Build up Nepal Engineering
What is the name of your solution?
Build Up Nepal
Provide a one-line summary of your solution.
Low-carbon, affordable housing built by micro-enterprises using local materials in South Asia
Film your elevator pitch.
What specific problem are you solving?
Millions of families in South Asia and Nepal suffer from poverty, unsafe housing, and climate change. Build up Nepal is targeting three integrated problems:
CLIMATE CHANGE: the brick industry is booming in South Asia, estimated to grow by 8% annually until 2025. This has created a unique opportunity to create jobs for poor families. But the fired brick industry is a major climate issue, responsible for 37% of CO2 emissions from combustion in Nepal, 17% in Bangladesh and 6% in India. Fired bricks is also a major source of black carbon, causing pollution and melting of the Himalayan glacier which supplies drinking water for 1.5 billion people. Additionally poor working conditions, child labor, and hazardous air pollution is widespread,.
UNSAFE HOUSING: In Nepal 49% of houses do not meet the standards for safe housing. While the urban poor are often housed in slums, traditional houses in rural Nepal are made of mud and stone or bamboo and mud. As a result, the 2015 Nepal earthquake destroyed 866,207 houses and the 2017 floods destroyed 43,400 houses and left 191,700 partially destroyed. Building new houses remains expensive for low-income households due to costly transport for far-away fired bricks, high quantities of cement for fired brick masonry and ever-increasing material prices.
LACK OF ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITY: In Nepal 28.6% of the population lives in poverty, of which 95% reside in rural areas. As evidenced by the size of the out-migrant population and its 24% share of GDP, the lack of economic opportunity is rampant. ILO’s 2017 figures indicate a share of youth not in employment, education, or training at 35%.
The situation is UNSUSTAINABLE and UNACCEPTABLE.
 - Government of Nepal - Population census, 2011: https://unstats.un.org/unsd/demographic/sources/census/wphc/Nepal/Nepal-Census-2011-Vol1.pdf
 - National Reconstruction Authority (NRA) - Data as of 1st of March 2022: http://www.nra.gov.np/en/mapdistrict/datavisualization
 Nepal Planning Commission, 2018. Multidimensional Poverty Index: https://www.npc.gov.np/images/category/Nepal_MPI.pdf
 World Bank, 2020: https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/BX.TRF.PWKR.DT.GD.ZS?locations=NP
What is your solution?
Build up Nepal is on a mission to replace carbon-intensive fired bricks with low-carbon, affordable bricks made by micro-enterprises. During the last five years Build up Nepal has trained 287 micro-enterprises to build 6009 low-carbon houses, creating 2896 jobs and saving 45,000 tCO2. We have developed an innovative micro-enterprise model empowering rural entrepreneurs and families to produce bricks using local materials and build houses at low cost, replacing fired bricks at scale.
Build up Nepal’s micro-enterprise model combines three integrated solutions for low-carbon, affordable housing at scale:
1) Low-cost, eco-friendly technology
Build up Nepal specializes in CSEB Compressed Stabilized Earth Bricks, a recognized climate friendly and disaster resilient technology. CSEB bricks are produced locally by compressing local soil and sand with just 10% cement. Our off-grid machines, developed together with Engineers Without Borders, are uniquely effective in rural areas with poor infrastructure and reduces the cost of a wall by 35-50%. In a low-cost house the walls represent a major share of the overall cost, reducing the total cost of a small house by 20-25%. This makes the dream of a safe house genuinely affordable even for poor and low-income families. Benefits:
- 35-50% lower cost, driving adoption at scale
- Disaster resistant, ensuring safe houses
- Creates local jobs, reducing poverty and forced migration
- 50% lower CO2 emissions, saving 9.5 tons CO2 per house
2) Business model innovation
The core of our innovation is a scalable micro-enterprise model. We systematically recruit driven entrepreneurs to start micro construction enterprises. They invest their own money in the machine (on avg. $3000-5000) and hard work, sweat and tears into their enterprises, securing a strong incentive to build, sustain and grow long-term. They source materials, hire workers, produce bricks, and build houses. We provide them with low-cost machines, training, long-term support, and a bundle of services to ignite each enterprise as a sustainable economic engine.
