When the Earthquake of 2015 shook the entire nation of Nepal, it majorly affected the lives of people living in poor economic conditions. In adversity as such, the only way to rebuild the nation at despair was by empowering the marginalized communities residing in the rural villages.
Build-up Nepal is an organization dedicated to rebuilding villages of Nepal, by empowering locals to produce compressed stabilized Earth bricks (CSEB), an earthquake resistant, interlocking brick technology.
In conversation with Björn Söderberg, co-founder of Build-up Nepal Engineering Pvt. Ltd.
1. What social problem are you trying to solve, and how is Build-up Nepal enabling that solution?
There has been a huge need for reconstruction post-earthquake where people are still living in temporary shelters. As building a house is very expensive, our technology has been helping to build cost-effective, earthquake resistant houses.
Build up Nepal has been introducing efficient construction through interlocking brick technology and efficient method of stone cutting. Interlocking brick technology or compressed stabilized earth bricks are made up of soil, sand, and cement that are then compressed in a machine. The bricks are hollow and can be stacked pretty easily. The structure made through these bricks is solid and earthquake resistant. It’s 25% less costly to build houses of high quality in rural areas using out the technology.
Build-up Nepal is working to transfer interlocking brick technology to build earthquake resilient houses through the involvement of local communities and entrepreneurs. We are empowering communities to manufacture interlocking bricks by providing them with training, business support, and introducing them to quality assurance methods.
This way, we are not only helping to build a cost-efficient house but in fact helping local entrepreneurs to build their own business.
2. Tell me about your journey of starting your venture. When did it start?
My wife and I were engaged in relief work in Sindhupalchowk and Dhading by building temporary shelters. However, we were not making any significant long-term impact. We thought that the only effective way to rebuild was by empowering the local people.
It was a lot of hassle bringing building materials from city to village. So, we needed a way to build houses from materials available in the village itself. With CSEB technology, it was pretty easy since the materials required to build those bricks were available in villages. Our goal was to empower the villagers so with adequate knowledge and training, they began to build CSEB bricks and build houses in their own villages instead of relying on outside support.
We registered Build up Nepal Engineering Ltd. as a foreign investment company which has its parent company based in Sweden.
Our goal from the very beginning was to find local entrepreneurs, introduce them and train them in this technology. As of now, we have supported more than 200 small businesses and 3 hydraulic plants who are now manufacturing bricks and building houses.
3. What were the challenges that you faced and how did you overcome them?
One of the major challenges was figuring out the right technology to build low-cost houses. We were making bamboo houses initially but realized later that the villagers actually wanted a brick house.
Another major challenge was getting government approval for this technology. While construction is fundamentally complicated, it’s even more complicated in rural villages. Since the technology is fairly new, if something goes wrong in one house out of hundreds then our organization gets blamed and boycotted by the public.
Our goal is to build safe, earthquake resistant houses. So our main challenge was to maintain the quality that we have assured. To ensure that each and every house that we build stands the next earthquake. To ensure that the training that we are providing to different locals is followed diligently and fairly over the years, and there is not a single contractor cheating in his/her job.
We do have engineers for quality inspection, we have also trained government assigned engineers for inspection, and focused intensely on the training of masons and local entrepreneurs who will ultimately build the houses. Our 125 trained entrepreneurs have built about 2500-3000 houses in more than 150 villages across 30 districts. So, ensuring all the houses are safe is a major challenge.
4. Who are your target customers?
We have two different types of clients. First, there are local masons or local entrepreneurs who have been working in construction for many years and want to start their construction business. The second type includes local communities and the third type includes NGOs and INGOs who are involved in reconstruction.
As entrepreneurs can get things done, and NGOs can help mobilize the community, we encourage these segments to work together, as all of them contribute significantly to the greater whole.
5. How many clients have you served till now?
We have served more than 175 entrepreneurs, 35 communities, 19 NGOs and 6 INGOS and few foundations till now.
6. What is your business model for self-sufficiency or profit making?
For us, profit is the means to an end. We ensure that every single project we do runs on positive returns and that these returns get injected back into the business. So, we’re trying to expand to as many locations as possible. The best way for us is to be in as many places as possible to build as many houses.
7. What is the market potential and scalability for such business in Nepal?
The market potential for construction in Nepal is huge! We have been running in 150 villages for now and are planning to expand in 500 villages within the next two years with 25,000 more houses. This plan only contributes to 1% of total brick industry in Nepal.
We are also focusing on stone cutting technology for expansion in high mountainous regions where it is not possible to find materials like cement and has very poor road access. We have introduced this technology in up to 40 villages of Nepal. Nonetheless, the possibilities are huge!
8. How many staff are there currently working with you?
We have 40 staffs who work as our trainers, 15 engineers, masons, and business developers who teach our entrepreneurs how to sell bricks, and build their business
9. For a company like yours, what has been the investment till date and what were the different sources of investment?
Most of the initial investments were done by the parent Swedish Company. You have to invest around $5000 to start a foreign based company in Nepal. However, what I believe is that you do not start a business with investment, but with clients who help you generate revenue.
10. What do you think is your current need as a company?
Finding the right person who will fit is very essential! We are looking for managers and engineers with people skills, who can inspire other people to work. Our current need as a company is to find capable people to work for us in various departments such as technology, marketing, finance, and construction.
11. How do you measure the impact of your business?
Our impact assessment is fairly simple. We measure how many villages and communities we have supported i.e. over 150 with interlocking bricks and over 100 with stone cutting technology.
We also measure how many houses are built by people we have trained which is between 2500-3000 till now. We have also built 25 schools and other community buildings. We have also created an earnest number of jobs as we helped interested people become entrepreneurs who in turn created jobs for others. In this way, we have created an impact through our entrepreneurs and their success is our success.
12. Do you consider yourself as a social entrepreneur?
Absolutely! Because my vision through Buildup Nepal has been to create businesses, that has a positive impact in society. For us, safe, quality houses are far more important than profit.
13. Is there anything more that you want to share?
It is amazing to witness the shift of trend in Nepal. There are young people, young masons, even females in rural villages who are taking matters into their hands and starting their enterprises instead of going abroad to work. This is really inspiring and amazing to witness and we are glad that we’re working to empower them to build their business.
Interested to know more about this company? Check out their website Build Up Nepal or mail them directly at email@example.com.
Interviewed by Shambhavi Singh