• Fez Tá Pronto – Luxury base of the pyramid housing

    By Ruban Selvanayagam of Fez Tá Pronto Construction System©


    After almost a year spent exploring real estate opportunities in Brazil, it dawned on me that the market had not only become a prime example of speculation gone crazy but also where housing had become a very vivid indictment of the massive wealth divides that still exist amongst the so called “emerging” nations. Indeed, contrary to government statistics which very debatably underestimate the true extent of the issue, the housing shortage stands at a minimum of 15 million units and rising by at least 1.5 million units annually – with literally no solutions in place.

    In 2010, I came across the work of developer Manoel Pinto and the Fez Tá Pronto Construction System©.  Manoel and his chief engineer Paulo Vilena between them possess over five decades of Brazilian property development experience when they launched a delivery model that challenged the chaotic and outmoded construction process that dominates the country and around the world.

    Fez Tá Pronto is a semi-industrialised and copyrighted building system that uses specially designed, patented gypsum plaster blocks to build high-quality and environmentally friendly housing units, from single-storey bungalows to multi-storey apartment blocks. Fez Tá Pronto projects have been approved by the leading home lenders of the country: namely, the Caixa Econômica Federal, Banco do Brasil and the Banco Real (now merged with Santander). It has been tested in developments over the last eight years, including the Rio das Ostras project that was successfully audited (and mortgage financed) by Caixa (the main administrators of the Minha Casa, Minha Vida or “My House, My Life” low-income housing initiatives).

    Crucially for the unviable low-income market, Fez Tá Pronto delivers high-quality homes at a minimum of 40% less cost than is standard, using materials normally reserved for luxury real estate in Brazil. The methodology delivers homes up to four times faster than the Brazilian industry average, regardless of development size. We also offer workers a safe and clean environment, and salaries up to three times the standard.

  • Thoughts on SSIR’s ‘Driving Innovation and Impact with Digital Media’ webinar

    By Tiana Reid, Editor and Community Manager at SocialBusiness.org

    As a community manager for SocialBusiness.org, I was eager and ready to tune in to Stanford Social Innovation Review‘s webinar today, “Leading in a Hyperconnected World: Driving Innovation & Impact with Digital Media.” The line-up was pretty impressive: Ben Hecht, President & CEO, Living Cities; Claire Diaz Ortiz, Head of Social Innovation, Twitter; Steve Downs, Chief Technology & Information Officer, Robert Wood Johnson Foundation; and Regina Starr Ridley, Publishing Director, Stanford Social Innovation Review.

    Essentially, it all came down to this: how can we use digital and social media effectively? By “we,” I’m specifically referring to the collective “us,” those of us who are in the realm of creating social change whether it’s through business, charity, government or civil society. The go-to example for Twitter-meets-transformation is the Arab Spring. Ortiz explained how the events that went on there “took on a new face” because of those who could access the viral information. For instance, the #jan25 hashtag was started by a 21-year-old female student in Egypt.

    Hecht also explored the change-making aspects of digital media and pointed to paradigm shifts. He said there is an “increased understanding that in fact to solve the world’s problems you need to work together because it’s so complex.” Because of the extent of the complications that the world is (and has been) knee-deep in, we can’t rely on one actor; collaboration is key.

    It’s no surprise that people (especially “web-y” people) tend to romanticize the impacts of digital media. In explaining another paradigm shift, Hecht mentioned the ubiquitous argument of how the “means of consuming and sharing news and information is widely democratized and inexpensive.” True. But what about the digital divide? Even if we look within and not across countries, it’s clear that access isn’t at all equal.

    “A report last year by the World Bank estimated that every 10-percentage-point increase in the availability of broadband boosted economic growth by 1.2 percentage points in developed countries,” Iain Marlow and Jacquie McNish wrote in the Globe and Mail in 2010. The global digital divide has similar implications.

    However, even if not everyone has access to the same information—and access to how that information is disseminated—”ideas can go viral,” as Hecht confirmed. I mean, just look at the #Kony2012 campaign. And so, during the webinar, there was talk about real-life engagement, so to speak. That is, what happens to all of this online action, networking and communication? Where does it go?

    Hecht asked, “How do you go beyond short-term media and move it into the long-term commitments that are needed for change?” Aptly, Ortiz responded: “Socia media is the tool. There has always been a tool.”

  • Three unlikely quotes for social entrepreneurs

    By Tiana Reid, Editor and Community Manager at SocialBusiness.org.

    There are already a slew of “quotes for social entrepreneurs” blog posts out there but how can social entrepreneurs pull from other spaces?

    What’s so great about the tight-knit #socent community is that, well, it’s tight-knit. At the same time, however, sometimes, like all communities, it’s too inward-looking and can become a recycling bin for so-called best practices.

    In light of all that, here are three unlikely quotes for social entrepreneurs:

    “I must be a mermaid. I have no fear of depths and a great fear of shallow living.” – Anaïs Nin

    To say that Anaïs Nin’s writing has depth would be an understatement. This quote in particular is next-level cathartic. I mean, the social entrepreneur has feelings too. What’s more, for the business creator, it speaks to not only to diving deeper into models and impact, but also to mysticism. Surrendering to the outside, to forces beyond control (and not in a religious sense), can relieve stress and create a “breath in, breath out” moment.