3) Ecosystem mobilization: We have learnt that innovative technology alone is not enough. We have developed a step-wise process to engage a wider ecosystem. In contrast to conventional housing projects, our process effectively brings together micro-entrepreneurs, masons, community, and local government to lead the construction of new homes using local materials.
Multiplier effect: The results are self-sustaining enterprises building 10-20 houses per year, creating 8-10 jobs, and saving 140-ton CO2 emissions year-on-year without ongoing support.
Who does your solution serve, and in what ways will the solution impact their lives?
Build up Nepal serves poor and low-income rural and semi-urban communities who gain access to safe, affordable homes and improved incomes as entrepreneurs, brick-makers, and masons.
MEET OUR TARGET GROUPS
1) Rural entrepreneurs - Our key target group and customers are rural entrepreneurs – driven returning migrants, youth, and disadvantaged groups. They are looking to improve their income while staying in their village. This is hard due to limited economic activity and lack of jobs. They are not interested in migrating far-away from family or smallholder farming (low earning potential). Searching for business ideas for rural areas they find Build up Nepal and learning about the CSEB technology and researching the market gives them confidence to start.
Key challenges: Introduce CSEB technology in new areas and afford initial investment to get started.
Early adopters: Driven entrepreneurs that see the potential of attractive brick-houses at low cost.
2) Female Entrepreneurs are looking to improve their income and start a business with which they can balance their household responsibilities. Supporting 35 women led enterprises till date, we know that women face additional challenges entering construction, a male dominated industry. However, our experience shows that with additional support they can overcome initial challenges and start successful enterprises, opening the door for more women to enter the sector.
Key challenges: Same barriers as others as well as discrimination and outdated norms. Women need additional support to overcome initial barriers and convince key stakeholders (masons, engineers).
Early adopters: Women that are already active outside the household (as entrepreneurs or working).
3) Poor and low-income families are the primary customers of the entrepreneurs and our “end-customers”. They dream of safe homes and stable jobs. Fired bricks are too expensive due to costly transport and large quantities of cement in construction. Traditional construction methods are less attractive and costly to build disaster resilient.
Key challenges: Rural families live in unsafe, sub-standard dwellings struggling to build safe homes and make a living. Lack of employers and unaffordable materials perpetuates housing-poverty cycle.
Early adopters: Highest adoption till date is among families that are unable to afford other materials. Building a house is the biggest investment a poor family ever makes. It often takes years, or decades, working under poor conditions to save up. The cost reduction of CSEB often means the difference of building a 3-room house instead of 2-rooms for a family of six or the ability to build a house at all…
How are you and your team well-positioned to deliver this solution?
Build up Nepal is on a mission to make safe, low-carbon homes affordable for all. We believe that access to safe, habitable, affordable homes is a fundamental human right and a requirement for long-term, healthy social development.
Our micro-enterprise model has been developed alongside our 288 enterprises and communities supported to date. We have used human centered design to conduct deep community consultations in the design of the model. Communities know their own problems the best. By incorporating their feedback, inputs, aspirations, and dreams we ensure appropriate design while increasing local ownership and long-term impact. We regularly conduct interviews and focus-groups discussions to collect feedback and improvement suggestions to guide our work.
Humanitarian principles underpin our values and day-to-day work and helps us to ensure we meaningfully include, engage, and advance our targets groups. Core values:
- Impact – Social, environmental, and economic impact is why we exist
- Inclusive – Systematically advancing women and disadvantaged groups
- Responsive – Prioritize the needs and feedback of our communities
- Team-work – Working together and supporting each other improves our work
- Honesty – Honesty is core to Build up Nepal. Zero tolerance for corruption.
Build up Nepal – a Strong and Diverse Team
Build up Nepal was founded by social entrepreneurs Björn and Bina in response to the housing-poverty crisis after the devastating 2015 earthquakes in Nepal. Our team of 25 social entrepreneurs, engineers, trainers, masons, and community mobilizers almost all come from rural, and earthquake affected areas and has direct experience of the challenges rural communities face.
Our team consists of a committed executive board, management team, and 25 team members with a commitment and track record of delivering impact and growth at scale. Management team:
Bina Shrestha, Co-founder & Chief Strategist, social entrepreneur with a 6th sense for strategy.
Björn Söderberg, Co-founder & Managing Director, change-maker with 20 years track record starting social businesses in Nepal.
