Resilience Academy and Building Pioneers – From knowledge to action

Making new scientific findings and issuing policy recommendations – these are the goals of the Resilience Academies. Now we want to demonstrate that knowledge and action go together in practice as well, and are supporting an innovative construction project in Bangladesh.

Political, scientific and business players use the academies to research the standard of living in Bangladesh, and to generate ideas for improvement. Building Pioneers is a charitable organisation that supports the development of compressed, stabilised earth blocks, or CSEBs. CSEBs can make buildings significantly more stable. In addition, the houses are inexpensive, environmentally friendly and, most of all, safer in cases of natural catastrophes than most typical housing in poorer countries. The organisation's founder, Ava Mulla, attends the Resilience Academies and gets valuable input there. She is also setting up a valuable network of contacts for her project in Bangladesh. Both aspects are contributing to her success. Building Pioneers is applying a dual approach in helping the technology to achieve a breakthrough: top-down and bottom-up.

Top-down approach in the land of chimneys
Bangladesh does not have many resources from a geological perspective. This also includes stone and rock strata that could be used for infrastructure or housing. Hence, for generations thousands of brickyards across the country have been baking bricks to build streets, houses and walls. The consequences have been dramatic: the process requires huge amounts of fuel, mostly in the form of charcoal. This places a burden on forests, as well as emitting immense amounts of carbon dioxide. Building Pioneers does not intend to compete with the established brickyards – on the contrary: they want to discuss with ministries, associations and factory owners, and convince them of the advantages of the environment-friendlier CSEB technology. Factories can be converted and valuable jobs saved. One thing is certain: the concept can only become a large-scale success if the political intent is there.


The manual brick press is finished. Ten workers can manufacture up to 2000 bricks per day.

Getting local people involved using bottom-up ideas
CSEB technology boasts another significant advantage, in addition to the positive ecological balance sheet: people living in small communities in peripheral regions can become proactive. In a pilot project, Building Pioneers is setting up a manual production unit for CSEBs, and intends to train the villagers together with a local NGO. People will be trained to evaluate the raw materials themselves and manufacture the bricks on their own. Indeed, not every type of earth is equally suited to manufacturing bricks. As a result of the local project, people will be able to rebuild their houses themselves, and become less dependent on outside aid. It will also give them another avenue to earn their living. Surplus CSEBs can be sold on the market, creating income. This coincides with the aims of the Resilience Academy which has been dealing with livelihoods in Bangladesh for years now.

Better safety using interlocking technology
Thanks to the flexible pressing process, CSEBs can be produced in various sizes and shapes. They interlock similarly to Lego bricks, making them very resilient against earthquakes and landslides. This means that regional authorities themselves can act to increase resilience. Roughly ten people are needed to operate one small, hand-driven machine, and can produce up to 2000 earth blocks – in a single day! To build a common house in rural Bangladesh about 3000 blocks are needed.


A worker stacks the blocks produced using CSEB technology.

Film increases awareness
Project managers have been very carefully documenting both measures (top-down and bottom-up). The aim is to produce a training video than can be shown at universities, for example to engineering students. The organisation will therefore be able to reach the architects and infrastructure planners of tomorrow, and quickly escalate their successes. Thanks to the the Resilience Academy, Building Pioneers was able to reach various important stakeholder groups, including the Independent University of Bangladesh and the United Nations Development Program (UNDP).

New uses for old technology
"Pressing bricks instead of baking them is not a new idea", admits Ava Mulla, and yet: "sometimes there needs to be some outside stimulus to overcome old stuff and create innovative, new opportunities with today's technology. We hope that we can create some incentive for Bangladesh." Ava Mulla is modest. Her project has enormous potential and has already gained much attention: the pioneering young builders won a Google Impact Challenge for social start-ups in 2016. Munich Re Foundation is proud to be working on and funding this project.

CB, 22 August 2016

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