The Happy Face of Retrofitting – Corina Sutter in Nepal

Corina Sutter is Director, Government and Regulatory Affairs at RMS, and is based in London. She joined fellow employees from RMS and RMS clients on our annual Impact Trek in Nepal during March this year. This is Corina’s account of her time in Nepal.

When you think about strengthening a building to make it more resilient to seismic events, does “retrofitting” come top of mind? And if you have heard of retrofitting, do you know why it is more cost-effective and in many instances more suitable than simply rebuilding? This awareness challenge is what Build Change faces in Nepal; with regards to retrofitting not everyone is aware or convinced — yet.

Thanks to RMS and their partnership with Build Change, I had the fantastic opportunity to spend a few days with their team in Nepal to learn more about their local initiatives. Prior to the trip, I thought I had a fairly good understanding of Build Change’s way of working and their impact on societies within which they operate, and was looking forward to better understanding what particular emphasis and challenges they see in the context of Nepal’s socioeconomic and political environment.Read More

Using Catastrophe Models to Promote Resilience

Tom is a Senior Product Manager in the Model Product Management team, focusing on the North Atlantic Hurricane Model suite of products. He joined fellow employees from RMS and RMS clients on our annual Impact Trek in Nepal during March this year. This is Tom’s account of his time in Nepal.

2018 Trekkers in Kathmandu

2018 Trekkers in Kathmandu

Arriving in Kathmandu for the 2018 RMS Impact Trek, I was already aware of the many years that RMS has provided support for Build Change and its work in areas worst hit by catastrophic disasters. Our first day in the Build Change office was a crash course in their local objectives and challenges. Day Two saw us on a field trip to nearby Kirtipur to survey common building practices. It was a lot of information to process and it was not immediately clear to me what “impact” we could make during our short visit.

But it was later in the week — when, admittedly, the jet lag finally wore off — that I finally caught on.Read More

A Tour of Kirtipur – Callum Higgins in Nepal

Callum Higgins is senior product analyst at RMS, and is based in London. He joined fellow employees from RMS and RMS clients on our annual Impact Trek in Nepal during March this year. This is Callum’s account of his time in Nepal.Read More

Family Time & Off to the Philippines! – Update on Dr. James Mwangi, Simpson Strong-Tie Engineering Excellence Fellow

For the month of February, I was able to be at home with my family for a bit of a break between international locations. Luckily, while I was in the area, Elizabeth Hausler (Build Change’s Founder & CEO) was the keynote speaker at the California Polytechnic’s Architectural Engineering Department’s Structural Forum. It was great to see her speak about all of the projects I’ve seen in my travels, and reminded me of the incredible team I’ve been so lucky to meet and work alongside over the past year!

James in Manila with the Build Change team

James in Manila with the Build Change team

While at home, I was able to help the Build Change team remotely. I developed a “Retrofit Card” for Unreinforced Masonry/Confined Masonry one-story buildings in Colombia, and also met with the Indonesian engineers about out-of-plane designs of walls for the school retrofit they are working on. I also helped review the final construction documents for the school retrofit, which I am so excited will be completed soon! I saw the completion of the retrofits on the first 2 buildings in Indonesia while I was staying with the team there, and am looking forward to seeing the rest of the project come to fruition.

Before I took off for the Philippines in mid-March, I was able to get to know the team in Manila a bit. We had a great Skype call to get me prepared, and get me excited about going back to the field! My first few weeks in the Philippines have been full of a lot of getting up to speed and getting to know the team besides my former student at Cal Poly, Carl Fosholt, and I look forward to working on the exciting projects they have going on!

Press for Progress: Female Architects as Creative Drivers of Post-Earthquake Reconstruction in Nepal

“Press for Progress” is our motto this month as we celebrate Women’s History Month. Women have always been a driving force behind human progress, and this month we celebrate their contributions to the world.

With their exceptional abilities to create, design, and transform, women are already at the forefront in the field of architecture. In Nepal, as elsewhere in the world, more and more women are entering this field. Moreover, they have been using their architectural skills to design earthquake-resistant houses after the devastating earthquakes of April 2015, and in the process have become creative leaders and drivers of safe reconstruction around the country.

So how are women architects contributing to reconstruction efforts in Nepal? What inspired and motivated them to be a part of the rebuilding process? What challenges have they faced and what are they learning on the way?

As we celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8, we bring to you inspiring stories from four young women architects who work for Build Change and are contributing to locally adaptable and affordable reconstruction.

Ayusha Joshi, Staff Architect
Ayusha Joshi

Ayusha Joshi

For Ayusha, architecture is about creating something permanent that has a positive impact on people. She chose to become an architect because she was always intrigued by how buildings could affect the way we live, our mood, and behavior. Through architecture, she strives to influence people’s lives for the better.

When the devastating earthquake hit Nepal in April 2015, Ayusha realized how she could use her skills to influence people’s lives by helping her country build back safer. She joined Build Change and started working in the remote earthquake-affected communities of Nepal. “As city dwellers, we spend the majority of our time in an urban environment and do not get to visit the remote communities of Nepal as often as we would like. Since there is such a difference between rebuilding in urban and rural environments, we need to develop a deeper understanding of rural communities and their rebuilding processes. This was the reason why I was quite excited when I got an opportunity to be a part of sustainable rural housing reconstruction process,” she says. Being an architect and working in a community is quite a different strategy. “It is very different from working with commercial clients in urban areas. We need to consider the homeowners’ needs and requirements, the local architecture and construction techniques, and the impact of the project on the community,” she says. Initially, it was quite challenging for Ayusha and other female architects and engineers in the field to earn the trust of local community members. While working in the rural community of Kaule of Nuwakot district, homeowners only talked to the male architects and engineers, as they believed that men know best. Why would they waste their time talking to women? Over time, this perception has changed. Now, more and more homeowners seek technical assistance from the female technical staff. This is all thanks to Ayusha and other female technical staff in the field for their dedicated efforts!

Ayusha’s pride in contributing to the safe reconstruction of rural Nepal is obvious. “The risks that I have taken have all been worth it.” She encourages other female architects to “take up the challenges that help us grow as professionals because architecture has many facets, and you never know what you will end up working on!”

Kriti Rajkarnikar, Staff Architect
Kriti Rajkarnikar

Kriti Rajkarnikar

Kriti always wanted to build her career in architecture, a field of both art and technology, where one’s art is materialized at real scale. It was during her undergraduate studies when she realized that architecture could touch people’s lives for better, which has turned into her biggest motivation. When the disastrous earthquake struck Nepal in 2015, Kriti was studying for her Master’s degree in Infrastructure Planning in Germany. In the immediate aftermath, she considered how she could use her skills and experience to contribute to the reconstruction efforts of Nepal. She returned to Nepal after finishing her studies and joined Build Change.

