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. 

120,000 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 120,000 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.

5 Years of Impact in Nepal:

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:

A Photo Diary of My 5 Months with Build Change in Nepal

By Marie Meenan

Above the Clouds During my First Field Visit to Syangja


I was initiated into Nepal with a field visit to the Syangja district to witness the work that Build Change are conducting. There I was blown away by the breathtaking views. Each site boasted a unique scenery, every new location as stunning as the last. Trees cascaded down the mountains, the sun pierced the clouds and rhododendrons dotted the paths. We arrived at one site above the clouds and left after they dispersed, revealing the impressive valley below. I was in awe of the sights that the owners of these homes witness every day.

The views, however, weren’t the only thing that fascinated me. At each site, I was intrigued by the large number of female masonry trainees. Having studied mechanical engineering, I am starkly aware of the disparity between males and females in engineering and construction, and so the number of women I witnessed on sites was heartening. Speaking to Build Change engineers in the field, I discovered that there is high male migration into Kathmandu and out of the country. This obviously contributes to the significance of women in reconstruction after the 2015 earthquakes, but I wanted to know more. As Nepal is a very patriarchal society, women’s roles have little perceived value, despite obvious and vital contributions.  When I requested data from the Vulnerable Family Assistance and Training (VFAST) and Socio-Technical Facilitation and Consultation (STFC) projects, I discovered that female trainees amounted to 64% and 35% of the totals respectively, both far surpassing the target for female masonry trainees set by the government (which is a mere 10%). This sparked a curiosity in me which brought me to the field to interview trainees, past and present.

A Group of Interviewees from Dolokha

In Nuwakot and Dolokha, the districts where the VFAST and STFC projects were located, I conducted a number of interviews. The women there praised the training, saying it brought them the opportunity to learn a skill, something which many of them reported they had never been given the chance to do before. Many of their husbands were working abroad, but all were supported by their families. Many of these women speculated that family pressure may discourage more women from taking part, with one woman even commenting that women from more economically stable families may not feel the need to participate in income-generating activities.   These women were different though. They were all motivated to develop a skill of any kind, exercising their abilities to earn a wage, contributing to the economy of their villages, and gaining independence.

The role of women in disaster recovery and prevention is paramount. Too often, needs in these highly stressful situations are generalised, and women’s unique requirements are neglected. This is particularly short-sighted seeing as women and vulnerable people are disproportionately affected by disasters, whether it be in terms of mortality, or post- disaster, when the risk for human trafficking rises. The unique dangers women face are further exacerbated by gendered roles, where many women perform domestic activities inside vulnerable houses prone to damage and collapse. It is therefore crucial that women are given opportunities to gain independence. The substantial role women play in the reconstruction and retrofitting projects conducted by Build Change gives them this opportunity.

Laxmi, a training participant and interviewee from Charghare, Nuwakot
Maya, a training participant and interviewee from Nuwakot

My time in Nepal has been an unmatched adventure. Spending 5 months away from my friends and family, with an unfamiliar cuisine in a vastly different culture has awakened me to a diversity I am lucky to have experienced. I witnessed Nepal’s new year (the fifth new year to be celebrated that year) where young men pulled a colossal pole to the ground with ropes within an unmoving crowd in Bhaktapur, and tried traditional Newari food in Kirtupur (leaf tripe bag with bone marrow and chilled intestine).

I travelled on some of the most dangerous roads in the world, which felt like a three-hour ride on an old roller coaster. I para-glided in Pokhara over the famous lake with mountain views, which I can only describe as a seat in the sky. I camped beside the Trishuli River and stopped off during a site visit in an orange grove. We were engulfed by the citrusy smell and I was amazed by how the extensive grove was hidden by a modest home.

Masses of People Celebrating Nepal New Year
Men Sorting Oranges at the Huge Orange Grove on my Way Back from My First Field Visit
The View From Kirtipur Where I Tried the Newari Food
Celebrating Holi- The Festival of Colour

During Holi, the festival of colour, we were bombarded by children throwing water balloons and everyone smearing colourful powders on our faces. At a field visit to Kavrepalanchok, we stopped at the Namo Buddha Monastery and Stupa, where a reincarnation of Buddha supposedly gave his flesh to a starving tiger.

