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.

“We need to move away from looking at the persons who will live in these homes as a victim, or a beneficiary of charity, and put instead the decision-making power in their hands, in the hands of the homeowner because when we do that – especially with women head of households – amazing things, including resilience, happen,” Dr. Hausler said.

“We the Future,” a day of talks at the TED World Theater, was presented in collaboration with the Skoll Foundation and the United Nations Foundation, 13 speakers and two performers explored some of our most difficult collective challenges — as well as emerging solutions and strategies for building bridges and dialogue. TED, a nonprofit dedicated to the spread of ideas, hosts the popular TED Talk videos on its website. Video talks from the September event, including Dr. Hausler’s, are expected to be released by TED before the New Year.

Other highlights of the event included:

Updates on the Sustainable Development Goals. Are we delivering on the promises of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), the collection of 17 global goals set by the United Nations General Assembly in 2015, which promised to improve the lives of billions with no one left behind? Using the Social Progress Index, a measure of the quality of life in countries throughout the world, economist Michael Green shares a fresh analysis of where we are today in relationship to the goals — and some new thinking on what we need to do differently to achieve them. While we’ve seen progress in some parts of the world on goals related to hunger and healthy living, the world is projected to fall short of achieving the ambitious targets set by the SDGs for 2030, according to Green’s analysis. If current trends keep up — especially the declines we’re seeing in things like personal rights and inclusiveness across the world — we actually won’t hit the 2030 targets until 2094. So what can we do about this? Two things, says Green: We need to call out rich countries that are falling short, and we need to look further into the data and find opportunities to progress faster. Because progress is happening, and we’re tantalizingly close to a world where nobody dies of things like hunger and malaria. “If we can focus our efforts, mobilize the resources, galvanize the political will,” Green says, “that step change is possible.”

Sustainability expert Johan Rockström debuts the Earth-3 model, a new way to track both the Sustainable Development Goals and the health of the planet at the same time. He speaks at “We the Future.” (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)

A quest for planetary balance. In 2015, we saw two fantastic global breakthroughs for humanity, says sustainability expert Johan Rockström — the SDGs and the Paris Agreement. But are the two compatible, and can be they be pursued at the same time? Rockström suggests there are inherent contradictions between the two that could lead to irreversible planetary instability. Along with a team of scientists, he created a way to combine the SDGs within the nine planetary boundaries (things like ocean acidification and ozone depletion); it’s a completely new model of possibility — the Earth-3 model — to track trends and simulate future change. Right now, we’re not delivering on our promises to future generations, he says, but the window of success is still open. “We need some radical thinking,” Rockström says. “We can build a safe and just world: we just have to really, really get on with it.”

A plan to empower Generation Unlimited. There are 1.8 billion young people between the ages of 10 and 24 in the world, one of the largest cohorts in human history. Meeting their needs is a big challenge — but it’s also a big opportunity, says the executive director of UNICEF, Henrietta Fore. Among the challenges facing this generation are a lack of access to education and job opportunities, exposure to violence and, for young girls, the threats of discrimination, child marriage and early pregnancy. To begin addressing these issues, Fore is spearheading UNICEF’s new initiative, Generation Unlimited, which aims to ensure every young person is in school, learning, training or employment by 2030. She talks about a program in Argentina that connects rural students in remote areas with secondary school teachers, both in person and online; an initiative in South Africa called Techno Girls that gives young women from disadvantaged backgrounds job-shadowing opportunities in the STEM fields; and, in Bangladesh, training for tens of thousands of young people in trades like carpentry, motorcycle repair and mobile-phone servicing. The next step? To take these ideas and scale them up, which is why UNICEF is casting a wide net — asking individuals, communities, governments, businesses, nonprofits and beyond to find a way to help out. “A massive generation of young people is about to inherit our world,” Fore says, “and it’s our duty to leave a legacy of hope for them — but also with them.”

Improving higher education in Africa. There’s a teaching and learning crisis unfolding across Africa, says Patrick Awuah, founder and president of Ashesi University. Though the continent has scaled up access to higher education, there’s been no improvement in quality or effectiveness of that education. “The way we teach is wrong for today. It is even more wrong for tomorrow, given the challenges before us,” Awuah says. So how can we change higher education for the better? Awuah suggests establishing multidisciplinary curricula that emphasize critical thinking and ethics, while also allowing for in-depth expertise. He also suggests collaboration between universities in Africa — and tapping into online learning programs. “A productive workforce, living in societies managed by ethical and effective leaders, would be good not only for Africa but for the world,” Awuah says.

Ayọ (right) and Marvin Dolly fill the theater with a mix of reggae, R&B and folk sounds at “We the Future.” (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)

Songs of hardship and joy. During two musical interludes, singer-songwriter Ayọ and guitarist Marvin Dolly fill the TED World Theater with the soulful, eclectic strumming of four songs — “Boom Boom,” “What’s This All About,” “Life Is Real” and “Help Is Coming” — blending reggae, R&B and folk sounds.

