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Rethinking How we Build to Save Lives and Protect our Environment

(Above: Entrepreneur, Saraswoti Bk, running her micro-enterprise (credit: Build up Nepal))

Build up Nepal started with a dream of a safe, brick house. In 2015, a massive earthquake hit Nepal. In less than a minute, hundreds of thousands of homes were destroyed. More than 8,000 people lost their lives. Our co-founders, Björn Söderberg and Bina Shresta, traveled around the country to help marginalised families rebuild. Söderberg recalls, “It was just heartbreaking. We met three women who were living in deep poverty. They had no income, they had lost their home and the monsoon was coming. Theirs was the first house we built. Working with them, we understood that many poor families in Nepal dream of living in safe, brick houses, but cannot afford it.”

(Co-founder, Bina Shrestha, visits homes destroyed in the 2015 earthquake (Credit: Build up Nepal)

As Shresta explains, “We wanted to find a long-term solution and housing was the problem. We found this interlocking brick solution that was used in building disaster-resilient houses. It didn’t require any kind of infrastructure, it was eco-friendly, and it could be done with local supplies.” 

Nepal is one of the world’s most disaster-prone countries. There is an urgent need for safe homes, which are traditionally equated with fired bricks. Yet the fired brick industry is a big polluter, emitting significant CO2 emissions and is linked to poor working conditions.

The UN Environment Programme recently wrote, “The climate crisis is making the monsoon season in Nepal more dangerous, with increasing landslides and flooding,” and that, "Air pollution is a major global health crisis and causes one in nine deaths worldwide." We know the fired brick industry is compounding these problems, and we have a better alternative. 

Build up Nepal is on a mission to make bricks eco-friendly and safe houses affordable for marginalised communities. Our ECO2Bricks are made by mixing industrial waste and ashes with a small amount of cement and compressing it in a machine. The bricks interlock and are earthquake-resistant. 

The recent, devastating earthquake in Morocco and flooding in Libya, serve as tragic reminders of the urgent need to build disaster-resilient homes for everyone. As The United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction recently stated, “Disasters are anything but impartial: 90% of climate-related deaths occur in poorer countries.”

(Homes under construction using Build up Nepal’s technology (Credit: Build up Nepal))

Our technology is greener, cheaper, safer, and scalable. It reduces the cost of a two-bedroom house by 25%, making safe shelter more affordable. It is also better for the environment, cutting CO2 emissions by at least 75%. Our last-mile delivery model brings the technology to scale – we find local entrepreneurs, who invest in a machine and start an enterprise with a modest investment. Build up Nepal provides step-by-step support to help them succeed. We provide quality control, business training and marketing materials. The result is financially sustainable enterprises, building safe houses and creating local jobs. More jobs also means fewer men and women are forced to migrate in search of work and be separated from their families for years at a time. 

What’s unique about our model is that 95% of houses are paid for by marginalised families themselves, and are built locally. We have supported over 300 entrepreneurs to build more than 8,600 homes and public buildings, created 3,400 jobs and saved 86,000 tons of CO2 emissions so far. 

The construction sector is still male-dominated, so our female entrepreneurs, like Saraswoti Bk (pictured above), are leaders in their communities, "I have built 30 houses. Demand is growing in this area. Many women ask how to become an independent earner like me," said Bk. For others, like Dillishwor Bohora, the impacts have been wide-reaching, “This is a better alternative to fired bricks. It benefits me but also the community because it's disaster-resistant and more affordable, even for lower-income families.”

(Entrepreneur, Dillishwor Bohora, at his workshop (Credit: Yozan Chitrakar))

In September, we were honoured to become a 2023 MIT Solver team for our ECO2Brick solution, one of the “cutting-edge, technology-based solutions that help communities create low-carbon housing for all and adapt to more extreme weather.” Now, we have our sights set on greater impact – by 2030, we aim to build 100,000 houses, replace 10% of fired bricks, and reduce Nepal's CO2 emissions by 2%. We also plan to develop carbon-neutral bricks by 2025 and scale our model across South Asia, particularly in disaster-prone countries.

(A happy customer outside her home (Credit: Build up Nepal))

The fired brick industry is pervasive – phasing it out requires intensive engagement at the community and policy levels. Our climate emergency demands urgent action. The good news is, we know how to slash carbon emissions as we continue to provide safe shelter for marginalised communities. We know how to save lives when disaster strikes again, which it will. The time to act is now

Learn how to support community-changing innovations like Build Up Nepal by connecting with Solve. You can also connect with the team on LinkedIn or by visiting its website.


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