A Week of Unreasonable Propositions: Day #4 – Better roofs for the poor

What makes the Unreasonable Institute Finalist Marketplace www.unreasonableinstitute.org so compelling that I can’t stop writing about it? Well, for one thing, it’s a contest – and I love a contest, especially if it’s something I get to vote in – and couldn’t win if my life depended on it. For another thing, it introduces me to a bunch of young people that are doing such amazing things, it makes me feel hopeful about the future. Zehra Ali, head of Ghonsla is one of those high-impact social entrepreneurs that I really, really want to see go to the UI’s business incubator — and then watch her ideas fly.

Zehra is 24 years old, Pakistani, a recent graduate of MIT in Mechanical Engineering and Technology & Policy, and fixated on the idea of creating housing and energy solutions for the global poor. Her first line of fire: corrugated galvanized iron roofs that cover the homes of about 1 billion people in the world.

Zehra with village women & her insulation

CGI-covered homes are hot in the summer, cold in the winter, and require lots of wood to heat in cold climates like Pakistan, contributing to deforestation and indoor air pollution that is quite toxic. Yet after the devastating earthquake in Pakistan in 2005, 8.5 million sheets of CGI were distributed to rebuild homes. Zehra has a better idea.

A home with fresh Ghonsla insulation

In 2007, working with faculty at MIT and her team in Developmental Entrepreneurship, Zehra developed Ghonsla (meaning “nest” in Urdu). It’s an R3 insulation material that is made of readily available, renewable and waste materials like straw and resin, is 30-40% cheaper than other insulating materials in Pakistan, and will pay for itself in one year in firewood savings alone. What’s more, it can be produced, distributed, and installed locally, giving a boon to the Pakistan economy, where Zehra is already partnering with Packages, Ltd. (a large Pakistani corporation), microfinance and social organizations to organize financing, technology promotion and outreach to other communities.

The village middle school, before insulation by Ghonsla

Her pilot build of 12 houses and a school in an earthquake-affected village in Northern Pakistan allowed Zehra and her team to test the Ghonsla product and monitor its impact on income, indoor air pollution and wood consumption – as well as the families’ comfort. She came away sobered by the inadequate and energy-inefficient housing conditions she saw, filled with ideas for further R&D to improve the product and its market potential, and completely inspired by the resilience of the people of Pakistan and their eagerness to turn adversity into opportunity if given the slightest support and access to resources.

In the school she helped insulate, the students wrote on the newly insulated walls that were keeping them warm through the bitter cold: “Simple living and high thinking is the motto of a great people.”  For great people like Zehra and her team, my $100 today goes to Ghonsla. http://www.unreasonableinstitute.org/finalists/index.php?action=about_pro&proId=171 Live long and prosper!

18 thoughts on “A Week of Unreasonable Propositions: Day #4 – Better roofs for the poor

  1. Pingback: Ghonsla

  2. Pingback: <b>Ghonsla</b>

  3. please don’t forget humid heat and (with temperatures in 90’s and 100’s we say oppressive heat in the South) their roofs and adult public school whereever (maybe in the states)

  4. I thought of the schools that Greg Mortenson has been setting up with Central Asia Institute in Pakistan, Azad Kashmir and Afhganistan. The earth quake of 2005 destroyed most of the homes and nearly all of the schools in that area of Kashmir. I bet they could really use some Ghonsla insulation. See http://www.ikat.org for a look at some fascinating books about building schools and teaching girls in the most remote villages.

  5. According to the Bible, it was the pastors and elders who held to their traditions who persecuted the messengers God sent generation after generation (Mt 5:10-12, Mt 23:33-34, Mt 27:1-2; Acts 7:51-54). They did this all while claiming to believe deeply in God and to be orthodox. Those who were persecuted, on the other hand, were actually the messengers sent by God in each generation. Who belongs to God: those who persecute or those who are persecuted? Who goes to heaven and who goes to hell? Just like the times of Noah and Lot, we must be careful to choose the path to salvation instead of persecuting others and being destroyed.

  6. I’m glad I clicked on your blog. This is the place I’d like to be.

    There’s such a cacophony of good intentions that fade as the words die away in the wind. These have left me limp in the limbs each time and I find myself flailing in a quicksand especially when it comes to issues on women–all that violence, discrimination, inequality and the realities of homelessness for one in their frail ageing.

    But none of it is new, of course. New stories are mere echoes of the last century. Some women, indeed, grappled with such issues all their lives and won back their humaneness. I did meet 78 of them from British Columbia, Canada, in our search for life stories that now comprise “Mythogyny”, an anthology of their true voices. But their ‘heroism’ seems but a dot in a universe of untended lights that I gaze at when I awake in my quicksand.

    Now I’m certain that by ‘visiting’ here I’d be uplifted once in a while like I am now with this post about Zehra. Please extend my kudos to her. And thanks to you.

  7. thanks for writing about this organization. i’d never heard of them, but i’m definitely going to be looking into them now and letting other people know. we need more investors willing to get into smaller projects like these.

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