Client Profile

Engineering2Empower (E2E) seeks to overcome the challenges of establishing safe and affordable permanent housing in the developing world. Limited financial resources, the absence of codes and standards, and poor quality control currently govern these housing sectors. E2E’s current focus is on Haiti, where more than three years after the devastating 2010 earthquake, the majority of displaced families are still in transitional shelters, looking for permanent housing they can call “home”. Forced evictions have disbanded many of the camp settlements, leaving most to vie on their own for housing.

E2E has formulated an innovative approach to navigate the aforementioned constraints, and ultimately support self-financed recovery in the residential housing sector. The E2E model fundamentally shifts the structural system used in residential construction from the established masonry system toward a frame and panel system. Through this approach, the limited resources available to Haitian families are engineered into a U.S. code compliant concrete frame (“skeleton” of structure), while lightweight concrete panels are then introduced to simply enclose and partition the home (“skin” of the structure). The level of safety against earthquakes and hurricanes is drastically increased, but the cost, materials, and skill sets required remain exactly the same as the current model.

Through other innovations, such as customizable payment plans, prefabricated components, and standardized designs, E2E is additionally able to deliver the model through locally operated businesses. Unlike other developing world housing solutions, E2E is able to supply safe, affordable homes in a culturally appropriate and financially sustainable way, solely dependent on existing skill sets and locally available materials.

See all Development Advisory Team projects with Engineering2Empower

Definition of Problem

A cornerstone of E2E’s approach is leveraging personal savings for financing the purchase of a home. An effective way to do this in other parts of the world, and for other purposes, is through savings groups. These savings groups not only leverage personal savings, but also combined group savings, to provide individuals with the capital they need to make important, impactful purchases. However, there are many intricacies to the operation and structure of these groups. Who collects, manages, and bears liability for the funds are all key questions, along with determining the order by which members of the groups receive the aggregated funds. The success of E2E is dependent on making these savings groups function effectively and efficiently, and ultimately making them a trustworthy institution to the community.

Initial Steps and Options

Given the importance of the organizational structure of the savings groups, E2E has a few vital questions that could be explored:

  1. How are participants for a savings group chosen, and what is the method by which they are grouped together?
  2. Once in a savings group, who manages the group? How is that person(s) chosen? Does it have to be a member of the group, or can/should it be an outside party (e.g., an E2E employee)?
  3. How does money actually flow through the group? Who collects it? How often is it collected? Who/where is the money stored before it is disbursed? Who disburses the money?
  4. How is the money disbursed back to the individual group members? Does it have to be, or can it flow right to E2E? How is the order of recipients chosen within the group?
  5. What are the repercussions or incentive structures used to ensure that participants contribute regularly and on time?
  6. Are there examples in other countries of successful housing policies that support just these models for individual savings initiatives?

An interesting approach to this project might be to survey the answers to the questions throughout other organizations and locations, and then work to propose a small-scale pilot program that E2E can test. This pilot would include a small number of savings groups/participants, with the goal of savings towards an item that could be purchased within a few months (with a year being the maximum). The selection of this item would also be an important aspect of the pilot (as E2E would not want to pilot an entire home because of the duration it would take to finish).