June 21, 2020

Delivering Value in Resilient Housing

Build Change


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!

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