If every life counts, then count every life. To some, numbers are boring. But data advocate Claire Melamed says numbers are, in fact, “an issue of power and of justice.” The lives and death of millions of people worldwide happen outside the official record, Melamed says, and this lack of information leads to big problems. Without death records, for instance, it’s nearly impossible to detect epidemics until it’s too late. If we are to save lives in disease-prone regions, we must know where and when to deliver medicine — and how much. Today, technology enables us to inexpensively gather reliable data, but tech isn’t a cure-all: governments may try to keep oppressed or underserved populations invisible, or the people themselves may not trust the authorities collecting the data. But data custodians can fix this problem by building organizations, institutions and communities that can build trust. “If every life counts, we should count every life,” Melamed says.

How will the US respond to the rise of China? To Harvard University political scientist Graham Allison, recent skirmishes between the US and China over trade and defense are yet another chapter unfolding in a centuries-long pattern. He’s coined the term “Thucydides’ Trap” to describe it — as he puts it, the Trap “is the dangerous dynamic that occurs when a rising power threatens to displace a ruling power.” Thucydides is viewed by many as the father of history; he chronicled the Peloponnesian Wars between a rising Athens and a ruling Sparta in the 4th century BCE (non-spoiler alert: Sparta won, but at a high price). Allison and colleagues reviewed the last 500 years and found Thucydides’ Trap 16 times — and 12 of them ended in war. Turning to present day, he notes that while the 20th century was dominated by the US, China has risen far and fast in the 21st. By 2024, for instance, China’s GDP is expected to be one-and-a-half times greater than America’s. What’s more, both countries are led by men who are determined to be on top. “Are Americans and Chinese going to let the forces of history draw us into a war that would be catastrophic to both?” Allison asks. To avoid it, he calls for “a combination of imagination, common sense and courage” to come up with solutions — referencing the Marshall Plan, the World Bank and United Nations as fresh approaches toward prosperity and peace that arose after the ravages of war. After the talk, TED curator Bruno Giussani asks Allison if he has any creative ideas to sidestep the Trap. “A long peace,” Allison says, turning again to Athens and Sparta for inspiration: during their wars, the two agreed at one point to a 30-year peace, a pause in their conflict so each could tend to their domestic affairs.

Can we ever hope to reverse climate change? Researcher and strategist Chad Frischmann introduces the idea of “drawdown” — the point at which we remove more greenhouse gases from the atmosphere than we put in — as our only hope of averting climate disaster. At his think tank, he’s working to identify strategies to achieve drawdown, like increased use of renewable energy, better family planning and the intelligent disposal of HFC refrigerants, among others. But the things that will make the biggest impact, he says, are changes to food production and agriculture. The decisions we make every day about the food we grow, buy and eat are perhaps the most important contributions we could make to reversing global warming. Another focus area: better land management and rejuvenating forests and wetlands, which would expand and create carbon sinks that sequester carbon. When we move to fix global warming, we will “shift the way we do business from a system that is inherently exploitative and extractive to a ‘new normal’ that is by nature restorative and regenerative,” Frischmann says.

The end of energy poverty. Nearly two billion people worldwide lack access to modern financial services like credit cards and bank accounts — making it difficult to do things like start a new business, build a nest egg, or make a home improvement like adding solar panels. Entrepreneur Lesley Marincola is working on this issue with Angaza, a company that helps people avoid the steep upfront costs of buying a solar-power system, instead allowing them to pay it off over time. With metering technology embedded in the product, Angaza uses alternative credit scoring methods to determine a borrower’s risk level. The combination of metering technology and an alternative method of assessing credit brings purchasing power to unbanked people. “To effectively tackle poverty at a global scale, we must not solely focus on increasing the amount of money that people earn,” Marincola says. “We must also increase or expand the power of their income through access to savings and credit.”

An innovative way to help rural farmers save. While working for a microfinance company in Kenya, Anushka Ratnayake realized something big: small-scale farmers were constantly being offered loans … when what they really wanted was a safe place to save money. Collecting and storing small deposits from farmers was too difficult and expensive for banks, and research from the University of California, Berkeley shows that only 14–21 percent of farmers accept credit offers. Ratnayake found a simpler solution — using scratch-off cards that act as a layaway system. MyAgro, a nonprofit social enterprise that Ratnayake founded and leads, helps farmers save money for seeds. Farmers buy myAgro scratch cards from local stores, depositing their money into a layaway account by texting in the card’s scratch-off code. After a few months of buying the cards and saving little by little, myAgro delivers the fertilizer, seed and training they’ve paid for, directly to their farms. Following a wildly successful pilot program in Mali, MyAgro has expanded to Senegal and Tanzania and now serves more than 50,000 farmers. On this plan, rural farmers can break cycles of poverty, Ratnayake says, and instead, enter the cycle of investment and growth.