Every day boasted a colourful sunset, visible from the rooftop of my guesthouse (despite the pollution).  The vastness of Kathmandu seemed endless, blanketing the earth with disheveled shapes and uninterrupted colours.  Kathmandu’s cacophony of sounds are etched in my ears; dogs barking, incessant horns, and daily parades and weddings.  I am sure I will still hear them back home.

I have really adored my time here. The memories I have gained from Nepal are fondly embedded into my life and character, and the experience that volunteering with Build Change has given me will influence my thoughts and decisions for a lifetime.

The View From the Build Change Office
Hidden Building Near the Stupa
Full View of the Mountains During Hike to Chisapani
The Impressive Boudhanath Stupa
An Abandoned Building at Chisapani (Easy to See Why it Was Abandoned)
Rowing Boats on the Lake at Pokhara with the Mountains Close Behind


About the Talk

Durable housing for a resilient future. Around the world, natural disasters destroy thousands of lives and erase decades of economic gains each year. These outcomes are undeniably devastating and completely preventable, says mason Elizabeth Hausler — and substandard housing is to blame. It’s estimated that one-third of the world will be living in insufficiently constructed buildings by 2030; Hausler hopes to cut those projections with a building revolution. She shares six straightforward principles to approach the problem of substandard housing: teach people how to build, use local architecture, give homeowners power, provide access to financing, prevent disasters and use technology to scale. “It’s time we treat unsafe housing as the global epidemic that it is,” Hausler says. “It’s time to strengthen every building just like we would vaccinate every child in a public health emergency.”

This talk was presented at “We the Future,” a special event in partnership with the Skoll Foundation and the United Nations Foundation.

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About the Speaker

Dr. Elizabeth Hausler is the Founder and CEO of Build Change and a global expert on resilient building and post-disaster reconstruction. Elizabeth’s strategic direction and leadership has grown the organization from a few employees in 2004 to over 230 strong working on three continents in 2018. Her emphasis on rebuilding to withstand future disasters has distinguished Build Change from its peers, won international honors and profoundly influenced global development policy by making resilience a major consideration for reconstruction efforts in an era of ever-increasing natural disaster risks.

Watch and Learn More

Retrofitting for Prevention (Colombia) A 3-minute video that shares the stories of Nohelia and Maria, residents of informal neighborhoods in Medellin, who decided to retrofit their homes to reduce their risk of collapse in the next earthquake. [Spanish with English subtitles]

Usha’s Story: A Retrofitted Nepali Home This 10-minute video, produced with the financial support of DFID, has been seen by more than 70,000 people in Nepal. It documents Usha Didi’s decision to retrofit her house as well as the final product and impact on her family. [In Nepali with English subtitles]

Virtual Reality Tour of Eklephant, Nepal Take a virtual tour through Eklephant Village in Nepal! In partnership with Autodesk, Build Change has adapted Revit® software to rapidly design retrofits for similar types of buildings, greatly reducing the time required for design and gathering cost estimates.

AI for Retrofitting (Call for Code) A team of developers, coders, and volunteers from Build Change in Nepal were among the top three finalists in the global Call for Code Developer Challenge, a prestigious worldwide competition sponsored by IBM that seeks to identify and promote creative digital approaches to disaster relief and preparedness. In this video, the Post-Disaster Rapid Response Retrofit (PDR3) team shares their innovative application of Artificial Intelligence (AI) code to assess structural criteria on damaged buildings following natural disasters.

Economic Progress and Disaster Resilience (Philippines) A 3-minute video animation of the potential for retrofitting and economic development in Pembo, Metro Manila, Philippines.

Closing the Protection Gap In 2018, RMS and their client volunteers visited Build Change communities in Nepal to deploy their skills and expertise to help solve practical community development challenges.