Kriti works within the technical team to design earthquake-resistant houses in rural areas, including both new construction and retrofits. She helped to establish the very first Technical Support Center (TSC) in Sindhupalchok district where she provided technical assistance and house design support to homeowners. “My work has given me a deeper insight into the local context of Nepal, as well as an opportunity to create social impact through architecture.” Outside of Kriti’s work for Build Change, she is also actively helping to save heritage architecture in Dhulikhel through research and documentation.

When asked about the challenges that women architects have to face, she says “it can be challenging at times for women to create their own identity in the construction industry.” But she believes that by showing sensitivity and perseverance, women will be able to prove that they can be leaders in the field of architecture. By expanding knowledge and pushing the boundaries of architecture, they can overcome any challenges.

Mansi Karna, Architect
Mansi Karna

Mansi Karna

“I tended to perceive architecture as a tool for the creation of a magical abode. To be an architect. to me, was to be a magician. The fantasy of a Utopian city, and the desire to create and inhabit one, became a driving force in my life and played an important part in my decision to go to architecture school,” says Mansi. It was not until she started working in the field of reconstruction however that she came to realize the huge gap between what is taught in colleges and what exists in reality. “Despite the college curriculum promoting architecture as a social art and luxury, I came to realize it was less about luxury and more about social need. After witnessing the massive destruction caused by poor housing quality during the earthquake, the need for safer housing became obvious.”

Mansi was the first architect at Build Change’s Nepal office, and she remembers how challenging it was for a single person to produce all drawings during the initial phase of reconstruction. However, she has been able to overcome these challenges with her driving passion for architecture and a supportive working environment. She says, “The best part of working here is the way Build Change encourages women architects, engineers, and other technical staff to contribute to decision-making discussions and provides an opportunity for us to become better at our job through continual professional development. Our work is valued equally as our male counterparts. So from where I stand, I can say that the future of women architects and engineers definitely appears to be bright. We just need to keep up our motivation and continue striving for more.”

Salina Pradhan, Staff Architect

Salina Pradhan

“I chose to become an architect because I have always been attracted to homes, art, and interior design,” says Salina.  Previously Salina had been working as a commercial architect designing houses for wealthy people in Kathmandu. “Now I have become a social architect, designing houses to address the needs and cost considerations of the rural communities,” she says.

Salina had always wanted to work in the field of rural housing and development, and she is glad that she is getting an opportunity to use her knowledge and skills to contribute to the reconstruction process in Nepal.

Regarding the challenges that women architects face, she says, “Although there are many female architecture students [in Nepal], when it comes to developing their careers they are constrained by their family and social responsibilities. In that sense, women architects are still relatively oppressed and it is difficult for them to take leadership roles within the field of architecture.” Salina believes that in order for women architects to excel professionally, they should always believe in their potential and should rise above social norms that constrain them to explore the limitless opportunities that architecture provides.



To Ayusha, Kriti, Mansi, Salina, and everyone supporting the national rebuilding- a big THANK YOU for your contribution and inspiration in driving the reconstruction process and for setting an example for the next generation in Nepal and around the world!

Simpson Strong-Tie Fellowship Update: Bogotá & Medellín, Colombia

Contributed by Dr. James Mwangi, Simpson Strong-Tie Fellow 2017-18

In October, I spent a few weeks at home in California with my family. Build Change’s annual event was also held during my time there, so I was able to meet the entire management team!

While in California, I spent time getting familiar with building designs Build Change uses in Colombia, in preparation for my next assignment. I was able to review the Colombia Building Design Codes (referred to by their official name NSR-10), and the Build Change Evaluation and Retrofit Manual. I was also able to Skype with the team in Colombia to make sure I was up-to-speed on current projects.

On to Bogotá

On October 17, I flew to Bogotá and spent my first week in Colombia with the Build Change staff in Bogotá. From my preparation for the trip, I knew that Bogotá is the capital of Colombia and sits 8,660 feet above sea level with a population of 8.1 million people.  I was impressed by the high-rise brick clad residential buildings in the city, making the city very densely populated.  I was taken aback by the informal brick residential housing dotting along the mountain slopes all around the city, and all I could think was how dangerous they would be in an earthquake.

Poorly built, informal wall in Bogota

Poorly built, informal wall in Bogota

I was surprised how cold (average 60oF) it was being so close to the equator (4.7o N).  One of the first things I noted was the difference in the Colombian Spanish dialect compared to what I was used to in California (mostly from Mexico).  A business day on the streets of Bogotá felt like being on Wall Street, except the pace was a bit slower. Overall, I would recommend the taxis to get around the city. They are very efficient and will take you to-and-from the incredible restaurants around the city easily. Thankfully, the food in Colombia is not half as spicy as that in Indonesia!

Upon arriving, Walter Cano, Build Change’s Project Engineer in Bogotá, immediately grabbed my ear to talk about the Build Change Evaluation and Retrofitting manual. In order to understand the manual and its implications better, we headed out to visit some of the neighborhoods and houses where Build Change is currently retrofitting houses and residential buildings. It gave me a unique insight into the work that the organization has done so far and equipped me with the understanding to support their projects for the upcoming weeks.

I was able to meet with Professor Orlando Arroyo from the Universidad de la Sabana, regarding nonlinear analysis possibilities of existing masonry

Julio Gravito Uni visit

Julio Garavito University visit, L-R: Walter, Anna, Nancy, Sandra, Felipe, James

buildings in hopes of getting a better understanding of possible incremental retrofit schemes of the existing buildings. I hoped that we could reduce the retrofit cost by establishing different performance levels (collapse prevention, life-safety, etc.) for houses that could benefit from retrofitting. Retrofitting involves a unique design and process for each house. In establishing these performance levels, Build Change may be able to work with more homeowners faster.


I also visited Professors Sandra Jerez and Nancy Torres at the Escuela Colombiana de Ingenieria (Colombian Engineering School) “Julio Garavito” regarding their full-scale wall testing project that they will be conducting for Build Change. We discussed the minimum expected test results to update the Build Change evaluation and retrofit manual. Testing will also be carried out on wall panels that Build Changes has harvested from existing buildings. The wall testing will begin in January 2018 and it was agreed that the University team will use this time to familiarize themselves with the Build Change Manual prior to commencing the tests.

Working with the team in Medellín

Medellin Colombia

Medellin, Colombia


Starting the last week of October through November, I was based in Medellín, Colombia. Medellín, the second largest city in Colombia is located at 4900 feet above sea level with a population of 2.5 million.  The beautiful city is very green and surrounded by mountains, making the scenery almost dreamlike.  The weather was comfortable, temperate with an average of 75oF.  The formal housing is similar to Bogotá, as is the informal housing where about sixty percent of the population lives.  What struck me was how clean the city was.  Public transportation was very impressive and included a very efficient and clean metro tram system, metro cable cars that serve the mountainous informal housing communities, bicycles, taxis, and busses.

