Building Pioneers – The long and difficult road of innovation
Linking knowledge and action – that is the aim of the Munich Re Foundation. And this was the reason we supported an innovative project that hopes to revolutionise house building in Bangladesh. It turned out to be a complicated matter with a large number of obstacles.
The production of fired clay bricks (FCBs) in Bangladesh has many negative consequences for both people and the environment. Apart from the degradation of farming areas, these include deforestation, air pollution, high carbon emissions, and working conditions that are injurious to health. Building Pioneers, a young social enterprise in Germany, wanted to do something to seriously improve this poor overall balance. It developed compressed stabilized earth blocks (CSEBs) with the aim of building environmentally friendly, stable and affordable houses in Bangladesh. The blocks are reasonably priced, as well as being resistant to earthquakes and flash flooding. The CSEBs can be produced on site using a small press. This also creates unskilled job opportunities in villages and communities. With the help of the Munich Re Foundation, which provided financial support for the project in the start-up phase, the objective was to equip rural communities to resist natural disasters better.
The start phase – making plans and testing
First adjustments – from manual to semi-automated brick production
From earth cement blocks to sand cement blocks – a new approach
The downside: the sand cement blocks cannot be produced manually; heavy equipment is required. The new approach had moved a long way from the original idea of a decentralised operation involving local structures. A new company called Building Pioneers Bangladesh Ltd had to be founded, and a lot of things had to be re-negotiated: On the technical side, some partners with muscle were needed – companies like Chryso India and the Saint Léonard France Group. And on the financial side, significantly larger subsidies were needed. In view of the new scale of the project, the previous funders (Munich Re Foundation, Google Impact Challenge, and others) were unable to provide additional support. To bridge that gap, negotiations were held with a further donor (SwitchAsia Project). But in the end, the Building Pioneers team were unable to secure the funding, so following a pilot phase, the project was finally mothballed.
Project completion – with mixed feelings
23 February 2018
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