Indra Chaurasiya, Engineer & Manager, engineer with 15 years’ experience.
Aasish Gautam, Engineer & Manager, passionate engineer and problem solver.
Which dimension of the Challenge does your solution most closely address?
Enable mass production of inexpensive and low-carbon housing, including changes to design, materials, and construction methods.
Where our solution team is headquartered or located:Lalitpur, Nepal
Our solution's stage of development:Growth
How many people does your solution currently serve?
46,000 people through 288 enterprises established, 6009 houses built, and 2896 jobs created. (Assuming 5 people are positively impacted per enterprise, house, and job).
Why are you applying to Solve?
Build up Nepal is already growing but several challenges and bottlenecks remain before we can reach mass production. We are applying because we believe your support, network, and expertise at this critical stage would help us scale-up FASTER and with more IMPACT than otherwise possible.
We are specifically looking for support in the following areas:
- Human Capital – we need MIT expertise in material science and engineering to accelerate our R&D efforts to reduce costs and CO2 from our bricks and improve machines. Expertise from MIT in these fields can have a catalytic effect for our development and scale-up.
- Monitoring & Evaluation – initiate ‘gold standard’ independent evaluations of our model and technology to gather in-depth data and feedback to guide improvement and scale-up efforts.
- Financial – introduction to potential new partners that can help scale up the model in Nepal and other countries (NGOs, social enterprises, impact investors, foundations, etc.).
- Advocacy – expertise and support in advocacy for enabling policy on green construction.
In which of the following areas do you most need partners or support?
Human Capital (e.g. sourcing talent, board development, etc.)
Who is the Team Lead for your solution?
Björn Söderberg – Co-founder & MD
What makes your solution innovative?
Our story – From the rubble of the earthquake to scalable low-carbon, affordable housing
Build up Nepal has achieved more than we could ever have imagined when starting out. In the aftermath of the 2015 earthquake, we were committed to developing a cost-effective and truly scalable model. During the initial two years we worked in small scale NGO funded projects building schools and houses. We quickly learnt that the projects were not scalable and could be much more cost effective.
We pivoted and started working directly with local entrepreneurs instead. This made the model highly scalable as they invest their own money, securing a strong incentive to operate and sustain long-term. But the pivot came with its own set of challenges. Rural entrepreneurs do not have much savings or access to finance. We had to rapidly reduce the cost of all our deliveries – machines, training, support, and other services. This has been hard, especially while also ensuring quality and supporting each enterprise to succeed, but the results are worth it.
Seven years after the earthquake we have developed a micro-enterprise model for low-carbon, affordable housing that really works. Essentially, we empower local micro-enterprises to make attractive, high-quality bricks that are both AFFORDABLE (key driver for mass adoption) and ECO-FRIENDLY, igniting a GREEN shift in South Asia’s dirty brick industry. Our 288 enterprises to date have already built 6009 houses, saving 44,794 tCO2. We are now working to replicate the model across South Asia. See Build up Nepal’s enterprises and impact here: www.buildupnepal.com/project-map
Key innovative aspects:
- Scalable: During 2020-2022, despite the challenges of the pandemic, Build up Nepal has scaled-up across 71 of 77 districts in Nepal. 95% of houses are now paid by families themselves and built by local entrepreneurs investing to start their own micro-enterprises.
- Long-term Impact: In contrast to conventional housing projects our micro-enterprises continue to build thousands of homes, and sustain jobs in their communities, long beyond the project’s ‘end date’. Our data show that 75% of enterprises operate beyond two years.
- Effective technology and last-mile delivery: CSEB bricks are stronger, cheaper, and greener. By improving an existing highly suitable technology and developing a last-mile distribution model we are greening and democratizing the dirty South Asian fired brick industry.
What are your impact goals for the next year and the next five years, and how will you achieve them?
Build up Nepal is currently supporting on average 8-12 new entrepreneurs to start each month and our scaling goals are ambitious. We are investing heavily in R&D to improve our machines and model, positioning ourselves for rapid expansion in Nepal and beyond. Having come this far in only a few years’ time gives us confidence that we can achieve our future goals as well. Our aim in the coming year is to support the communities and enterprises hit the hardest by the pandemic to recover and scale up. This will lead to 350 enterprises, 9500 houses, 3150 jobs and 90,250 tCO2 saved.