During my time in Medellín, I accompanied the technical team to the Santa Margarita area of Medellín while they visited possible homes to be used for training building professionals (civil engineers, architects, and project managers) from the Medellín Social Institute for Housing and Habitat (ISVIMED) on how to implement the Build Change Retrofit Manual.

ISVIMED professionals field training Medellin

ISVIMED professionals field training Medellin


I provided an in-depth review of Build Change Evaluation and Retrofit Manual. This included red-marking the manual not only to make it more user-friendly but also reviewing calculations for areas where the manual can be updated to make Build Change’s retrofit techniques more cost-effective. Additionally, I was able to accompany the technical team in the field in Santa Margarita as they trained building professionals from ISVIMED on how to implement the Manual.

I was elated to meet with the doctoral student Alexis Osorio, who is working under Professor Ana Acevedo of Universidad EAFIT, Medellín. EAFIT will be conducting full-scale wall testing for both in-plane and out-of-plane behavior including shake table testing with Build Change. The results from these tests will also be coordinated with the testing from Julio Garavito Engineering School in order to have a better understanding of the wall systems using the different block types in Bogotá and Medellín. The test results will help in the updating of the Build Change manual.

Homeowners receive subsidies from the government to fund home repairs.  Most of the homeowners use this amount to upgrade kitchens and bathrooms, leaving a very small amount for structural components of the buildings.  There is need to update the Build Change manual using the lessons we have learned from the wall testing and retrofit methods used recently. These are addressed in the current manual, but the goal is to make the structural retrofits even more affordable homeowners using the available government subsidies.

James and Adriana on top of Guatape Rock


Guatape Rock

Guatape Rock

Guatapé was one of the highlights of my time in Colombia. Located 81 km (50 miles) east of Medellín, the city has a beautiful array of colorful, historical buildings. After wandering the streets, we scaled the 747 steps of Piedra del Peñol, a giant granite rock extending 200 meters (650 feet) above ground. It was gorgeous!

Simpson Strong-Tie Fellow Update: Adventures into Safer Building in Indonesia

by Dr. James Mwangi, Simpson Strong-Tie Engineering Excellence Fellow 2017-18

Arriving on the other side of the Pacific

Map of Indonesia

Map of Indonesia

The journey to Padang, Indonesia started on August 3rd, 2017 in San Francisco, California with connections in Manila, Philippines and Jakarta, Indonesia. I arrived exhausted but excited in Padang on August 5th after almost 24 hours in the air. Padang is the provincial capital of West Sumatra and lies just south of the equator. The high temperatures are usually in the low 80’s, with lows hovering around the mid-70’s (Fahrenheit). I arrived in what is said to be “dry season” (May-September), although the high humidity and rain do not coincide with my experience of dry seasons elsewhere. I imagine the wet season (October ‐ April) is like living in a swimming pool. Padang’s old town lies in the low land, designated a tsunami red zone. The Build Change office is located in the higher ground (a tsunami green zone), as all of their offices are located in the safest areas of the cities where they work. The air is not what I would call “fresh”, but is relatively clean even with the heavy traffic of cars and motor bikes.

Architecture type example

Minangkabau architecture of the Central Bank

Although prior coming here I knew that the Indonesia archipelago is spread over the Pacific “Ring of Fire”, I did not know that Indonesia is made up of more than 17,000 islands; 6,000 of which are inhabited. Indonesia is not only the fourth most populous country in the world (after China, India and USA) but is the most populous island nation in the world and spans three time zones from west to east. I was surprised to see the traditional Minangkabau house architecture incorporated in the government buildings and mosques of Padang, giving everything a uniquely Indonesian aesthetic.

I was delighted to meet the very friendly Build Change team in Padang. They all made me feel at home on the first day, starting with setting me up with a SIM card for a local phone number, getting me settled at the hotel which would become my home for the coming months, and introducing me to Padang’s infamously spicy food. Luckily, rice is included in almost every dish which gives a slight reprieve from the searing (but delicious) flavors. The team is tight-knit, taking every opportunity to get together. Some favorite activities are celebrating birthdays, having lunch together, and going to karaoke nights.


Throughout my stay in Indonesia, I primarily focused on working with the technical team on the School Safety Program initiatives. I helped the technical team to provide structural calculations, construction documents, a materials list, and a cost estimate for a new school building. I also helped the technical team to provide structural calculations, construction documents, a bill of quantities and a cost estimate for the retrofit of the 5-classroom building in SD42 school. I visited three other schools to assess the next possible representative school retrofit project.

James at School visit in Padang

I visited a school site (SDN 40) under retrofit construction by others to familiarize myself with the school construction techniques. It was clear that the construction procedures did not follow the approved construction documents that were available at the construction site. There was no construction supervision of the builder’s activities, which was a sign that government direction needs to take a more significant role in the construction and retrofit of school buildings. Build Change focuses on the importance of involving all the stakeholders in the construction and retrofitting process. In this case, school headmasters would be the best supervisors, contractors are trained in how to follow approved construction documents, design engineers visit job sites for structural observations, and the government releases construction funding when major, supervised construction milestones are achieved. Build Change may need to play a lead role in organizing workshops for these various stakeholders so that they may improve and continue working together towards making schools safer.

poor column reinforcement example

Poor column reinforcement using smooth bars

While visiting construction sites, it became clear to me that material quality plays a key role in the overall quality of construction. I accompanied the Build Change Better Building Materials (BBM) team to learn about and help them establish the quality of bricks being produced by brickmakers in the Padang area. We visited a brick production kiln and collected brick samples for testing. We discussed possible changes in the typical kilns to make them more energy efficient, including alternative fuels (other than firewood) for environmental sustainability. I was also able to conduct a hands-on exercises for Build Change staff on making a “good” mortar and laying brick walls so that the team can use the experience in field supervision.

Additionally, much of my time was spent reviewing government guidelines on design and construction of new and existing school buildings. All the reviewed documents were in Bahasa, the primary language in Indonesia, which was a slight issue as I am unfortunately not fluent in Bahasa. Thanks to Google Translate, online document translators, unit convertors, and the Build Change team, document revision went smoother than I initially expected. This may be the only time in my life where I thought to myself “well, I wish I learned Bahasa while working my way through multiple engineering degrees”.

Among others, the documents we reviewed included:

  • The Ministry of Education’s School Construction Guidelines for both new and existing buildings
  • The National Disaster Risk Management Agency’s School Design Guidelines
  • The Minister of Public Works No. 45 / PRT / M/2007’s Technical Guidelines for the Development of Buildings
  • The National Standardization Agency (SNI)’s, Planning Procedures for the Earthquake Resistance of Buildings and Non‐Building Structures.

Build Changes’ comments and suggestion were provided in form of a report.

Interesting Adventures!

