be able to use the techniques that I have learned here around earthquake resistant housing and rural housing for my career, I certainty have a developed a greater appreciation and understanding of these techniques and would like to further refine my knowledge.

Thanks for taking the time to speak to me today, I wish you all the best in your future studies!

Build Change and Simpson Strong-Tie Announce New Excellence in Engineering Fellow


Media Contacts:

Michelle Nicholson                                 Shelby Lentz
+1-812-369-5037                                  +1-925-560-9068       

International Nonprofit Social Enterprise Build Change and Global Structural Solutions Leader Simpson Strong-Tie Renew Joint Fellowship for Engineering Excellence and Introduce 2019-2020 Fellow

Denver, Dec. 19, 2019- Build Change and Simpson Strong-Tie are excited to introduce the recipient of the 2019-2020 Excellence in Engineering Fellowship: Tim Hart.

This is the third year of the Fellowship, resulting from the continuation of a successful partnership between international nonprofit social enterprise Build Change and global structural solutions leader Simpson Strong-Tie. Complementing the Simpson Strong-Tie goal to design solutions for making structures safer and stronger, the fellowship allows innovative engineers the opportunity to make meaningful contributions to Build Change programs as well as support other engineers’ professional development in developing nations around the world.

This year’s fellow, Tim Hart, has 30 years of structural engineering and building construction experience. He’s a graduate with honors from the Architectural Engineering program at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, and a licensed civil and structural engineer in California. He also served as past president and board member of the Structural Engineers Association of Northern California.

“Build Change’s mission and values are in line with my own. I want to use my skills as a structural engineer to directly help people who are vulnerable to catastrophic loss from climate disasters. It’s a man-made problem with a man-made solution, and I want to be a part of that solution,” noted Hart.

Hart is currently Engineering and Design Services Director for Build Change. Prior to joining the organization’s senior management team, he worked with Build Change as a structural engineering consultant since 2005 providing engineering designs, peer reviews and technical assistance on Build Change projects in 10 different countries, including onsite work in Indonesia, Haiti and Nepal. He also volunteers time and expertise developing design and construction manuals and co-writing papers on confined masonry construction for the Earthquake Engineering Research Institute (EERI) Confined Masonry Network.

“We’re very pleased to have Tim bring his years of technical expertise and dedication to service to the 2020 Fellowship role. Our first two Fellows brought lasting positive impact to developing areas in Colombia, Philippines and Haiti, and we’re looking forward to the continued work Tim will do to promote safer, stronger design and construction methods,” said Simpson Strong-Tie Vice President of Engineering Annie Kao.

Hart is the third professional to hold the Build Change-Simpson Strong-Tie fellowship. October, 2019 marked the completion of the tenure of the second fellow, Juan Carlos Restrepo. Hart, like his predecessors, will chronicle his fellowship experiences on the Simpson Strong-Tie Structural Engineering Blog at

About Build Change

Build Change (@BuildChange) currently works in 18 countries to prevent loss of life and property in earthquakes and windstorms.  Because of Build Change’s work over the past 15 years, 332,000 people are living and learning in safer homes and schools.  Rather than wait until the next disaster strikes, Build Change has rapidly scaled its prevention work, convincing governments of countries like Colombia, Guatemala and the Philippines that safer housing needs to be a national priority.  Build Change is also a leader in the use of technology to help local engineers quickly diagnose what retrofits are needed to make a home safer.

The Founder and CEO of Build Change, Dr. Elizabeth Hausler, is one of the world’s foremost experts on resilient building and post-disaster reconstruction.  Her leadership of Build Change has grown the organization to over 200 staff on three continents.

About Simpson-Strong Tie

For more than 60 years, Simpson Strong-Tie has dedicated itself to creating structural products that help people build safer, stronger homes and buildings. Considered an industry leader in structural systems research, testing and innovation, Simpson Strong-Tie works closely with construction professionals to provide code-listed, field-tested products and value-engineered solutions. Our engineered structural products and systems are recognized for helping structures resist high winds, hurricanes and seismic forces. They include structural connectors, fasteners, fastening systems, lateral-force-resisting systems, anchors, software solutions, and product solutions for repairing, protecting and strengthening concrete. From product development and testing to training and engineering and field support, Simpson Strong-Tie is committed to helping customers succeed. For more information, visit and follow us on,, YouTube and LinkedIn.


A Study into the Participation of Females in On-the-Job Training Delivered by Build Change and UNOPS

By Marie Meenan

In “A Study into the Participation of Females in On-the-Job Training Delivered by Build Change and UNOPS”, Meenan examines the factors which promote and inhibit female participation in masonry construction in Nepal.

In response to the 2015 Ghorka earthquakes, Build Change and UNOPS implemented two programs to help rebuild safer homes: 1) the Vulnerable Family Assistance and Targeting (VFAST) program in Dolakha district, 2) and the Social-Technical Facilitation and Consultation (STFC) program in Nuwakot district.

Both programs take a homeowner driven approach to earthquake reconstruction, focusing on engaging the entire community and raising awareness of earthquake related risks. Both programs pay particular attention to the vulnerable members of the communities —women, children, people with disabilities and those who are socially marginalized. As part of these programs, UNOPS and Build Change provide On-the-Job Training (OJT) events to teach important construction techniques to skilled and unskilled masons and thereby empower families to gain future employment. While the number of female masons trained by governmental and non-governmental organisations post-earthquake has been relatively low (approximately 10%), there has been high female participation during these OJT events. The VFAST and STFC OJT events boast 64% and 35% female participation rates respectively.

Prior to the analysis Meenan describes the adverse effects of the Ghorka earthquakes and the impact on the female society. She hones in on the importance of women in the reconstruction efforts, the issues and challenges faced during the process and analyzes the gaps, strengths and opportunities for women’s engagement.

Using available data and interviewing participants from both programs, Meenan examines which factors encourage and discourage female training.

In the VFAST program, female participation varied within different castes/ethnicities, which is suggested to be attributed to different cultural practices and values. For example, the Janajati caste possessed the highest percentage of female participants at 73%, whilst the Brahmin/Chhetri caste had the lowest,  recorded at 54%.

The main reason women participated was because of the opportunity to take part in paid work and learn useful skills relating to construction. It gave the women confidence and provided a potential source of independence. However, to maintain these benefits,  further opportunities needed to be available within their home village so that they could run in parallel to their household responsibilities.

A key message of Meenan’s report is that teaching communities how to build their own affordable, earthquake resistant houses is critical—not only as a post-disaster measure to re-house people, but as a preventative measure for protection against the inevitable future earthquakes.

Meenan hopes her findings can be used in future reconstruction projects in Nepal and further afield.

Please find the full report here: