Solution Overview & Team Lead Details

Our Organization

Start Somewhere

What is the name of your solution?

Reusable community-made building blocks for resilient homes

Provide a one-line summary of your solution.

Our building system is designed to improve affordable housing in the Global South. The innovative hollow concrete blocks are manufactured by residents of disadvantaged regions in decentralized small factories. Our "TwistBlocks" are affordable, adaptable to each site and can even be reused.

Film your elevator pitch.

What specific problem are you solving?


The global housing crisis is one of the most pressing challenges of our time, affecting billions of people worldwide. The United Nations estimates that by 2030, over three billion people will need access to adequate housing. The crisis is particularly severe in developing countries, where rapid urbanization and inadequate infrastructure have led to the proliferation of slums and informal settlements.

These settlements are often characterized by poor living conditions, lack of access to basic services like clean water and sanitation, and constant risk of eviction. Residents of informal settlements typically live in shacks made of flimsy materials like wood, mud, and sheet metal, which are highly susceptible to fires, flooding, and other natural disasters. These disasters can result in significant loss of life, property, and jobs, further exacerbating the housing crisis. Since 1990, an average of 217 million people have been affected by natural disasters each year.

In addition to natural disasters, the housing crisis is also driven by systemic economic and social factors, including high unemployment rates, lack of affordable credit, and discriminatory policies. Many low-income residents work as poorly paid day laborers in large cities under unfair conditions, making it difficult to save for better housing or access formal credit.

Plus, in informal settlements, the constant risk of eviction discourages
people from investing their limited financial resources in better

Addressing the housing crisis requires innovative solutions that are accessible and affordable to everyone. Our organization is committed to providing such solutions through our locally produced TwistBlock technology, which allows for affordable and efficient construction of housing using unskilled labor. This approach not only helps to address the housing crisis but also provides employment opportunities and economic empowerment for local communities.

What is your solution?

Start Somewhere is a social enterprise that aims to promote resilience in impoverished regions of the Global South. We strive to address pressing issues, such as housing and unemployment, faced by vulnerable populations. Our core technology is an innovative and user-friendly building system that is produced and applied locally by community members.

Our approach is decentralized, empowering people in disadvantaged areas by bringing industry to their communities. We create employment opportunities through small-scale concrete block factories that produce our newly invented "TwistBlocks", handmade by local residents. TwistBlocks are easy to use and can be assembled by unskilled labor, creating a local value chain that helps alleviate poverty and housing in the long term. Our construction projects not only lead to better housing and schools but also generate employment opportunities on construction sites at the local level. 

Our impact extends beyond the construction phase, as we reinvest rental income from our projects back into the community, funding additional residential projects. With TwistBlocks, residents and NGOs can build resilient and affordable homes that support a holistic approach to community development. 

Our innovative technology also enables private home ownership in uncertain legal environments like informal settlements. In case of eviction, 85% of the blocks can be dismantled and reused.

By providing an adaptable and sustainable solution, we are helping to build resilient communities and improve the lives of vulnerable populations.

Video Link: Twist Block Production and Construction in Kibera, Nairobi


Who does your solution serve, and in what ways will the solution impact their lives?

We target our intervention towards people living in vulnerable regions in the Global South. Our focus is on communities where access to basic infrastructure including water, sanitation, housing, employment, and food is limited. People are empowered through know-how transfer and job creation using a newly developed building technology. This improves living conditions and increases resilience of the communities.

An example is Kibera in Nairobi, Kenya, where 60% of the population live in slums occupying less than 6% of the city’s residential land. Residents lack access to basic services and have limited job opportunities with an unemployment rate of around 50%. Housing is a major concern, with most residents living in small, cramped quarters with no windows and just one door. The average size of a house is about 8m². Household sizes vary, but it is not uncommon for a house to be a home for eight people.

Residents are not in the position to own land and build a house, whether using iron cladding, mud walls, or concrete in some cases, tend to rent the houses out and develop a small property portfolio. Rents for houses in Kibera at $25 per month, up to $50 per month for larger houses that accommodate a family. 

To address these challenges, we are establishing small-scale TwistBlock factories that create ethical and equal job opportunities, meet local labor standards, and prioritize labor-intensive processes to ensure fair distribution of work. Our building system has gained acceptance and residents have started using the technology to build their own local projects.

Since the opening of our first TwistBlock factory in Kibera, we have employed seven local workers and produced TwistBlocks to build two schools, a library, 12 housing units, and several sanitary buildings. Our intervention has significantly improved the learning environment for over 1200 children in Kibera.

Our goal is to fight poverty by making resilient housing more affordable and accessible to the people living in these communities. We believe that safe and healthy private homes provide hope for the future, and better homes, schools, and community buildings can prevent disasters such as fire, flooding, and extreme heat.

Along the value chain, people find opportunities in training and know-how, permanent and casual jobs in local factories and on construction sites. Plus private ownership is facilitated because up to 90% of the blocks can be deconstructed in case of eviction. All activities contribute to creating value in the slum and improving the lives of its residents.

In conclusion, our intervention is aimed at creating sustainable change in vulnerable communities through empowerment and job creation. We believe that our approach, as demonstrated in Kibera, can make a significant impact on the lives of those living in disadvantaged urban areas.

 Link to Video: Testimonials and Projects of Start Somewhere in Kibera, Nairobi


How are you and your team well-positioned to deliver this solution?

Start Somewhere is a design and construction team made up of a German social enterprise and a Kenyan Ltd company. We have more than 10 years of experience in implementing projects in the informal settlement of Kibera and beyond. Our team has 15 members, 4 in Germany and 11 on site in Nairobi, with most living in the informal settlement of Kibera and knowing the challenges of the community first hand.

Delivering good community projects requires more than just time and experience. It takes clarity on goals, visions, and ownership of the process. This is critical to ensure the project is widely acknowledged, and it guides creativity, inclusivity, and acceptance.

We use a community-driven design participatory engagement approach to increase understanding of community needs and enable collaboration and partnership between professional designers and community residents. This allows residents and clients to have a stake in what is built around them and provides a sensitive moral dimension to architecture.

Our team believes that architecture is not just about designing and building physical spaces, but also about creating active, vibrant, and inviting environments that are owned by the needy society.

Through our local community expert, we ensure an early involvement of the community in every project, presenting architectural designs within community events where local authorities also participate. Everyone can discuss the design draft and bring in ideas that are incorporated into the design.

Our factory is located in the heart of Kibera with the motto "Change from Inside". People can come in, ask questions, or work as volunteers to learn how to use and produce the building system. The factory team itself contributes valuable input, such as ideas on improving the production process and developing colored blocks with pigments.

The team conducts guided tours for visitors to explain the production process and visit several TwistBlock Buildings in Kibera that are visible for the community. We work closely with our project management team to coordinate skilled and unskilled workers on site and ensure adherence to construction standards, approvals, and health and safety policies at all times.

In conclusion, Start Somewhere's community-driven design approach and partnership with local residents and stakeholders enables us to deliver impactful and sustainable projects that address the needs of the community. Our team's diverse expertise and on-site presence positions us well to continue delivering innovative solutions for the benefit of the local community.


Link: Team Start Somewhere

Which dimension of the Challenge does your solution most closely address?

Support informal communities in upgrading to more resilient housing, including financing, design, and low-carbon materials or energy sources.

In what city, town, or region is your solution team headquartered?


In what country is your solution team headquartered?

  • Germany
  • Kenya

What is your solution’s stage of development?

Growth: An organization with an established product, service, or business model that is rolled out in one or more communities

How many people does your solution currently serve?

Our solution currently serves a diverse range of individuals and communities in Kenya across Nairobi and Kisumu.

This includes 9 employed individuals from Nairobi, who work in our TwistBlock factory in Kibera as well as an average of 15 casual workers per day on our current school construction site and their families.

Thanks to the construction of 2 new schools and 1 library using our
innovative TwistBlock technology, we are now serving approximately 1500
school children and teachers in Kibera who previously struggled with poor, hot structures.

We have also built water tank stations out of TwistBlocks in
Kibera, which are being used by a hard-to-estimate number of people

5 local workers are permanently employed in the newest TwistBlock factory located in Ahero, Kisumu, near Lake Victoria.

By today, 11 families are living in new housing units out of TwistBlocks rebuilt after a big fire outbread in Kibera.

It is important to mention that the jobs in the manufactories and on the construction sites also benefit the families of the respective local workers.

Testimonials from Kibera

Teacher from Kibera

Resident of Kibera new housing units

Why are you applying to Solve?

Start Somewhere is currently in the midst of an important transition,
moving from a "proof of concept" phase to a sustainable business model.
Our aim is to achieve sustainable growth to scale up our solution while facilitating access to affordable housing and business opportunities.

This includes the planning and implementation of construction projects, the expansion to South Africa and Uganda, the expansion of production in Kenya, the establishment and management of three business units with administration, finance, human resources, communication, events, lectures and fundraising. For all these activities Start Somewhere needs sufficient and appropriately qualified manpower.

For this transition to be successful, Start Somewhere requires both financial and non-financial support. This requires establishing a solid business
model, optimizing the TwistBlock production process for efficiency,
creating training materials and tutorials, and developing a franchise
system for TwistBlock factories.

Additionally, we need to establish a network of local construction partners, a comprehensive project controlling system, and local marketing and distribution channels for TwistBlocks. Leadership coaching will also be essential for guiding the company through this important transition period.

We are looking for grants to realize our next big step carbon neutral TwistBlocks made out of plant based materials like hemp or rice husks.


In which of the following areas do you most need partners or support?

  • Business Model (e.g. product-market fit, strategy & development)
  • Financial (e.g. accounting practices, pitching to investors)
  • Human Capital (e.g. sourcing talent, board development)
  • Product / Service Distribution (e.g. delivery, logistics, expanding client base)

Who is the Team Lead for your solution?

Oliver von Malm, Architect, Founder and CEO of Start Somewhere

More About Your Solution

What makes your solution innovative?


Our TwistBlock technology is an innovative solution to the problems faced by disadvantaged areas and informal settlements. It is a patented industrial product that does not exist in this manner so far. It tackles the issues of affordability, sustainability, and flexibility in building construction, making it a potential game-changer in the market.

The approach of decentralized small-scale factories is unique and caters to the need for job creation and economic development in these areas. By producing TwistBlocks locally, the project empowers the local communities and helps them take ownership of the process. This can catalyze broader positive impacts, as it could inspire other organizations to adopt similar strategies and promote localized economic growth. The innovative approach also encourages the replication of the project in other areas with similar needs, thus amplifying the positive impacts.

The system's deconstructable design, up to 90% reusability, and minimum material input puts this aproach on a good hight on the circular processing ladder.


It is a completely mortar free plug-in system that requires only 1/6 cement of a massive wall. In the next step we aim to do R&D on a TwistBlock made from agricultural waste material.

The design is also flexible, which allows the construction of walls at virtually any angle and the integration of existing structures, making it a perfect fit for the dynamic and dense nature of informal settlements.

Moreover, the focus on community empowerment and collaborative efforts ensures that the solution is sustainable and has a long-lasting impact. By creating a local construction industry, the project not only meets the immediate housing needs of the community but also provides a source of livelihood, which can help alleviate poverty and create a more sustainable community. Additionally, we aim to establish a rent reinvestment scheme that ensures commitment of the landlord that the community benefits from the project in the long run.

The TwistBlock technology and approach to creating change can impact the market by disrupting the traditional brick-making industry. The system's speed of construction and affordability can make it a preferred choice for construction companies and developers. A TwistBlock wall was being displayed at the BAUMA fair in Munich in the exhibition of PERI GmbH, co-devloper and manufacturer of the TwistBlock Mould. Under the motto "Innovation & Sustainability" a lot of interest at the construction technology was expressed from European countries.

The innovative approach of community empowerment and localized production can also create a new market for small-scale construction, providing opportunities for entrepreneurs and creating a new industry.

In conclusion, the TwistBlock technology and approach of decentralized small-scale factories are innovative and sustainable solutions that cater to the needs of disadvantaged communities. The technology's unique features, combined with the approach of community empowerment, have the potential to catalyze broader positive impacts, change the market, and promote sustainable development.

Our new construction technology and overall approach of creating jobs and a local construction industry won the German Innovation Award in 2021 in the category of 'Excellence in Business to Business / Building Elements. Link

What are your impact goals for the next year and the next five years, and how will you achieve them?

Our impact goals for the next years are ambitious, but achievable with the right approach and commitment. By 2030, assuming we build three factories per year, we aim to create a long-term impact through sustainable, community-oriented construction that will improve the lives of 100,000 people living in impoverished regions like informal settlements.

One of the key ways we will achieve this is through the construction of 4,500 homes as safe living spaces for families in need.

In addition to housing, we will build 165 community projects that will serve as hubs for community activities and provide essential services, such as schools, health clinics, and community centers. These projects will be designed in collaboration with the local community, ensuring they meet their needs and priorities.

Another important aspect of our impact goals is the creation of 3,800 local jobs, which will stimulate the local economy and provide sustainable income opportunities for local residents. We will prioritize the employment of people from the local community, providing them with training and skills development to ensure they are equipped to work in the construction industry.

We aim to create 11 million euros of local income through our construction projects, which will provide a boost to the local economy and create a positive ripple effect throughout the community.

Finally, we will prioritize the use of carbon-friendly materials to reduce the impact of our construction projects on the environment. Our next big step is a carbon-neutral TwistBlock made from Rice Husks or Hempcrete. R&D on this is currently in the fund-seeking phase. By doing so, we aim to save tons of CO2 emissions and create a more sustainable future for everyone.