Alongside Build Change staffers Mia (Design Engineer) and Ani (Project Manager) we attended a seminar in the Padang mayor’s office presented by Prof. Kimiro Meguro from the University of

James at Minang Chief’s Palace Museum

Tokyo. The seminar was on use of polypropylene bands mesh (PPBM) for home repairs, which I knew little about. Shake table test videos on the performance of PPBM application on buildings were presented. Before and after photos of an adobe building retrofitted with PPBM in Nepal following the 2015 earthquake were also presented. I had not seen this product before, however it seems to work well for out‐of‐plane retrofit of masonry walls. The PP‐bands are available in most developing countries in form of shipping ties. I am curious to know more, and was grateful to continue my own education about new and potentially useful products.

presentation workshop at staff retreat

Technical Team Presentation workshop at staff retreat

I was honored to participate in a Build Change Indonesia staff retreat and team capacity building activity in Pariaman. I served as a moderator of presentations by the technical team to the rest of the staff using the existing training materials on earthquakes and earthquake-resistant building construction. From this, I provided suggestions and helped the team with examples to make the presentations clearer and more accessible for a non-technical audience. The retreat culminated in fun group activities, including morning exercises and swimming in a popular water hole.

It wasn’t all work, either! I was also able to visit a Minang village Chief’s palace museum and got to know the local customs in Padang Panjang. I have a new appreciation for the term “island nation” after snorkeling at Cubadak Paradiso Village in Cubadak Island. It was a truly breathtaking experience.

Meet the First Simpson Strong-Tie Engineering Excellence Fellow with Build Change

Originally posted by  on 

Simpson Strong Tie Logo

Introducing James P. Mwangi, Ph.D., P.E., S.E. – our first annual Simpson Strong-Tie Engineering Excellence Fellow with Build Change. James Mwangi will write a quarterly blog about his experience throughout the Fellowship.

I’m delighted to have been asked to contribute this post and feel honored to be the first-ever Simpson Strong-Tie Engineering Excellence Fellow with Build Change. It’s my hope that this post will inform you about my professional background, why I applied to the Fellowship and how I think the Fellowship can benefit people and the structures they live, work and go to school in.

I grew up in Kenya and went through my basic education and my undergraduate coursework in civil engineering there. I worked for the government of Kenya as a junior roads engineer before proceeding to Nigeria for my masters in structural engineering. I returned to Kenya and worked for the government as a junior structural engineer. I joined the faculty of civil engineering shortly after that as a lecturer.

Central Kenya – including Nairobi, where I lived – is subject to moderate seismic activity, and I felt several earth tremors growing up. This puzzled me from a very young age, and I always wanted to learn how buildings behaved during these events. Since I didn’t acquire this understanding during my undergraduate or my master’s studies, I headed to California in 1988 for doctoral work in structural engineering at UC Davis. I didn’t have to wait long for first-hand experience of the effects of major seismic activity, because the Loma Prieta earthquake happened hardly a year after my arrival. This earthquake helped shape my career by giving me the opportunity to visit the destruction sites in the San Francisco Bay Area. Through my professors at Davis, I led a very successful Caltrans-funded project on full-scale testing of repair methods (steel jacketing and epoxy injection) of pile extensions that we harvested from a bridge that collapsed along Highway 1 in Watsonville. From completing my doctoral studies at UC Davis, I joined Buehler and Buehler Structural Engineers (B&B) in Sacramento. The 1994 Northridge earthquake happened while my steel moment frame school building in Milpitas was undergoing review by DSA. When we realized that no DSA engineer would sign off on this system from the field observation of the behavior of steel moment frames, I had to redesign the building over a weekend with a steel-braced frame system to meet the client’s schedule. At B&B, I was able to design building structures of wood, steel, masonry and concrete ranging in use from public schools, hospitals, and other essential service facilities to commercial buildings.

Since 2003, I have been a university professor, having joined the Architectural Engineering department (ARCE) at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo, where I teach both undergraduate and graduate design courses in timber, masonry, steel and concrete. As a certified disaster safety worker in the governor’s office of emergency services, I have participated in the Structural Assessment Program in Paso Robles following the 2003 San Simeon earthquake; in Port-au-Prince following the Haiti earthquake of 2010; in Napa following the Napa earthquake of 2014; and in Kathmandu following the Nepal earthquake of 2015. I have contributed my experience from these deployments to the profession by serving in the technical activities committee of The Masonry Society (TMS) and also representing the seven western states in the TMS Board of Directors.

After my two-week building assessment in Haiti in 2010, I returned to Haiti for a year with the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC), participating in capacity building and safe building-back-better workshops targeting homeowners, contractors, engineers, architects and government officials. It was during this time that I first met Build Change as we shared information on our projects in Haiti. Since then, I’ve led a group of ARCE students to Haiti and Nepal every summer, and we have made it part of our itinerary to visit Build Change projects in each of the countries.

As a structural engineer, I have used Simpson Strong-Tie (SST) products throughout my career here in the US. I’ve not only used the SST products to teach my timber and masonry design courses at Cal Poly but have also supervised ARCE senior projects where we have used SST products. One of these projects led to a naming of one of our design laboratory rooms as The Simpson Strong-Tie Laboratory. It was only natural, then, that when I saw the advertisement for the Simpson Strong-Tie Engineering Excellence Fellowship, I couldn’t believe that two organizations with whom I have worked so closely as an individual and as a teacher were teaming up to create such a great opportunity. My familiarity with the two organizations, along with the fact that I already had a sabbatical leave approved from Cal Poly for the year of the Fellowship, made it a must for me to apply for the Fellowship. Natural disasters only cause human devastation where naturally occurring events (earthquakes, hurricanes, etc.) are not mitigated. The missions of the two organizations – BUILD Disaster-Resistant Buildings and CHANGE Construction Practice Permanently, alongside Simpson Strong-Tie’s No-Equal commitment to creating structural products that help people build safer, stronger homes and buildings –added to my desire to apply for the Fellowship.

Build Change projects involve helping local governments provide safe school buildings and other structures so their communities can better withstand damaging natural events, whether hurricanes, tornadoes or earthquakes. Where possible, we’ll use Simpson Strong-Tie products for the repair or retrofit of roofs, walls and anchorage. Build Change currently has projects in Indonesia, the Philippines, Nepal, Haiti and Colombia, all of which are located in areas susceptible to high winds and earthquakes. Indonesia is the fourth most populous country in the world. It’s my hope that I’ll be able to participate in projects in each of these countries, and I certainly believe that Build Change and Simpson Strong-Tie together can help millions of people live in better structures, built from better local, sustainable materials, which will be safe from strong winds and earthquakes.

If you’d like more information about the fellowship or my involvement over the next year, I can be reached at

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Technology in Post-Disaster Reconstruction: How One Woman is Contributing to Thousands of Safer Homes in Nepal

Women are leading the way towards the recovery of earthquake-affected communities in Nepal. Nearly 750,000 buildings were damaged or destroyed in the earthquakes in early 2015, leaving families in temporary shelters and students learning in makeshift school buildings. Rebuilding this infrastructure so that it does not collapse again in a future earthquake takes more than just bricks and money. Access to professional engineers and trained builders, along with other information on safe building techniques, are all crucial to rebuilding safer houses and schools.

