• 09.13.10

Five Innovators Heading to CGI: An NGO Cementing Change

Next week is the Sixth Annual Meeting of the Clinton Global Initiative, the world’s leading matchmaking event for social innovators and investors. CGI meeting objective: Bring together prospective partners to solve the world’s biggest problems. This week, I’ll feature one innovator each day. Here’s the first.

Elizabeth Hausler

Build Change, founded by innovator Elizabeth Hausler, designs earthquake-resistant houses in developing countries and trains builders, homeowners, engineers, and government officials to build them. As Build Change states, “Earthquakes don’t kill people … poorly built buildings do.”


In my view, Build Change is one of the extraordinary “new school” NGOs that I wrote about last week in More Business, Less Charity. Traditional nonprofits raise money, bring staff from the U.S. into communities in developing countries, and deliver services on an ongoing basis, year after year, as long as they can raise sufficient funds. What I call “new school” has a different approach: training businesses and people in local communities to provide ongoing, sustainable services for themselves, and then moving on to new communities. In a private interview with Elizabeth Hausler, she explained that “we have a dual purpose: to help communities build safer homes, and to help local businesses to become profitable, sustainable enterprises that supply building materials and construct homes.”

The 2007 and 2009 earthquakes in West Sumatra in Indonesia illustrate Build Change’s impact and “new school” approach. According to Hausler, Build Change trained builders and homeowners to rebuild their homes after the devastation of the 2007 earthquake. When Hausler returned after the 2009 earthquake, she saw two things: the homes that were built with Build Change’s techniques in 2008 were still standing; and the local builders that were rebuilding fallen homes had retained the knowledge to build new earthquake-resistant homes. Build Change had a transformative and sustainable impact and was no longer needed. Mission accomplished.

What does Hausler hope to achieve at CGI? Hausler is

  • Looking for corporate partners and financial support to help bring Build Change to greater scale. There are branding opportunities for companies that invest in Build Change, as well as the potential to grow their markets for building supplies and construction.
  • Seeking to influence policy at this critical juncture in planning for the future of Haiti. Hausler’s concern is that homeowners be directly involved in rebuilding their homes, so that they make the decisions regarding lifestyle, budget, architecture, plot size, size of the family, and use of the home to potentially earn a living. In Hausler’s experience, by involving families, you reduce costs and ensure sustainability.

How did Hausler’s get started on her journey? In high school, she learned brick-laying from her father who had a masonry construction business outside of Chicago. While she was in graduate school in 2001, the Gujarat earthquake in India moved her to become an activist. She is a skilled brick, block, and stone mason with an M.S. and a Ph.D. in civil engineering from the University of California, Berkeley and an M.S. in Environmental Science from the University of Colorado. Before graduate school, she spent five years providing engineering consulting services at Peterson Consulting in Chicago and Dames & Moore in Denver. Elizabeth is a 2004 Echoing Green Fellow, a 2006 Draper Richards Fellow, a 2009 Ashoka-Lemelson Fellow, and was a Fulbright scholar to India in 2002-2003.

Dr. Martin J. Fisher, Co-Founder and Executive Director, KickStart, is Chairman of the Board of Build Change.

Each day for the remainder of this week, I will feature another innovator who will be attending next week’s Clinton Global Initiative. And next week I will be covering CGI.

About the author

Korngold provides strategy consulting to global corporations on sustainability, facilitating corporate-nonprofit partnerships, and training and placing hundreds of business executives on NGO/nonprofit boards for 20+ years. She provides strategy and board governance consulting to NGO/nonprofit boards, foundations, and educational and healthcare institutions.