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Building Resilience

Proactive slum retrofitting. Urban slum communities will become more resilient when strengthening their existing houses becomes the norm.

Photo of Kate

Written by


The substandard quality of houses which is prevalent in urban slums makes its residents vulnerable to climate-induced natural disasters. Build Change is working on a systems change approach for mitigating climate and earthquake-related effects on urban slum homeowners, working with the public and private sector to address all barriers to adoption: Money – Technology – People.

We will first address people by working with urban slum communities to raise their awareness on the effects of climate-related disasters such as typhoons on the substandard houses which they live in, and the measures they can take to mitigate risks, thereby creating demand for housing retrofitting. We will then address technology by developing retrofit guidelines for low-rise houses, the most common housing type in urban slums, in consultation with urban slum dwellers. This will ensure the technologies proposed are culturally appropriate and cost competitive with existing but unsafe methods they may use to reinforce their houses. We will also pursue government approval of the retrofit guidelines to ensure there is a legal basis for housing retrofitting. Last, we will address money by exploring partnerships with government and private sector loan and subsidy programs, which can provide financing to homeowners to retrofit their houses.

This project increases the safety of substandard houses, by creating demand and providing residents the tools to mitigate risks.


The project will be piloted in in Metro Manila, Philippines at high risk of typhoons, floods and earthquakes. The government has taken steps to formalize some urban slums by awarding land title; Build Change will target these areas. Residents will be actively involved in the project, increasing their awareness to the risks of climate-related disasters, and participating in the development and piloting of technical resources to structurally strengthen their houses.


The development of pre-disaster retrofit guidelines, together with and for the benefit of the urban slum dwellers, will complement the urban upgrading programs implemented by several local government units in Metro Manila. We will work closely with the Department of Public Works to approve and adopt the guidelines. We also plan to work closely with different local government units, NGOs targeting urban slums, and architecture and engineering students for on-the-job training and research.

Community-based, pre-disaster housing retrofitting will take into account other challenge design principles:
• Plan for the ordinary, not just the extraordinary by enabling the urban slum dwellers to increase their resilience in the “new normal” of frequent typhoons, brought about by climate change.
• Consider the system by working with and complementing the efforts of the different stakeholders – governments, NGOs, slum dwellers – all throughout the process.
• Build in flexibility by designing for multiple hazards, including typhoons, earthquakes and flooding.
• Maximize limited resources by designing for existing construction practices, so that local labor can be used and existing construction materials can be re-used.
• Design for gender equality by actively involving both men and women in awareness raising, participatory design and community-based construction activities.
• Design with, not for by ensuring the active involvement and participation of slum dwellers in the process, who are considered as key players in the whole project – from conceptualization to implementati


  • Yes, for two or more years


  • I’ve worked in a sector related to my idea for at least two years


  • Yes


Build Change is an award-winning international social enterprise that prevents deaths, injuries and economic losses in earthquakes and typhoons. We have provided technical assistance for more than 47,000 safer homes, impacting 235,000 people, trained more than 24,000 people, and created 11,500 jobs.


This idea follows Build Change’s Six Step Model for Safe Houses:
1-Learn First
2-Research and Design Safe Houses
3-Build Local Capacity
4-Stimulate Demand
5-Facilitate Access to Capital
6-Measure the Change
We have successfully implemented post-disaster, homeowner-driven housing retrofitting programs at scale in urban slums after the 2010 Haiti earthquake and are currently implementing a pre-disaster retrofit project in urban slums in Colombia. In both projects, we developed a code-compliant retrofit evaluation, design and implementation procedure; identified homeowners, worked with them to design a retrofit that meets their needs; partnered with the government, private sector and NGOs and provide homeowners with subsidies; and trained engineers and builders to supervise construction. We have also done a post-disaster retrofit project of wood houses in Eastern Samar, Philippines in 2014, but this is the first time that we will do a pre-disaster retrofit project in Metro Manila.


Governments often implement relocation programs to mitigate the impact of climate change on urban slum dwellers, however these programs fail because the community is not consulted in the process, and thus the projects are not successful or sustainable due to loss of income, displacement from social networks, etc. Urban upgrading programs do not disrupt social and economic activities, and they give slum dwellers a sense of stability and safety from eviction. Studies show that these people are much more likely to invest in their housing. Retrofitting is a cost-efficient tool to increase the safety of substandard houses, which are now becoming permanent in some urban slums thanks to urban upgrading programs.

Unlike some retrofit programs, we do not enter a community and directly retrofit houses ourselves or through contractors, but focus instead on the long-term goal of building local knowledge to design and retrofit safe houses, and forming government partnerships to provide regulatory oversight. We use locally available and appropriate materials and build on existing technology that is acceptable to the community in order to create a permanent change in construction practice.