So, how do people in rural areas – often with unreliable transportation and communication systems – gain access to information and trained professionals to help rebuild their houses and schools? Technology is changing the way people can access these resources, and women are emerging as leaders in this field as well.

Khusbhu Gupta is a Computer Engineer and Programmer who has been contributing to post-disaster data collection and monitoring through the FULCRUM Mobile App, an offline data collection and monitoring tool used by Build Change to monitor ongoing construction of rural housing in accordance with the government housing codes.

Khusbhu is a talented and passionate young woman, and as a technology enthusiast she enjoys diving into big data to generate insights used by diverse audiences to support families in rebuilding their houses safer than before. Leveraging FULCRUM for “Build Change has been a perfect platform for me to utilize my aspirations and potential as an IT professional. I am so happy to be able to use this technology for social good” she says, during a break at the Build Change Kathmandu office. “Without the FULCRUM app, the data collection and monitoring process would have been tedious and challenging for the engineers on-site and in the office.”

FULCRUM provides engineers on-site with real time recommendations for construction, based on the data they observe and input, helping them to monitor the construction quality. It also records technical details of houses along with GPS locations and photos. Not only does the app support construction of individual houses, it also provides an overview of on ongoing construction sites to staff and project managers at the Kathmandu office, without them having to travel long distances between sites and the office. Staff and project managers can monitor construction quality, staff location, and project progress from the office, making the system extremely efficient and productive.

Khusbhu oversees all of the data entered and output in the app, and ensures it runs smoothly. She has been instrumental to the consistent, efficient lines of communication from Build Change field-based staff and the Kathmandu office, which has in turn supported the construction of hundreds of safer homes and schools around the country. With her help, homeowners and school leaders will continue to have access to the information, engineering support, and technical assistance they need to rebuild their homes and schools to disaster-resistant standards.

We are so lucky to have Khusbhu on our team, and cannot wait to see the exceptional work she will continue to bring to our team. Due to her outstanding work in data science, she has also been awarded with full scholarship to pursue Master in Data Science at Mahidol University in Thailand. Congratulations to Khusbhu on her great achievement!

Meanwhile, we are pleased to know that we have Mohita Joshi will be taking over Khusbhu’s responsibilities while she studies. Mohita has her masters in Technology Computer Science and Engineering from National Institute of Technology, India, and has over 5 years of experience in data management. We are so proud to have another female Program Information Officer on our team.

The female technical staff we work with every day are some of the most passionate leaders we have encountered, creating positive impacts in their communities through leveraging their skills and experience. To Khusbhu and all of the amazing women out there changing the world: thank you for your inspiration and dedication to building a safer world, one building at a time!

5 Lessons on Leadership from the AMEX Leadership Academy

The American Express (AMEX) Leadership Academy is an annual training program which was launched in 2009 at Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University through a partnership with AMEX. More than 270 managers from over 90 organizations have been served and benefited through the program. The curriculum focuses on the skills needed to run a successful nonprofit, while recognizing cultural nuances and molding specific lessons to different nonprofit niche needs. Each program targets up to 30 emerging leaders from around the world.

Ani, Carl, and Gaspard at the AMEX Leadership AcademyThree Build Change staff attended the program in early 2017:  Haiti Program Manager Gaspard Pierristal, Indonesia Program Manager Mediatrich Triani Novianingsih, and Lead Structural Engineer for the Philippines Carl Fosholt. Each took away important lessons that are advantageous to their leadership skills and styles both in Build Change and as young professionals developing their careers. According to Gaspard, he “learned how to coach effectively by asking the correct questions to understand the reality of the person, and help find solutions without being given the answer”.

Attending the AMEX Leadership Academy is also a privilege. Carl, Gaspard, and Ani would like to share some lessons with you, in hopes that their privilege can help guide other young professionals as well:

1. The Leadership Versatility Index (LVI) is a tool that helps discover strengths and weaknesses in order to act on them, as well as finding a balance between the two.

LVI uses the 360 method to comparing feedback “full circle” and improves results through leadership. The framework accounts for the complexities of the manager’s job and focuses on finding a balance.

  1. The Global Mindset Inventory (GMI) offers tools that help to discover weaknesses in your global mindset and abilities to work on them in a way that will lead to a stronger ability to adjust your influence on those in varying cultures.

GMI was developed by the Global Mindset Institute as an assessment tool to help determine the ability of global leaders to better influence others unlike themselves. Learn more about GMI and take a sample survey.

  1. Identifying different communications strategies, and how to use them with various stakeholders, is an important step in the leadership process.

As Margaret Mead said, “Always remember that you are absolutely unique. Just like everyone else.” Remembering that everyone has a different way of communicating, and different modes of communication that they respond to best, is imperative in honing your leadership technique. Your colleagues, supervisors, and employees will all be individuals with different communication styles and preferences- it is your job to learn from them and adapt effectively.

  1. Organizations and businesses must also contribute to the society in which they function.

During his time at the AMEX Leadership Academy, Carl had the realization that “it is a privilege for an organization to operate within a society, not a right”.  Businesses and organizations must participate in all aspects of society, not just those that support their goals. Incorporating an understanding of social standards and priorities into your leadership style will help develop a deeper understanding of how your organization interacts with its surrounding social, economic, and political contexts.

  1. A truly strong leader is flexible in the techniques that they use with their team and will find the right balance to lead the team, given the specific circumstances in which they are operating.

Leaders are nothing if not flexible and adaptable, especially in the ever-changing landscape of the nonprofit sector. Did you just stumble upon a prospective funding opportunity, but the proposal is due tomorrow? Or perhaps your project timeline is progressing slower than anticipated due to factors outside of your control, and the various stakeholders are getting impatient? Circumstances will rarely be ideal, however every team will respond to stress, deadlines, setbacks, and accomplishments differently. As a leader, accepting your team’s responses and working with them – not against them – will help the team get through the hard times and celebrate the good times without additional stress.

3 Organizations, 8 Volunteers, and 500,000 Damaged Houses: How Autodesk Foundation, Team4Tech, and Build Change are Collaborating on Efficient Earthquake Recovery in Nepal

An estimated 500,000 houses are only partially damaged after the 2015 earthquakes in Nepal. That means out of 750,000 houses estimated to be damaged or destroyed, 2/3 of them are still standing but cracked and unsafe for people to use. These homeowners are not in need of newly constructed houses, but an opportunity to save as much of their original house as possible and strengthen it through retrofitting. Retrofitting is an innovative and cost-effective method of seismically strengthening existing houses by strengthening structural elements and stabilizing the current structure, making them earthquake resistant.