A daring idea to reduce income inequality. Every newborn should enter the world with at least $25,000 in the bank. That is the basic premise of a “baby trust,” an idea conceived by economists Darrick Hamilton of The New School and William Darity of Duke University. Since 1980, inequality has been on the rise worldwide, and Hamilton says it will keep growing due to this simple fact: “It is wealth that begets more wealth.” Policymakers and the public have fallen for a few appealing but inaccurate narratives about wealth creation — that grit, education or a booming economy can move people up the ladder — and we’ve disparaged the poor for not using these forces to rise, Hamilton says. Instead, what if we gave a boost up the ladder? A baby trust would give an infant money at birth — anywhere from $500 for those born into the richest families to $60,000 for the poorest, with an average endowment of $25,000. The accounts would be managed by the government, at a guaranteed interest rate of 2 percent a year. When a child reaches adulthood, they could withdraw it for an “asset-producing activity,” such as going to college, buying a home or starting a business. If we were to implement it in the US today, a baby trust program would cost around $100 billion a year; that’s only 2 percent of annual federal expenditures and a fraction of the $500 billion that the government now spends on subsidies and credits that favor the wealthy, Hamilton says. “Inequality is primarily a structural problem, not a behavioral one,” he says, so it needs to be attacked with solutions that will change the existing structures of wealth.

Nothing about us, without us. In 2013, activist Sana Mustafa and her family were forcibly evacuated from their homes and lives as a result of the Syrian civil war. While adjusting to her new reality as a refugee, and beginning to advocate for refugee rights, Mustafa found that events aimed at finding solutions weren’t including the refugees in the conversation. Alongside a group of others who had to flee their homes because of war and disaster, Mustafa founded The Network for Refugee Voices (TNRV), an initiative that amplifies the voices of refugees in policy dialogues. TNRV has worked with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and other organizations to ensure that refugees are represented in important conversations about them. Including refugees in the planning process is a win-win, Mustafa says, creating more effective relief programs and giving refugees a say in shaping their lives.

Former member of Danish Parliament Özlem Cekic has a novel prescription for fighting prejudice: take your haters out for coffee. She speaks at “We the Future.” (Photo: Ryan Lash / TED)

Conversations with people who send hate mail. Özlem Cekic‘s email inbox has been full of hate mail and personal abuse for years. She began receiving the derogatory messages in 2007, soon after she won a seat in the Danish Parliament — becoming one of the first women with a minority background to do so. At first she just deleted the emails, dismissing them as the work of the ignorant or fanatic. The situation escalated in 2010 when a neo-Nazi began to harass Cekic and her family, prompting a friend to make an unexpected suggestion: reach out to the hate mail writers and invite them out to coffee. This was the beginning of what Cekic calls “dialogue coffee”: face-to-face meetings where she sits down with people who have sent hate mail, in an effort to understand the source of their hatred. Cekic has had hundreds of encounters since 2010 — always in the writer’s home, and she always brings food — and has made some important realizations along the way. Cekic now recognizes that people of all political convictions can be caught demonizing those with different views. And she has a challenge for us all: before the end of the year, reach out to someone you demonize — who you disagree with politically or think you won’t have anything in common with — and invite them out to coffee. Don’t give up if the person refuses at first, she says: sometimes it has taken nearly a year for her to arrange a meeting. “Trenches have been dug between people, yes,” Cekic says. “But we all have the ability to build the bridges that cross the trenches.”


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.”
Read More

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.
Read More

Democratizing Access to Technology & Automating Workflows in Colombia

Autodesk’s Latin America Marketing Program Manager, Juan M Martinez, Senior Data Scientist, Patty Svenson, and Forge Product Manager, Philippe Videau went to Colombia as part of a pro bono project to support Build Change, an Autodesk Foundation grantee, as they set out to retrofit homes in earthquake prone cities. Juan is originally from Bogota, but Patty and Philippe had never been, so why did they go? Read More

Going the Extra Mile, to Rebuild Nepal…

International Women in Engineering Day 2018

To live far away from home, in a different community and culture, and contribute towards a nation’s rebuilding after a disaster requires courage, character and determination for any young person. In Nepal’s traditionally patriarchal society, it can be especially challenging for young women to seize such opportunities. On top of this, success becomes even more challenging within an industry such as engineering which is still perceived in many countries as a “man’s profession.” After Nepal was struck by the disastrous earthquakes in 2015 however, many Nepali women engineers have come to the forefront of reconstruction, significantly helping homeowners in rebuilding their houses and strengthening their affected communities.Read More

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

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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!