Build up Nepal 2027 aims:
i) Scale-up across the region, training 750 enterprises to build 50,000 houses, creating 6750 jobs.
ii) Replace 30% of fired bricks in low-cost housing, saving at least 475,000 tCO2.
iii) R&D to increase the CO2 reduction of our CSEB bricks to 75% compared to fired bricks.
iv) This would result in an annual saving of at least 95,000 tCO2, representing a 1.6% decrease in Nepal’s national CO2 emissions from combustion.
Each year millions of South Asian families work their way out of poverty and upgrade their houses. This is fantastic. Current CO2-footprint-per-capita in Nepal is only 0,43 tons. However, building a conventional brick-cement-house generates 10-100 tons of CO2 emissions, highlighting the importance of rapidly switching to greener building materials.
How are you measuring your progress toward your impact goals?
Build up Nepal is working in close contact with the enterprises and communities we support. During 2018-2020 we worked in collaboration with SPRING Accelerator (funded by USaid/DFID/DFAT) to develop a robust M&E system. We systematically track the following KPIs:
# enterprises established and sustained
# bricks produced and CO2 emissions saved
# houses and schools built
# people trained as brick-makers and masons
# jobs created and sustained
Inclusive: % women, youth, returning migrants, and disadvantaged groups as entrepreneurs, brick-makers, masons, and beneficiaries.
Data is collected through phone calls and field visits to the enterprises (at least once per year). The data is uploaded in our internal M&E system and interactive online map visualizing the impact. We also regularly commission independent evaluations to collect additional feedback and verify the impact. See the map here: https://www.buildupnepal.com/project-map/
Build up Nepal targets five SDGs:
SDG 13 and 12 Climate Action and Responsible Production and Consumption through replacing carbon-intensive fired bricks with low-carbon, affordable Compressed Earth Bricks.
SDG 1, 8, 9, 11: No Poverty, Good Jobs, Infrastructure and Sustainable communities: Each enterprise builds on average 10-20 houses per year and creates 8-10 jobs in poor, rural villages.
What is your theory of change?
Build up Nepal Theory of Change:
Evidence – Summary of findings from recent independent evaluations:
2021 Impact Assessment Survey by CERAD and Yunus Social Business:
- Entrepreneur characteristics: 72 entrepreneurs across all 7 provinces in Nepal took part in the study and 37,5% of the surveyed entrepreneurs belong to disadvantaged groups.
- Enterprise status: Entrepreneurs were asked to rate their success on a ten-point scale. The mean rating was 6.70, reflecting that most enterprises are doing well and 83% of respondents expect their business will grow, especially once the crisis situation and pandemic stabilizes.
- Conclusion: Most enterprises reported that they are doing well or quite well in production of bricks and building houses in their localities. CSEB technology is getting more established in Nepal due to benefits such as earthquake resistant, ease of construction and low cost. However, several bottlenecks were also found: i) Need for local government endorsement, ii) Lack of trained masons, iii) Mass marketing, iv) Business trainings. If resolved this would help scale-up CSEB and increase enterprises’ sustainability.
End Line Survey NABIN Project (2018-2021) by So Tech Engineering:
With the financial support from Nordic Climate Facility a consortium of Dan Church Aid, Practical Action Nepal and Build Up Nepal implemented the project “New and Affordable Building Materials Promoting Sustainability” in 19 districts of Nepal. By the end of the project a total 96 enterprises were established of which 75 % were in good or moderate operational condition. Under the project, a total of 1,443 houses were constructed by using 3,608,600 units of CSEB.
- Out of total sample enterprises, 32% was led by female and 68% by male entrepreneurs.
- The project provided training to 635 masons and 86% reported that they found CSEB a cost-effective technology.
- The project created employment to 384 persons directly of which 26% were women. The average monthly income was NPR 17,546 ($145), 50% higher than the monthly per capita GDP of $96.
- The project has contributed to a reduction of 9,957 tCO2 through the production of 3,608,600 CSEB used in the construction of 1,443 houses.
- CSEB technology is well aligned with major National policy and plans of Nepal and regarded as appropriate construction technology in terms of cost, design, and strength.