In conclusion, our impact goals for the next years are ambitious but achievable with the right approach and commitment. By focusing on sustainable, community-oriented construction, we will improve the lives of 100,000 people, build 4,500 houses, create 165 community projects, and stimulate the local economy by creating 3,800 local jobs. We will do all of this while minimizing our impact on the environment, creating a positive impact that will last for generations to come.


Which of the UN Sustainable Development Goals does your solution address?

  • 1. No Poverty
  • 4. Quality Education
  • 8. Decent Work and Economic Growth
  • 9. Industry, Innovation, and Infrastructure
  • 10. Reduced Inequalities
  • 11. Sustainable Cities and Communities
  • 13. Climate Action
  • 17. Partnerships for the Goals

How are you measuring your progress toward your impact goals?

To measure our progress towards our impact goals, we use the UN
Sustainable Development Goals and Indicators as a framework. We have
identified specific goals and indicators that our activities contribute
to, which are shown in a graphic.


What is your theory of change?


Describe the core technology that powers your solution.

TwistBlock technology draws inspiration from the traditional methods of building structures in informal settlements. These methods involve using
whatever space is available and constructing buildings by hand. The
building process is often organic in nature, with builders starting
construction at one point and continuing at a later time when more
resources become available. This flexible and adaptable approach is
integrated into the TwistBlock technology and can be used in combination
with the local construction methods to create innovative and efficient
building solutions.



Our TwistBlock technology is accompanied by a specially developed
planning software that reflects the intuitive way of construction.

We utilize Rhino 3D, which is an advanced computer-aided design and 3D modeling software that comes with a Grasshopper plugin that allows for
visual programming within Rhino. The TwistBlock software can be used as a
plugin with the help of our code.

A significant advantage of this software is that it automatically generates building blocks in 3D, reducing the need for manual block design and increasing construction speed. Moreover, the software allows for the effortless placement of doors and windows, accurate measurements, and automatic stretching of curves to multiples of block lengths. Additionally, the software generates block plans that provide a comprehensive view of the building process and materials required, and it also calculates and visualizes
reinforcement to ensure the structural safety of the building. We currently use this software for planning and designing TwistBlock projects and have created an online tutorial for architects and plannersproficient in Rhino.

Our vision is to create an app that enables our customers to plan their house on-site using our software.


Furthermore we use drone technology for remote examination of block layout by architect. That came out of necessity during COVID when we built our first ever school building in Kibera and the inventor and architect of the system Oliver von Malm could not be on site. It turned out to work very well to compare the plans with the layout of the blocks simply by counting the number of blocks.


Which of the following categories best describes your solution?

A new technology

How do you know that this technology works?




Residents have started to buy the blocks and construct buildings by themselves:


A selection of publicly available evidence:

Facebook Post Habitat for Humanity Visit

PERI press coverage of TwistBlocks exhibition at BAUMAFeature on NTV Kenya Television

Publication in the German standard reference for Masonry "the Mauerwerkkalender", chapter "Innovations in brick construction"

Please select the technologies currently used in your solution:

  • Ancestral Technology & Practices
  • Manufacturing Technology
  • Materials Science
  • Robotics and Drones
  • Software and Mobile Applications

In which countries do you currently operate?

  • Kenya

In which countries will you be operating within the next year?

  • South Africa
  • Uganda
Your Team

What type of organization is your solution team?

Hybrid of for-profit and nonprofit

How many people work on your solution team?

11 full time, 2 part-time, 2 volunteers

How long have you been working on your solution?

7 years

What is your approach to incorporating diversity, equity, and inclusivity into your work?

At Start Somewhere, we believe that diversity, equity, and inclusivity are crucial elements for achieving our goals. We have a team of 16 individuals from Germany, Kenya, and South Africa, with different backgrounds, education levels, and experiences. Seven of our team members are female, with four of them in leadership positions, resulting in a 60% female leadership representation. Over 50% of our team members are residents of the informal settlement of Kibera coming from different tribal backgrounds.
We are proud to have a young single mother from Kibera as the head of our TwistBlock workshop in Kibera, demonstrating our commitment to empowering women and supporting marginalized communities.

We acknowledge that our team members come from diverse educational backgrounds, ranging from unskilled to academic levels. We conduct all business language in English, ensuring that everyone can understand and communicate effectively.

We also use mobile applications for communication, making it easy for everyone to stay connected and collaborate. We hold regular online team meetings where everyone has the opportunity to contribute ideas and raise concerns.