    “The only problem with seeing too much is that it makes you insane.” – Phaedrus

    I chose this almost to counteract the Nin quote. (You see what I did there?) Social entrepreneurs, much like more “traditional” charities and non-profits, are bombarded with the need to measure everything. Sometimes it’s crucial to step back, look at the big picture and think like a toddler, that is, ask why. Why are you measuring this? Why is this measure important? Why aren’t I measuring something else? It could always be otherwise.

    “Feminism is for everybody.” – bell hooks

    Not simply a quote, this one is also a book on passionate politics. In it, hooks defines feminism as “a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.” For her, feminism(s) is/are intertwined with race, class and sexual orientation (etc.) — the infinite intersectionalities. So, this stems beyond “mere feminism” and everyone, not just social entrepreneurs, needs to recognize and acknowledge privilege and oppression alike. What’s particular about social entrepreneurs, and anyone in the business of social change, is that people often think they’re always helping. On-the-ground services, donations in particular, can have positive and negative consequences on the market economy, local culture and the entire big bad globe. In particular, the way in which the West talks about Africa (not a country!) is often clouded with racism—in spite of, or perhaps because of, the seemingly altruistic nature of social good. Just look at this.

  • The problems with so-called “conscious consumerism”

    By Tiana Reid, Editor and Community Manager at SocialBusiness.org

    Is “conscious consumerism” an oxymoron? While the social business and social enterprise spaces have allowed for somewhat of a rebirth of a socially centered business model, materialism can’t be the motivation for innovation.

    As an editor and community manager, I come across – and write about – dozens of purpose-driven companies. Some like FoodCycle and MyBnk Fair Finance are service-oriented, meaning that their direct line is working with people toward social and environmental justice.

    Many social businesses, however, are product-focused. Everything from bracelets made out of bona fide ammunition to one-for-one shoe products and fair trade fashion lines make the cut here.

    How does consumerism and materialism fit into an industry that, perhaps, makes profit from pain? Undoubtedly, many social enterprises reinvest a significant portion of their profits to further the social benefit. What are the implications of encouraging consumers to buy – regardless of the outcomes?

    Invisible Children’s Kony 2012 campaign has been criticized for being problematic for a number of reasons including, but not limited to blind clicktivism, misrepresentation, the use of good/evil language, spending habits, the “White Savior Industrial Complex” as novelist Teju Cole called it, their emotional tourist strategy, the lack of Ugandan participation and the not-for-profit’s militaristic approach to arresting Joseph Kony.

    “Yes, it’s great that social media is buzzing with something about human beings instead of bright, shiny objects,” Forbes contributor Anthony Wing Koster wrote earlier this week. “And it’s great to think of the internet as an engine of altruism instead of materialism.” Really?

    The video goads buying Invisible Children’s products to “make Kony famous.” The ‘Kony 2012 Action Kit’ is $30 and comes with “Everything you’ll need to take part in our KONY 2012 campaign,” according to the online store. What’s more, “People will think you’re an advocate of awesome.” Awesome. Moreover, the Kony bracelet is dubbed as the “the ultimate accessory” and the model in the image is black, which is significant since most Ugandans couldn’t afford a $10 bracelet, and most people in the video on the “activist” side weren’t people of color. Both products are sold out.

    In 2012, recent UC Berkeley Business Administration graduate Rosalind Chu expressed her internal back-and-forth debate when deciding what career to pursue. In a post called “Excess, wealth, and materialism and how that fits into a career in social enterprise,” she wrote: “society — American society especially – breeds a culture of excess, consumption, and materialism. We are bombarded daily with new products or new ‘somethings,’ and are constantly reminded of how awesome it must be to be rich and wealthy.”

    But are the problems of consumerism exempt from social business? Of course not, but what would an ideal version “conscious consumerism” even look like?

    Consumption – conspicuous or not – must slow right down in order to make up for the dirt in our air, our oceans and our lives… I mean, ideally, the story might go like so: if I need (or, okay, really want) to buy a new lipstick/t-shirt/pair of shoes, I’ll opt for buying the product from an ethical producer rather than from a corporate giant with opaque production practices. But maybe, really, I’ll get both, but I’ll feel better for having also chosen the former.

    Environmentalist, activist and writer George Monbiot said that “[g]reen consumerism has been a catastrophic mistake.” He argued that cause-conscious campaigns – whether hybrid cars or poverty-alleviating shoes – draw in people’s self-interest in that those products will help to beef up your social status. Furthermore, he emphasized the need to crusade for our values rather than conforming to the status quo, an apathetic politically hollow atmosphere. In essence: structural change is needed to mitigate the mess we’re all in.

    While I push for the accessibility of fairly produced products, I just can’t wrap my head around buying yet another thing I don’t need, bought from the convenience of my sweatshop-produced MacBook. But, too often, it comes down to the question of “What’s worse?”