In DFID Nepal’s annual review 2018 Build up Nepal’s project with Practical Action “Strengthening reconstruction supply-chain” secured A+ rating:
“The new enterprises were able to use locally sourced materials, create opportunities for skills development and income generation, and reduce the dependency on conventional building materials like cement and fire bricks. Adoption of new technology in rural areas is always a challenge and despite these challenges, more than 600 CSEB homes were built...”
“… we can safely conclude that the project has been very successful in supplying low-cost construction materials to the neediest and most affected, in building skills and capacities of entrepreneurs and employees, and in developing market systems and private sector enterprises”. (Conclusion, page 33)
See the summary of each independent evaluation here: https://www.buildupnepal.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/02/2021-awards-independent-evaluations-merged.pdf
Interviews with target population:
Interviews with male and youth entrepreneurs: youtu.be/mgj8xUM46Fc , youtu.be/as9q_M1b28E , youtube.com/playlist?list=PL07e5d9Zu-N2K9atJxTtmeDUlnZLna2mn
Interviews with families that have built their homes with CSEB: youtu.be/JQ_3qhD7zWM , youtu.be/unzpefrwf7U , youtu.be/qXRtvTW9ijs , youtube.com/playlist?list=PL07e5d9Zu-N1G-b6bKXQZHZ6g_gYt0Nac
Describe the core technology that powers your solution.
CSEB – Disaster resilient, climate-friendly technology
Earthen construction is an ancient, natural technology. CSEB Compressed Stabilized Earth Bricks is essentially an improved version, compressing a mix of sand and soil (or stone-dust) with 10% cement in a machine. After compression, the bricks are stacked and cured (watered) for 21 days, the cement sets and bonds with the sand stabilizing the brick. No fuel or burning is required and half the cement-mortar in construction means 50% less CO2 emissions than fired bricks. Nepal approved the CSEB technology in 2017. It is also approved in India, Thailand, Malaysia, New Mexico, New Zealand among other countries. Disaster resilience: When building with CSEB the bricks interlock just like LEGO. Vertical rebar is anchored in the foundation and placed evenly throughout the walls, connected with horizontal seismic bands interconnecting the house, making it highly earthquake resistant. In flood prone areas the foundation is also raised to avoid the effects of monsoon flooding, intensified by climate change.
Innovative manual machines: In other countries large scale CSEB factories are common but due to the challenging topography and poor infrastructure in Nepal this is not feasible. In the last 5 years we have worked together with Engineers Without Borders to develop effective, off-grid machines. Our manual machines are now nearly as effective as large-scale machines. This enables production of low-carbon, affordable CSEB bricks using local materials ideally suited to rural areas.
Social media: Roughly 13 million (45%) of Nepal’s population use social media. Build up Nepal has leveraged social media as an effective platform to reach our targets groups. Through engaging awareness raising and marketing campaigns we reach entrepreneurs, stakeholders, and end-customers looking to build houses. To date we have created a following of more than 600,000 people on our social media pages (https://www.facebook.com/BuildupNepalE).
Mobile app: In response to the pandemic, we developed a mobile app that makes it easy for entrepreneurs and stakeholders to access videos, checklists, and training and marketing materials. It also features a cost calculator which quickly estimates the cost of your house as well as M&E functions for Build up Nepal staff, directly uploading data from the field to our online M&E database.
Which of the following categories best describes your solution?
A new business model or process that relies on technology to be successful
Please select the technologies currently used in your solution:
Which of the UN Sustainable Development Goals does your solution address?
What type of organization is your solution team?
Hybrid of for-profit and nonprofit
How many people work on your solution team?
25 full time, 5 consultants/contractors, 5 volunteers
How long have you been working on your solution?
What is your approach to incorporating diversity, equity, and inclusivity into your work?
Diversity in Build up Nepal leadership and team
We believe that diversity, inclusion, and equity is important not only because it is the “right thing to do” but also because it makes our work easier and more efficient. Nepal is a diverse country, where hundreds of ethnic groups and cultures co-exist. To be sustainable and grow long-term we need to be in tune with our stakeholders and society at large.
Our leadership and team reflect the diversity of Nepal. This is particularly important and ensures different points of views, life experiences and ideas in strategic decision making. Most regions and large ethnic groups are represented in our team, such as Brahmin, Chettri, Janjaati, Madhesi Tharu, Dalit. The team has direct experience of the earthquake and challenges faced in poor, rural areas. Some team members have attended university (managers, engineers, etc.), however, most have been recruited from the communities where we operate where they learnt their skills hands-on.