Our team members are encouraged to express themselves freely and are provided with equal opportunities to participate in decision-making processes. Overall, our approach to incorporating diversity, equity, and inclusivity into our work is to foster an environment where everyone is valued, respected, and empowered to contribute to our shared vision.


Link: Start Somewhere Team Kenia and Germany

Link: Milka Achieng, Head of TwistBlock factory

Your Business Model & Funding

What is your business model?

At Start Somewhere, we are focused on providing value to the populations we serve by focusing on our product, the TwistBlock. This innovative building block allows us to quickly and efficiently raise the walls of a new building with unskilled labor from the community, without the need for mortar or other specialized equipment. Our goal is to make affordable housing accessible to people in developing countries, where housing costs can be prohibitively expensive. We also provide specialized efficient planning for larger projects with a software created especially for planning with TwistBlocks.  

Our initial approach involved working as a general contractor in large construction projects, but we found that this model was not successful for us. We realized that our strength lies in our expertise in TwistBlock planning and construction, and we now focus on this while working with local partners for the other parts of building.  

To scale our approach, we are in the process of developing a social franchise model that will allow us to expand our operations while keeping the TwistBlock affordable for the local population.  

More and more interest is shown by large organizations who support the idea of value creation within the community while building larger impact projects with TwistBlocks. The higher demand and increased production capacity decreases production cost which helps us to achieve our goal of making affordable housing accessible to everyone. 

In summary, Start Somewhere's business model is focused on providing value to the populations we serve by using our expertise in TwistBlock construction to make affordable housing accessible in developing  countries. We plan to achieve this through a social franchise model and specialized planning tools while creating job opportunities and value for the local population around the entire production and construction line. 



Do you primarily provide products or services directly to individuals, to other organizations, or to the government?

Organizations (B2B)

What is your plan for becoming financially sustainable?

One of our primary sources of revenue is through TwistBlock building projects, which we undertake for clients from the NGO and GO sector, as well as private organizations. Additionally, we explore the opportunity to secure grants to support our ongoing work, which helps us to develop new products and improve our service delivery. 

We also generate revenue through the sale of TwistBlocks for independent building projects that are not in the responsibility of Start Somewhere. Our TwistBlock building solution is in high demand: The current TwistBlock factory is fully booked until the end of the year, a second one with higher capacities is about ot open in July at the other end of Kibera. Furthermore, we are exploring the potential of social franchising to establish a network of franchisees who can operate TwistBlock factories in different parts of the world. This will help us to expand our operations and create even more positive social and environmental impact. Lastly, we are committed to further developing the TwistBlock construction system towards sustainable materials and roof integration, which will enable us to provide our clients with even more eco-friendly building solutions. 

In summary, we are pursuing a multi-faceted approach towards achieving financial sustainability that includes TwistBlock building projects, grants, TwistBlock sales, social franchising, and research and development. We believe that our commitment to sustainability and social impact will enable us to create a viable and impactful business model that can make a difference in people's lives.



Share some examples of how your plan to achieve financial sustainability has been successful so far.

Start Somwehere has been receiving support from:

  • PERI formwork and scaffolding for Research and development of the TwistBlock technology based on the architectural Master´s thesis of Oliver von Malm, founder of Start Somewhere
  • funding from develoPPP a programme of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) that is aimed at companies that want to invest sustainably in a developing or emerging country and expand their local operations. With the support of developPPP and PERI, Start Somewhere was able to implement the first Pilot Project in Kibera. This included the opening of the first workshop, hiring and training of local residents as well as the construction of the first 2-storey school building in Kibera
  • Financial support from various foundations for the implementation of projects like the new factory in Kibera or the buy of new TwistBlock moulds
  • Assignments from clients like Watamull Children´s Education to build the second school in Kibera. 
  • Partnerships with experienced oranizations like Habitat for Humanity or KDI to implement our approach in Kenya.
  • Start Somewhere was one of the Top 10 startups in Subsaharan Africa for the sector housing to be part the Shelter Tech accelerator of Habitat for Humanity. Through the programme 10k catalytic funding where received as well as consulting and masterclasses from Plug and Play.


Solution Team

  • Mr. Lazarus Asewe Project Manager/PM, Start Somewhere
  • Mr. Odulah Benmike Site Engineer , Start Somewhere
  • Kristina Cress Director, Start Somewhere
  • Claire du Plessis Start Somewhere
  • Silvia Hesse Director, Start Somewhere
  • Ms Brenda Lumumba Treasurer NGO Board SSW Kenya, Start Somewhere Kenya
  • Oliver von Malm Architect, Founder and Director, Start Somewhere
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