An estimated 2.5 million lives would be made safer from future earthquakes if these 500,000 homeowners are aware of and choose the option to retrofit.  Not only would millions of people be safer, but in the process an estimated 30 megatons of construction materials and 1 billion USD in reconstruction costs would be saved as well.

Most houses in rural areas of Nepal have similar layouts and are built using traditional, local materials and methods. Because of this, Build Change has been working with the Government of Nepal to develop and test a specific ‘pre-engineered’ retrofitting type design, applicable for much of the housing in the mountainous country.  The goal is to simplify the retrofitting process, so that it is a more accessible and feasible option for the 500,000 homeowners who could retrofit rather than rebuild.

So, how can we make the process so efficient and accessible that homeowners can’t ignore the possibilities?

With a little help from our friends…

The Autodesk team at a technical support center in Nepal.

In early June 2017, seven representatives from the Autodesk Foundation and one from Team4Tech arrived in Nepal. The 8 of them had some questions to answer to develop a deeper understanding of how communities were affected by the disastrous earthquakes that struck the country in 2015, and how rebuilding efforts were going.

The Autodesk Foundation supports the design and creation of innovative solutions to the world’s most pressing social and environmental challenges. They provide support through grant funding, software, technical training, and industry expertise to grantees in architecture, engineering, product design and manufacturing, visual effects, gaming, and related fields who are creating solutions to environmental and social challenges. The Autodesk Foundation has been working alongside Build Change since 2013, providing suites of software licenses, trainings, grant funding, and remote technical support for a variety of program areas. Now, this team of top technical experts has added to the generosity of Autodesk and the Foundation, leaving their families and lives to travel to Nepal and volunteer their time to aide in the reconstruction efforts.

Team4Tech facilitated this exchange between Autodesk and Build Change. Their mission is to advance the quality of education in developing countries by connecting technology volunteers and solutions with high impact nonprofit organizations. Since 2013, they have connected over 230 volunteers from 18 technology companies to more than 34,000 students and teachers around the world.

Given their extensive expertise and dedication to supporting safer, more efficient construction practices, the team naturally came to Nepal with some questions. How can retrofitting become a more efficient process?

Can designs be improved, so that more homeowners have access to safer retrofitting options? Can we develop tools to safely accelerate the process of field data collection and retrofit design? How can Autodesk technology be leveraged to support this goal?


Innovative technology meets innovative problem solving

Retrofitting is a relatively new approach to safer construction in Nepal, especially in rural areas, which means the design process is often long and time-consuming. Retrofitting a single-family house requires weeks for engineers to go into the field, take measurements, and finish safe, custom designs. Upon hearing the potential of retrofitting for homeowners in Nepal, the Team4Tech and Autodesk volunteers were ready to help Build Change make the process more efficient, without sacrificing safety. The team used the Human Centered Design (HCD) technique, an innovative approach to problem solving which incorporates a human perspective as a part of process. In order to fully understand the situation in earthquake-damaged areas in Nepal, the team first set out to gain firsthand knowledge and develop a deeper understanding of the existing retrofit processes by traveling to communities where homeowners are currently working with Build Change to retrofit their houses. The team traveled to Sindhupalchok district, one of the areas hardest hit by the earthquakes, where they observed and took measurements of ongoing retrofit projects and spoke with community members and engineers advocating for retrofitting. They also conducted a series of HCD workshops, providing tools and exercises for Build Change field staff and others involved in earthquake recovery in the area. The team also tracked and mapped Build Change’s relationship with its stakeholders to identify existing and future opportunities for retrofitting and understand the existing relationships better.


Build Change staff in a Human-Centered Design workshop.

The result of this two-week investigation and collaboration was a tool which is already making the Build Change retrofitting program more effective. The HCD techniques and methods helped the team develop a shared understanding of the day-to-day challenges engineers face both in the field and the office, and what it takes for them to take accurate measurements and create accurate designs. Using this as a base, the team was able to propose a solution: a 3D modeling tool which helps to simplify, accelerate, and ensure quality for the retrofitting design process. This has already helped Build Change raise the profile of retrofitting as viable alternative for reconstruction, and widened the potential support to homeowners. In the future, the goal is to make the retrofitting process and techniques so easy to use that anyone with a basic understanding of construction could use it to generate a retrofit design for their own home.

This collaboration between 3 organizations with separate, yet intersecting, expertise represented a massive growth and development for both team members and earthquake-affected homeowners in Nepal. Organizations such as the Autodesk Foundation and Team4Teach help strengthen our vision of homeowner-driven reconstruction and safer building practices in Nepal and all countries where we work.

We look forward to continuing to share our developments and experience with the 3D modeling tool created by the Autodesk and Team4Tech team. Subscribe to our newsletter or bookmark our blog to stay up to date!

©All photos provided courtesy of the Autodesk Team.

Taking Time to Learn in Nepal

Boudhanath Stupa in Kathmandu

Boudhanath Stupa in Kathmandu

Contributed by Paul Wilson

It’s been 2 weeks, nearly to the day, since I returned from Nepal while I am writing this -although it’s hard to tell precisely given this is the third time zone I’ve been in during that time- but I do know that I’m 2 weeks late in writing this blog. Admitting my tardiness is exactly why the experience of the RMS Impact Trek is of such value. We all have day jobs and commitments that absorb most of our time and it is a rare opportunity to be able to step outside our daily routine, to learn about something new, experience a new part of the world and talk with people whose passion and commitment to the work they do might just inspire us to try and contribute however we can and perhaps challenge our own routine or ways of thinking more often.

Build Change has been the cornerstone of RMS’s CSR agenda for the past 4 years, starting with Impact Treks in Haiti, moving last year to Nepal. We’ve also just announced our continued support for the work Build Change do over the next 5 years. The annual RMS Impact Trek is an opportunity for RMS employees, and for the first time this year RMS clients, to see first-hand the work that Build Change does, see first-hand the way they approach building resilience, supporting and empowering a network of organisations, working directly with local communities, promoting the idea of home-owner driven rebuild and retrofit as well as engaging with the government and local authorities not just in Nepal but in all the countries in which they work.

Each of my fellow Trekkers is writing about their experiences and thoughts on the work Build Change do so I wanted to try a present an overview of our time in Nepal. Most of the 8 trekkers arrived in Nepal on Sunday the 5th and spent that afternoon seeing the some of the world-famous sites in Kathmandu such as Pashupatinath Temple and Bouddhanath Stupaa, and also just getting to know each other. On Monday morning, we climbed into the two 4x4s that world carry us around for the next few days and headed to the Build Change office to meet with Noll, the country director in Nepal who would be our host for the week. We spent the morning talking and learning about the earthquake nearly 2 years back, the work that Build Change do, how they operate both immediately following disasters through to the years of reconstruction that follow. I think it’s fair to say all of us were shocked by the scale of the problem the country still faces. That afternoon it was off to the field, driving out of Kathmandu to Dolalghat, we were to stay for the next 2 nights in a small guest house on the Araniko Highway. Build Change rent out the whole building for all their employees who spend much of their time in the field. The next day we headed to across the river Indrawati to Bhimtar and Eklephant (Sangachok region) both nearly completely destroyed by the earthquake to see Build Change’s work in action, visit construction in progress, walk around the villages to see how people now lived, talk to engineers, other NGOs and locals alike.

