The lack of adequate social housing is one of the biggest barriers to sustainable human development. More than three billion people worldwide are homeless, or live in inadequate homes made from perishable materials that lack one or more vital services like clean water, electricity, or sanitation.
These people live in perpetually insecure and insalubrious conditions. Fortunately, we also live in a time when technological, social, and financial innovations are paving the way to solve this gargantuan problem.
In 2009, I co-founded Quetsol (now Kingo Energy), a company that distributes affordable solar power systems to some of Guatemala’s most remote communities. Quetsol was a success from the beginning, and sold thousands of systems. Through my work, I travelled extensively within my country, becoming intimately familiar with the most pressing problems for our Base of the Pyramid.
Although it was wonderful to see firsthand the benefit hundreds of these families derived from clean electricity, I realised many remained in the cycle of poverty because they still cooked indoors through an open fire, or lacked running water or sanitation. Thus, I founded CASSA, a company that tackles these problems holistically.
CASSA designs and builds sustainable social housing that provides residents with affordable clean water, energy, and sanitation. All our homes are built with ecological building materials like bamboo and adobe, and integrate appropriate technologies that provide vital services. The houses are able to do things such as the capture and store rainwater, provide water purification, solar panels for electricity, efficient smokeless stoves, grey-water separation which gets recycled into a family garden, and a full-service sanitation with flushing toilets and black water treatment.
For the same price as a home built with standard masonry (cinder block and tin roof) and no services, we can provide a personalised home that actively provides vital resources, helping save money, improve health, and protect the environment. In March 2014 we built Guatemala’s first “intelligent social house”, in which a young Mayan family has lived happily for over a year, enjoying free clean water, energy, and sanitation. We are building our second home, expanding our business with dozens of homes in the pipeline, and talking with financial institutions that could facilitate micro-mortgages to the people that need them.
We maximise the use of local resources, from locally available construction materials to local labor, ensuring that we help facilitate the growth of an ecosystem of experienced practitioners, and suppliers of intelligent building practices, even for those at the bottom of the socio-economic chain. We also offer complete personalisation services as we co-create each house with the customer, greatly boosting pride and a sense of ownership.
We aim to transform the way social housing is built. The social benefits are huge, from greatly improved health and economic indicators to a substantial reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, water pollution, and environmental degradation.
We are thrilled to be a part of the RSA community, which aims to transform the world through ideas and action in some of the areas that most excite our passion. Email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org for more information and opportunities to collaborate.
Duncan Bartlett FRSA is the Editor of Asian Affairs magazine and a former BBC Correspondent; here he offers his perspective on the war of words.