Building Change in Partnership Autodesk and Micro Documentaries joined forces to produce this two- and- a- half minute mini-documentary about Build Change and its mission to save lives in earthquakes and typhoons by building disaster-resistant buildings.

Report: Building Back Housing in Post-Disaster Situations:

Report: Build Back Better-Strategies for Societal Renewal in Haiti:

Report: Seismic Retrofit of Housing in Post-Disaster Situations:

Partnership with the World Bank for Global Resilient Housing:

We the Future from TED, Skoll Foundation and United Nations Foundation

Build Change CEO Delivers Vision of Housing Resilience at TED Conference

WASHINGTON, D.C., Sept. 25 — Dr. Elizabeth Hausler, Founder and CEO of Build Change, delivered an impassioned TED Talk to the organization’s “We the Future” conference in New York, joining thousands of other social entrepreneurs and activists in calling for a renewed commitment to building housing resilience and battling poverty in the developing world.

The marquis event at the TED World Theater in Manhattan celebrated the 73rd annual opening session of the United Nations General Assembly.

“It’s time we treat unsafe housing as the global epidemic that it is,” Hausler said. “It’s time to strengthen every building just like we would vaccinate every child in a public health emergency.”

Around the world, natural disasters destroy thousands of lives and erase decades of economic gains each year. These outcomes are undeniably devastating and completely preventable, Dr. Hausler said, and substandard housing is to blame. It’s estimated that one-third of the world will be living in insufficiently constructed buildings by 2030; Hausler hopes to cut those projections with a building and retrofitting revolution. She shared six straightforward principles to approach the problem of substandard housing: teach people how to build, use local architecture, give homeowners power, provide access to financing, prevent disasters and use technology to scale.
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Engineers and Architects: Design a Safer Future for Millions with the Tools of Our Trade

“In the last decade, 5 million people have lost their homes and over 500,000 died in earthquakes and hurricanes…We often blame the earth, or climate change, but the truth is these disasters are largely man-made, and completely preventable. Most of the time earthquakes and hurricanes don’t kill people, badly built buildings do.”
Elizabeth Hausler, Build Change CEO

Competition breeds creativity! The XPRIZE Foundation’s famed “SpaceX” challenge underscores the power of competition to encourage innovation. Read More

Global Program for Resilient Housing Marks Important Shift Toward Prevention

World Bank Global Program for Resilient Housing launch

World Bank and Build Change Introduce New Global Effort to Prioritize Structural Integrity and Retrofit Substandard Housing in Disaster-Prone Regions

WASHINGTON, D.C., Oct. 3 – Build Change and the World Bank on Wednesday launched a major new initiative aimed at improving the safety and structural integrity of millions of homes in the developing world, many of them built with haphazard materials and informal methods that leave them particularly vulnerable to extreme weather events, earthquakes and other disasters.

“It’s time that we look at resilient housing as a public health emergency,” said Build Change CEO Dr. Elizabeth Hausler, who was among those who addressed an audience of global housing experts gathered to celebrate the launch at World Bank headquarters. “This is easy, and it’s cost effective. We know why these buildings collapse in earthquakes, we know how to retrofit them.”
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Build Change CEO Discusses Power of Government Partnerships During UN General Assembly Week

scaling pathways

Dr. Elizabeth Hausler Highlights Build Change’s Experience Working with Governments on Three Continents to Build Safe, Sustainable Housing

Build Change CEO Dr. Elizabeth Hausler joined an esteemed group of social entrepreneurs, policymakers and donors in a panel discussion to explore how best to harness the power of partnerships between nonprofits and government agencies.

The Sept. 26 event marked the launch of the new Scaling Pathways initiative, a partnership of the World Economic Forum (WEF), the Skoll Foundation, the Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship, the US Agency for International Development (USAID), Mercy Corps and Duke University’s Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship (CASE). Scaling Pathways published a new report, “Leveraging Government Partnerships for Scaled Impact,” as part of the event.
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