Working on site for construction

People working on construction sites.

We returned to our guest house late in the afternoon talk over our experiences and for the brave few of us to swim in the very cold Indrawati – much to the amusement of the locals, who explained only children swim in Nepal. The following day we would we would return to Sangachok visiting a local school and a technical resource centre Build Change has set up and talk to more of the local community. That afternoon we returned to Kathmandu where we would spend the next two days in the Build Change office, meeting more of the team, learning about the work they are doing with the civil engineering department at the local university, meeting with visitors to their office, talking with staff and volunteers on a wide range of topics from their use of drone and areal Imagery to micro-planning of the villages they work within. It was in this last discussion, talking with Adam a volunteer at Build Change, that really struck me. Adam showed me the images I’ve include below. This is Bhimtar, a place I’d walked through just a few days before, before and after the earthquake. It struck me how the entire layout and structure of the village has changed, temporary housing sprawls out around where the houses once stood – to me this really highlights how Build Change aren’t just focused on building back stronger more resilient houses but in working with the local community rebuild their future and make the most of the resources they have.

The final weekend was spent seeing more of Nepal; visiting Bhaktapur, hiking to Namo Buddha Monestary (a unique opportunity to see inside a Monastery with young Buddhist Monks performing their daily rituals) and hiking back down in the mud and rain. The final Sunday also provided the opportunity for us all to see and take part in Holi, the Hindu spring festival, also known as the “festival of colours” which the photos of us smiling while covered in paint and water show is very appropriately named. 

The energy, enthusiasm and hospitality of the Build Change team during this entire trip was inspiring. The work they are doing is impacting directly the lives of those whose homes they are helping to rebuild but they also have a much bigger vision – attempting to change the opinion and operation of disaster relief and response to put retrofitting and home-owner led engagement at the front of the agenda. It was a privilege to take part in this years impact trek and to see how Build Change aligns with RMS’s own goals of helping to create resilience to natural disasters.   

On Being Women in Engineering

Women play a crucial role in post-disaster reconstruction. In Nepal, where the population is 51% female, this has become especially apparent. Many women have taken on new roles and responsibilities since the earthquakes in 2015, and are at the forefront of permanent reconstruction efforts to build a safer future for their families, communities, towns, and cities.

At Build Change, we have always placed a special emphasis on working with, hiring, and training women in the traditionally male-dominated fields of engineering and construction. Currently, 37% of Build Change global technical staff is female (compared to an international average of 11% of the engineering sector being comprised of women). In Nepal, we have 16 highly qualified, dedicated engineers leading reconstruction efforts, working on anything from handling field operations to quality control and implementation.

The best part? All of our female engineers in Nepal report to our Lead Structural Engineer, Liva Shrestha, who in turn reports to our Director of Engineering, Lizzie Blaisdell Collins, who finally reports to our Founder and CEO Elizabeth Hausler. A reporting structure completely comprised of women…in what is still potentially one of the most male-dominated sectors in the world.

In honor of International Women in Engineering Day, we’d like to introduce you to some of these talented women. We hope they inspire you as much as they inspire us every day!

Purnima Acharya

Purnima Acharya, Staff Engineer with Build Change in Nepal

Purnima Acharya is a field-based Staff Engineer with Build Change in Nepal.  She works in close coordination with the Lead Structural Engineer, Liva, and is responsible for overseeing operations, solving problems, and generating solutions in the field. She assists homeowners, builders, and other partners in designing and supervising the reconstruction and retrofitting of earthquake-resistant houses.

For International Women in Engineering Day, Purnima shares her experiences as a female engineer and some lessons from the field.

“There was a time when female civil engineers had to face a lot of difficulties working in field as they were not socially accepted as engineers… Slowly, people’s perceptions of women in the engineering field are changing, and they have started realizing that women can also be engineers. Working in the field, especially in a remote village like Kaule is never an easy task, but I love to take on challenges and learn new things. Working with Build Change is an important opportunity to grow and develop myself, both professionally and socially. I am also proud to have contributed to the reconstruction process of Nepal after the disastrous earthquake.”

Liva Shrestha

Liva Shrestha, Lead Structural Engineer with Build Change in Nepal

Liva Shrestha is the Lead Structural Engineer with Build Change in Nepal. She oversees quality control of design information and implementation for all of our projects in Nepal, and works in collaboration with Lizzie, our Director of Engineering. She is also responsible for making sure that technologies and solutions are consistent with Build Change’s philosophy of earthquake-resistance, sustainability, and cultural appropriateness.

Liva went through many similar situations as Purnima. She spoke to us about the socio-cultural constraints of working in the field that was widely perceived as a “man’s profession”, and how she overcame this challenge.

“Engineering in general and structural engineering in particular is very male-dominated. After starting my professional journey as an engineer, the gender disparity in the field became more and more evident. Many times I would be the only female in the field, working among men. Culturally, we are brought up in such a way that we tend to believe that technical jobs are only for men, and that men and women cannot easily interact in the work force. Over the years, I have challenged this social perception by excelling in my field… What I believe is, if you are confident, assertive, and knowledgeable in your field, society will ultimately respect you.”

Lizzie Blaisdell Collins, Director of Engineering with Build Change

Lizzie Baisdell Collins, S.E. is the Director of Engineering with Build Change, overseeing the quality and consistency of engineering and technical project solutions for all Build Change programs globally in close collaboration with the Chief Executive Officer (CEO). She has worked extensively on earthquake-resistant design and evaluation projects in highly seismic regions since 2005.

Elizabeth Hausler

Elizabeth Hausler, Founder and CEO of Build Change

Elizabeth Hausler, Ph.D. is a skilled brick, block, and stone mason with an M.S. and Ph.D. in Civil Engineering from the University of California, Berkeley, an M.S. in Environmental Science from the University of Colorado, and a B.S. from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. This ultimately led to her founding Build Change in 2004, which now operates in 7 countries worldwide.

Elizabeth has been honored with many awards and titles for her outstanding contribution, including a 2017 Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship, 2014 Academy of Distinguished Alumni of the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department of University of California, Berkeley, 2011 US Social Entrepreneur of the Year by the Schwab Foundation, and 2011 Lemelson-MIT Award for Sustainability. She is also a 2004 Echoing Green Fellow, a 2006 Draper Richards Kaplan Fellow, a 2009 Ashoka-Lemelson Fellow, and a Fulbright scholar to India in 2002-2003.


Purnima, Liva, Lizzie, and Elizabeth have become role models for so many women aspiring to pursue careers in the field of engineering. These amazing women, along with the many other women engineers, builders, builder trainers, and homeowners we work with, are changing the world, one safer building at a time!

