Could mobile app iBUILD be the solution Kenya needs to solve its housing issues?
Kenya’s problems with real estate are well known: with a supply shortage of over two million houses and over 90% of the construction workforce not formally registered with the government, development is often erratic and informal. In the spring of 2015 a tech-enabled solution was set up by affordable housing and urban renewal organization Builders of Hope (BOH), with an aim of allowing people to build for themselves and to help the workforce find job opportunities.
iBUILD is a mobile application that aims to deliver housing support services and connect laborers to employers who are building their own homes. With the help of the app, Kenyan fundis, or informal construction workers, can get better access to regular work and improve their skills with on-site experiences.
“[The main] focus is on expanding access to housing at the lower demographics and increasing employment opportunities for those at the bottom of the pyramid,” director of programs and international development at US-based Builders of Hope Jonathan Godbout tells progrss.
Godbout’s journey with BOH started when he was running a pro-bono volunteer program at IBM that seeks to help non-profit organizations that aim for change. He says that the program formed a team to help BOH with the app designs and flow, which permitted the organization to be accepted in the Mastercard Labs incubator in Nairobi. It was then that Godbout decided to join the team and refine the idea of the app to an implementable one.
“The idea is to allow a 14-year-old boy or girl that comes to construction site to be able to document their experience and eventually work themselves up to be a master in a trade, a supervisor, or even own their own business eventually… We have been keenly interested in improving transparency for lending institutions,” he adds.
The app came together after the team started to evaluate the value chain for housing in Africa and document the bottlenecks faced by stakeholders such as contractors, labor force, architects, regulators, lenders and customers. The BOH team sat down with the various groups for in-depth interviews to create a profound understanding of the challenges they face and define how the app can help.
The organization is operating in Kenya with the help of Ronald Omyonga, a Kenyan architect with over 20 years experience in informal settlements working with organizations such as Habitat for Humanity and UN Habitat in Kenya and across the globe.
“From here [the interview phases], we moved toward a phased development and minimal viable product that we knew we wanted to develop. Key to us was integrating mobile payments and ratings as an incentive to all users to insure iBUILD is continued to be used,” Godbout said.
Godbout explained that banks don’t usually provide loans for construction projects “because they either don’t know if it will be completed or if the home will outlast the length of the loan.”
The app’s documentation for the work conducted and progress achieved in the project will provide and evidence to the banks, which should facilitate the financing process.
“The application is meant to document progress and provide quality checks for the customer and lender against the contractor and workers,” Godbout says.
The app has started the testing phase and is aiming for a wider customer scope by the first quarter of 2017.
The goal is to reach over 2,500 users in the pilot and over 20 million within a couple of years, Godbout highlights. Builders of Hope are planning to expand globally within 5 years, targeting East Africa, West Africa, India, SE Asia, and Latin America. The organization is in the process of on-boarding lending institutions that will offer lending products through iBUILD to help families build.