While government-administered home loans may be available for some residents, we would like to explore further financing options available to vulnerable communities from the private sector.

We want to determine the best way to involve government engineers in the inspection and oversight to ensure the quality of construction. We also want to involve architecture and engineering students in order to develop a pool of trained professionals with skills in disaster-resistant design and construction. They can also serve as “ambassadors” for safe construction in the community, identifying strategies to generate demand and measuring drivers to foster a behavioral change in construction practice.


Retrofitting is fast and economical, and it provides a way to address existing sub-standard houses that may be salvageable but are unsafe for occupation in their current condition, however technical information on how to retrofit residential houses is not widely available or accessible. In soliciting feedback from the target community – urban slum dwellers – the retrofit guidelines developed will be appropriate to the local context and made accessible to those who will use them. Furthermore, we will seek government approval of the guidelines, which will establish a legal basis for residential housing retrofitting.


We met with the homeowners and members of the barangay council in an urban slum in Pandacan, Manila and presented our idea. Although some of them have concerns on the security of tenure due to the proposed urban planning project of the local government (which needs further research), the majority expressed their willingness to retrofit their houses since they feel that the present condition of their houses make them vulnerable to the effects of natural disasters. As expected, funding is a real concern for most of them; and though they are open to apply for loans from the government and private financing institutions, their capacity to pay may be a challenge since some of them do not have regular sources of income. We will consider whether retrofits can be done incrementally, utilizing small tranches of funding over a longer period of time, and we will also look for funders to provide a grant for some of the retrofit expenses.
The homeowners also want to participate and be trained in the whole construction process so they can provide supervision and feel confident in the safety of their house. They were very excited about the development of a construction guideline which they think would be very helpful to them and the whole community in the long-term, especially since some of them might not be able to retrofit in the near future.


We believe that urban slum communities will become more resilient to the effects of climate change when, instead of relocating communities, strengthening existing houses becomes the norm. We will conduct community awareness-raising activities on the effects of disasters and the need to retrofit substandard houses. We will develop pre-disaster retrofit guidelines, seek government approval and request to incorporate it to their programs to reach more people. We also plan to use this model in other countries susceptible to climate change and advocate within the international disaster risk reduction community for the use of retrofitting to prevent deaths and loss of livelihood during disasters.

How does your idea connect to the broader system of the city where you plan to implement?

The proposed idea will complement the urban upgrading programs implemented by the national government agencies such as the National Housing Authority, Social Housing Finance Corporation, municipal and barangay-level government (LGUs) like the cities of Manila and Pasay, international and local NGOs like Habitat for Humanity and Gawad Kalinga, and the private sector such as banks and telecom companies. These programs provide assistance to slum dwellers in Metro Manila to improve basic services, help secure land tenure, and access financing through community-managed mortgage schemes, grants or loans. Build Change’s proposed program leverages these urban upgrading efforts to ensure that the opportunity to build local knowledge and skills in safe construction practice is not missed.
In addition, Build Change leads the Resilient Cities work stream of ARISE Philippines, where we will further engage government, NGOs and the private sector to support pre-disaster retrofitting in urban slums.


Join the conversation:

Photo of Ekanath

Thanks Kate for this interesting and analytical thoughts on "Building Resilience ". One curiosity, generally local community takes time to accept the new technologies , and alternative building materials and new designs. In this contest ,what would be the best strategies we could develop to change the current behaviors and perception so that the community could understand the benefits of these new and alternative materials . I could see a lot of supply side and demand side disconnections on these types of new innovations .

Photo of Kate

Hi Ekanath,
I'm with you - generally communities take time to accept new technologies. For this reason, we are not introducing new building materials or construction typologies, what we are doing is making small, no-cost or low-cost changes to existing construction practices, ie: using better quality blocks, adding more reinforcement in columns, or getting them to bend the hooks on their spacers to 135 degrees instead of 90. We are experiencing a lot of support for these types of changes among homeowners (because the technology is still familiar to them but with the added safety lens) as well as with builders (who often know what should be done but never bothered for housing, which is seen as a small project).

Photo of Simone

Hi, this looks like a great idea. We are based in Nepal so experience similar issues re substandard homes. Although, I'm curious whether you have thought to include the rebuilding as an income generating activities and thus keeping skills in communities i.e people being trained in the retrofitting. Just a thought. Thanks  

Photo of Kate

Hi Simone,
Thanks for your comment and sorry for the late reply.  To answer your question - yes, retrofitting can also be a income generating activity for local builders as well as some construction material suppliers. We focus on training existing builders, or new builders with the desire to learn, in disaster-resistant construction practices, and recommend them to homeowners as individuals who are qualified to carry out the work.
We are actually working in Nepal and have trained several hundred builders to date. You can learn more here: and here:, hopefully this can be of use!