We work in a wide variety of regions and communities. What might be a suitable solution in a poor community made up of different ethnic groups might not be suitable when we are working in a marginalized Dalit community or in an urban community. If this diversity is not reflected in our team, it would be too easy to make poor decisions in both small and large.
Code of conduct and policies
Build up Nepal has a comprehensive code of conduct and policies for anti-discrimination and equal opportunities, training and development in place, which guides how we incorporate and advance diversity, equity and inclusivity. As part of our recruitment process, we provide training for new staff. We also encourage ongoing feedback from employees. However, we also recognize that a policy is only as good as it is implemented. Therefore, we focus our attention on HANDS-ON implementation and fostering an organizational culture that values and nurtures diversity, inclusion, and equity:
- Recruiting and empowering a diverse team and leadership
- Recruiting and empowering diverse entrepreneurs – offering additional support for youth, women, and disadvantaged groups
- Inclusive trainings – systematically engaging and advancing ALL GROUPS
- Continuously encourage feedback from employees, entrepreneurs, and target groups
- Encourage and train entrepreneurs on importance and advantages of hiring women and disadvantaged groups in the enterprises
Inclusive brick and construction sector
We focus particularly on including women and disadvantaged groups in trainings - which are always held in the village itself enabling all groups to easily participate. We also pay a small incentive for women to attend trainings, encouraging the entrepreneurs to include women. This means that when male workers suddenly migrate (common problem) the entrepreneurs will have access to already trained women. Build up Nepal’s experience shows it is possible to overcome barriers and engage women and disadvantaged groups in construction. Working with more than 100 women and disadvantaged led enterprises till date has shown us that they can start successful enterprises.
What is your business model?
ENTREPRENEURS – 54% of total revenue
The core of our business model is to sell machines and training to local entrepreneurs (avg. investment $3000-5000 USD per entrepreneur). We are supporting on average 8-12 new enterprises to get started each month.
CONSTRUCTION CONTRACTS – 26% of revenue
Build up Nepal takes construction contracts to build houses, schools and other public buildings in rural areas which is combined with training for contractors, masons, and engineers, boosting the visibility of the technology and the long-term prospects of the enterprises.
PROJECT CONTRACTS – 20% of revenue
We also partner with NGOs and international funders to implement high-impact and SDG projects creating enterprises, jobs and building climate-friendly houses.
Do you primarily provide products or services directly to individuals, to other organizations, or to the government?Individual consumers or stakeholders (B2C)
What is your plan for becoming financially sustainable?
In 2018, 40% of Build up Nepal’s revenue came from entrepreneurs and construction contracts and 60% from grant funded projects. In 2021 we reached 80/20. In the next five years we aim to increase to 90% revenue from entrepreneurs and construction contracts, through improving the model, scaling to new areas and increasing machine and construction sales. We look for and leverage impact investments and grant funding to expand and build a robust market-system and support poor families, women, and disadvantaged groups to start enterprises and build safe homes.
Robust market system: It is not enough that CSEB is cheaper and stronger than fired bricks. It must also be easy to access and build with. Stakeholders need to be aware of the material, families’ need access to trained masons and government engineers that can approve drawings and ensure quality. We have found that once the first few CSEB houses are built in a new area and bottlenecks are resolved, then the enterprises can continue building on their own. This is the case in earthquake areas, where we have successfully built a robust market-system, enabling enterprises to scale up without outside support.
“Each successful enterprise results in 2-3 new enterprises starting within the next year. A failed one has the opposite effect, highlighting the need for a robust market system…”
Sustainability: Once a robust market system is established in an area, stakeholders engaged and demand stimulated, the $3000-5000 investment by the entrepreneurs is enough to cover our costs and the model becomes fully financially self-sustaining.
International Scaling Strategy: We realize that the only way to reach mass scale is to enable others to replicate our model. Our international scaling strategy is to find, train, and transfer our knowledge to reliable partners with strong local presence in other countries. Then we plan to ship our machines to them and provide ongoing support while they market and sell the machines, provide training and support to local entrepreneurs. We believe access to MIT’s network could be catalytic for us in expanding our network and presence internationally.