• Harry Sangree

41 years with Habitat: From ditch-digging to crowd-solving!


The photo above was taken in August 1979. A work team I was leading had just completed digging through a giant earth embankment at the first project of Habitat for Humanity in Mbandaka, Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo). I was working as a volunteer for four months after graduating from college. Along with daily labor, I was assigned a project to figure out how to drain the new community that Habitat was building . My solution was a series of canals that would rapidly eliminate the rainwater after a storm. The canal above was a part of our solution.

Following the Soil-Brick Road
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An article about my experience was published in Dartmouth College's "Thayer School of Engineering Annual Review" magazine with the above picture as the cover photo. You can read the entire article by downloading it on the right.


Now it is over 40 years later. My life and work have taken me many places but I have not been back to Mbandaka. However, I have stayed involved with Habitat for Humanity. In the 1980's, I partnered with them to work on improvements to compressed-earth block manufacture. We were even awarded a US patent for the work (patent 4,406,606). Since that time, my wife and I have been regular donors to their work. It has been exciting to see the organization grow from one site to a worldwide movement in 70 countries.


Now, in the middle of a global pandemic, a new opportunity arose to be directly involved in Habitat's work again. SeaFreight Labs is serving as Project Advisor for Habitat's Terwilliger Center for Innovation in Shelter for a series of four open-innovation challenges. We spent the summer and early fall working together to understand key problems from different parts of the world. We launched our first crowd-solving challenge - "Increasing Resilience to Earthquakes and Typhoons for Homes with No Foundations" this week. It came from the Philippines. Another one will be launched in the near future. It comes from India. You can find all the Habitat challenges on their crowd-solving pavilion HERE.


The problem that Habitat is presenting to the global crowd is a hard one - actually, VERY hard. Our platform partner, InnoCentive, claims a 75% success rate on challenges they host on their platform. InnoCentive is a global leader in crowdsourcing of innovation with over 2,400 successful challenges so success is likely but not assured.


My work for the next three months will be to publicize this earthquake/typhoon resiliency challenge far and wide. We are aggressively searching for a solver with the right mix of experience and innovation to propose an answer that no one has yet thought of. This is the beauty of crowd-solving. The universe of solvers is enormous. Our task is to find the right people and incent them to participate. Please tell everyone you know about this opportunity to impact the lives of thousands and thousands of people living in homes with no foundations.


This project is the first public view into what happened when SeaFreight Labs took the 1% Pledge earlier this year. In our role as Project Advisor to Habitat for Humanity for these challenges, we have been able to donate our time and expertise to help Habitat achieve these important intermediate milestones. We will continue to partner with them through this open-submission period and the judging phase to eventually stand with them as they make a cash award to a challenge winner!


My long-term goal is to leverage my experiences from this project and the proof of the exceptional value of crowd-solving and apply them to problems in global logistics. SeaFreight Labs will be well positioned to help solve the industry's biggest challenges.




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