Photo of Manik Kumar Saha

Dear Kate,


This is Manik from BRAC Urban Development Programme and one of the winners of Amplify resilience challenge (
I was just wondering whether you got any direction from OpenIDEO team regarding our boot camp of Kenya and any visa related issues.

Photo of Kate

Hi Manik,
I believe that we should receive itineraries in the next few days, and if there are visa requirements we should know at that point. If you don't hear anything by the weekend, maybe we can check back next week.
Looking forward to meeting you in March,

Photo of Chioma

Hi Kate!
Below is some feedback from our experts. We look forward to reading your responses!

Transitioning the Build Change program from post-disaster reconstruction to existing housing retrofits offers interesting opportunities to compare how households think about investing in their home pre- versus post disaster (e.g. more space or an extra story versus safety). Consider engaging local student/research teams to observe the work in progress to identify if there are significant differences in the perception of risk, the willingness to invest, or other key metrics that may drive the retrofit market to pursue different types of resilience measures than in reconstruction scenarios.

Photo of Kate

Thanks Chioma. It’s a good idea to engage local students in the process, and actually it’s an idea that our colleagues working on pre-disaster retrofit projects in Colombia are already thinking through. In the Philippines, we are thinking of tapping a group of engineering or architecture students through the government On-the-Job Training (OJT) or National Services Training Program (NSTP) where they are required to render a certain number of hours to provide services to any social welfare and development program.

These programs provide an opportunity for on-the-job training where students can develop their skills in disaster-resistant design and construction. The increases the pool of trained engineers available to work on retrofit programs, and means that they will also be able to put their skills to use in post-disaster contexts. This will also enable the students to become “Ambassadors” of safe construction who will continue to advocate for, and ensure the use of disaster-resistant construction practices in the community, with our without our presence. These programs provide an ideal opportunity to also engage the students in impact monitoring through data collection of the metrics that may generate demand for retrofitting as suggested by the expert reviewer, ie: perception of risk, willingness and capacity to invest, access to technology and resources (including financing and labor).

Photo of Chioma

Thanks Kate! I have a follow up question. I know you are planning to apply a tested methodology in a new place - but are there any other things that distinguish this idea from the core work of your organization? How does your team envision using Amplify support?

Photo of Kate

Hi Chioma!
That’s an interesting question, because pre-disaster mitigation is at the core of Build Change’s vision – that there is a permanent change in construction practice so that houses and schools are built safely – but we have primarily worked in post-disaster settings, because we can capitalize on the disaster to bring together the three barriers to adoption (money, technology, people). Our pre-disater retrofit program was only launched in earnest in Colombia in 2014, and in the Philippines we plan to address their biggest lesson learned from the beginning of our program, namely creating demand for safe housing. We want to build on their ideas – raising community awareness of the need for safe construction, providing accessible, user-friendly tools to facilitate construction, helping to facilitate access to financing – but are hoping to get feedback from the Amplify network about other approaches we can take. We believe that Amplify’s network can really help us in identifying and testing different ways to create demand for safe housing by learning best practices from other people/groups testing out systems change projects in urban slums or projects related to climate resilience, finding collaborators working in the Philippines (or Colombia), and getting an outsider’s perspective on our methodology.

Photo of Chioma

Super helpful Kate, thanks! 

Photo of mHS CITY LAB

Congratulations on the shortlisted idea - we love it and share the same larger vision as yours! You can check out our entry here - It would be great to be able to collaborate on aspects such as the technical content, if possible, through the course of this challenge or otherwise, to work towards a common goal :)

Photo of Kate

Hi mHS City Lab, congrats as well on being shortlisted! We love your idea and would love to collaborate. Build Change actually has experience providing simple templates for cost estimating (ex: you plug in a design code in an Excel spreadsheet, which generates a bill of quantities) and training for masons to design house retrofits, we'd be very happy to share our lessons learned. We'd also love to hear more about how the A/V training for masons is set up - this is something we've been thinking more and more about.

Photo of mHS CITY LAB

Thanks Kate! Would be great to have a call and learn more about your work. Marco, the co-founder of mHS has already been in contact with Build Change. Let us soon find a way to connect and explore different ways to collaborate. 

Photo of OpenIDEO

Congrats on making it to the Feedback Phase Kate! We would love it if you can take some time to answer the new Refinement questions that we've added to your original idea submission form. To answer the new questions, hit the Edit Contribution button at the top of your post. Scroll down to the entry fields of the new Refinement questions. Hit Save when you are done editing.

Also, here's a useful tip: When you update the content of your post, it'd be helpful to indicate this in your idea title by adding an extension. For example, you can add the extension " - Update: Experience Maps 11/16" to you idea title. This will be a good way to keep people informed about how your idea is progressing!