The Impact of Data in Recovering from a Natural Disaster

Contributed by Jeremy Zechar 

Hello, dear reader from the future. Perhaps you’re reading this without context, so allow me to set the scene. In March of 2017, RMS invited me, an unsuspecting client, to join their Impact Trek to Nepal. Seven other trekkers and I visited  Build Change, an organization whose Nepali operation seeks to help improve construction and retrofitting practices in the villages struck hardest by the April 2015 Gorkha earthquake. We toured some of those villages and regrouped at Build Change headquarters in Kathmandu. If, after reading the piece below, you want to know more, send me a message. Or read some of the other blogs

If writing about music is like dancing about architecture, what does that make writing about architecture? Um, tedious? Some of the trekkers were (somehow, unbelievably) lulled to sleep by the violent rocking of the vehicles that transported us along some of Nepal’s finest mountain “roads.” But hot jostling cars don’t do it for me. Despite being educated as a seismologist, I’ve found almost no better sleep aid than discussions of structural engineering. My attention span for earthquake engineering details is shorter than the time you just spent reading this sentence. At the risk of committing heresy, I’ll say it: buildings are boring. So when the rest of the trekkers headed to the labs at Kathmandu University to see how walls are stress tested, it wasn’t only anti-social tendencies that led me to stay behind at Build Change HQ*. 

Noll Tufani (Center) with RMS Trekkers and Build Change Staff

I started sniffing around for data. And, because it’s 2017, it didn’t take much sniffing to find heaps. I simply told Noll Tufani, the Build Change Country Director in Nepal, that I was interested in the data that Build Change collects, and I wanted to hear about any related challenges where I might be able to help. (I’m handier with a keyboard than I am with brick and mortar.) He pulled in some colleagues and together we had an hour-long, freewheeling conversation that can be distilled down to: 

  1. Build Change in Nepal has data. Duh.
  2. Build Change in Nepal has many different ideas for data products.
  3. Build Change in Nepal has many different target audiences for those data products, and each audience requires a tailored message.
  4. But Build Change in Nepal has no fixed priorities or detailed plan for developing data products.

(I suspect that you could replace “Build Change in Nepal” with the name of most non-profit organizations in the world and the same statements would apply.) Having no set priorities is not necessarily a bad thing; in the case of Build Change in Nepal, it just means that the development is being driven by the interests and skills of those involved. Let me tell you, then, about two relevant data sources.

Drone test flight with Uttam

Uttam testing the drone before aerial mapping commenced.

One of the activities that Build Change in Nepal is pursuing is 3D modeling of the villages where they’re involved; to this end, they’re conducting drone flights and experimenting with different camera settings. This is happening because Uttam, one of the Build Change dudes, is interested in drones. (My empirical research indicates that so are most dudes in the world. Oh, and when Uttam is not busy at Build Change, he’s running his own startup.) Turning the image data into a 3D model is not a huge challenge, and Uttam can simply choose one of several available software packages to do so. The resulting models can be used to plan rebuilding and, in places where it’s possible to make repeat flights, give a very rough idea of construction progress.  

Build Change in Nepal has also conducted several surveys and tracked construction progress for every house with which they’re involved (2000+ at the time of this writing. One of these surveys collects information about each construction site—for example, the distance to the nearest source of water—and another, a homeowner preference survey, allows Build Change to identify gaps between the types of dwellings that villagers want to live in and the types of dwellings that the federal government has approved. These data are stored in a database and cry out for visualization. At my day job analyzing natural catastrophe models, one of the things I commonly do is visualize data stored in a database. Hooray, I can help!

So, in the coming weeks and months, I’ll be working with Khushbu, an energetic student who is already engaged in extracting some of the survey and progress data for internal reports. (In her spare time, she’s pursuing a Master’s in sociology. When do these kids sleep?) We’ll prototype an interactive map capturing results of the homeowner preference survey and construction status. We’re hopeful that this pilot project will show Noll and others what is possible with the data that Build Change in Nepal already has, and that it will jump start discussions around planning and priorities for the future of data at Build Change.

* I once lived w/ a dude who conducted state-of-the-art rock mechanics experiments, but our conversations revolved around water balloons, Napoleon Dynamite, and roasting coffee. And I don’t even drink coffee.

Building Change in Nepal

Contributed by Amy Carter

Trekkers at construction site in Nepal

Having just returned from the RMS Impact Trek in Nepal I felt encouraged to write about the tremendous work which Build Change is doing following the devastating earthquake in April 2015. My awareness of the charity only really came to light when RMS announced they would be organizing the impact trek and choosing three clients to take with them. I was lucky enough to be one of those three. But this fact has also resonated how lesser known the charity is, especially in the insurance sector in which we work.

Given my naivety, my assumption of Build Change was rather simplistic. Typically in the relief efforts following a natural disaster, international agencies respond by reconstructing buildings and critical infrastructure which has been destroyed in a catastrophic event. What often happens in these situations however is that the decisions and reconstruction efforts are determined by these external agencies and often rarely involve the people who are going to live there. A further issue arises where international agencies have a much wider access to resource and where their construction practices may not necessarily be sustainable once the international funding comes to an end. This issue is further inflated in countries like Nepal whose varied and extreme terrain requires a much more diverse consideration for culture and building practices.  

Build Change’s vision is much more holistic and focuses on building resilience by working at the local home-owner level, using local materials, local resource and local capability.  The charity seldom builds constructions for homeowners (only in instances where on-the-job training can be incorporated) but rather works alongside them assisting with the technical expertise and knowledge required to build earthquake resistant structures in the rural and often isolated villages of the Kathmandu valley. Further to building new constructions, Build Change actively promotes retrofitting partially damaged homes. This is hugely important for home-owners who do not have the capacity to finance a new construction and is something which the Nepalese government does not currently consider. What was also incredibly impressive to see, was the knowledge and expertise of the Nepali structural engineers employed at Build Change. We were kindly invited to the engineering lab at Kathmandu University to see how they stress test these retrofit designs before they are implemented in the field. This academic involvement provides confidence in this new retrofit concept for Nepal.

testing lab at university in Kathamandu

Testing lab at university in Kathmandu

Build Change is making a remarkable difference in building resilience. Being engaged at the local level is extremely effective and is enabling permanent change which can be sustained. But to scale this up to a national (or even international) level is probably the most difficult to achieve and involves working with the government to enforce building codes or altering the current vulnerable building practices. A further challenge which Build Change highlighted was the lack of Insurance penetration in Nepal. The insurance industry provides a vital role in development and this is a well known concept in the development community. But providing the right financing and risk transfer mechanisms is often difficult and lacks the traction it needs to get it off the ground. But with the right thought and consideration I’m sure this issue can be solved and would be a huge achievement across the developing network. I hope that raising this awareness and the work of Build Change can go some way towards this solving this issue.