Workstations

Humanitarian Outreach + Design Technology = Saved Lives

20 Apr, 2017 By: Nancy Spurling Johnson

In Nepal and around the globe, Build Change is teaching locals how to recover from natural disaster — and how to survive the next one.


Design technologies inarguably make lives better by powering development of life-changing products, efficient transportation, and comfortable spaces to live and work. Those same software and hardware tools help to save lives as well.

A program sponsored by workstation developer Lenovo, dubbed ThinkRevolution, is shining a spotlight on innovative organizations that are tapping technology to make the world a better place, from mapping the world's coral reefs to help combat climate change, to designing medical devices that are saving underprivileged newborns, to helping communities recover from ravaging natural disasters.

In the latter case, the organization is Build Change. Founded in 2004, the nonprofit social enterprise works "to greatly reduce deaths, injuries, and economic losses caused by housing and school collapses due to earthquakes and typhoons in emerging nations" and to change how the world approaches the post-disaster rebuilding process. The group reports that it has touched more than 250,000 lives by working with locals to rebuild damaged structures — and, importantly, how to save time and money and avoid injury by retrofitting them — to better withstand future disasters.

Build Change works with local agencies in a top-down approach, such as rewriting building codes, as well as through a bottom-up approach to educate homeowners and create demand for safely rebuilt homes. Kyla Gallagher, a marketing and development associate at Build Change, told Cadalyst, "The homeowners we work with often do not have access to professional designers and engineers, and many times build their homes themselves without training on how to build safely."

 

This stock image shows one example of the widespread damage suffered by Nepalese villagers in the 2015 earthquake. (Source: iStock/weaver1234)
This stock image shows one example of the widespread damage suffered by Nepalese villagers in the 2015 earthquake. (Source: iStock/weaver1234)

 

Rebuilding Nepal

Ten days after the 2015 earthquake in Nepal that killed nearly 9,000 people and damaged more than 750,000 buildings, Build Change deployed three engineers to survey affected areas, determine why some houses and schools collapsed and others did not, and develop safe construction guidelines to support the estimated 440,000 homeowners expected to rebuild without cement.

The government of Nepal, which subsidizes reconstruction, mandated that housing reconstruction be driven by homeowners, so Build Change developed a strategy to enable public and private organizations to facilitate safe construction and implement safe reconstruction at scale. Build Change has been training local engineers and builders as well as government officials about disaster-resistant building techniques and how to implement them. Gallagher said, "We work within the context of existing, culturally appropriate tools, techniques, and materials, incorporating professional engineering oversight and small, cost-competitive improvements to what's already there."

 

Build Change respects the experience and skills of local builders while increasing their knowledge of disaster-resistant construction techniques. (Source: Build Change)
Build Change respects the experience and skills of local builders while increasing their knowledge of disaster-resistant construction techniques. (Source: Build Change)

 

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