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Who Doesn’t Like a Party? Thoughts on the Habitat for Humanity Virtual Awarding Ceremony.

Updated: Jan 13, 2023

It was my honor to do the “Big Reveal” on last week’s Virtual Awarding Ceremony organized by Habitat for Humanity – Philippines. The one-hour event explained Habitat’s open-innovation strategy (project-advised by SeaFreight Labs), described the objectives of this initial challenge, walked through all of the steps taken from challenge launch in mid-October (2020) to winner announcement, announced the winning Solver team, and talked about possible next steps in making the solution available to homeowners in the Philippines and elsewhere. I am so impressed with how well the event was organized and choreographed. It was truly a joy to watch and participate!

Achieving this happy outcome was not preordained. InnoCentive says that 25% of challenges do not get a satisfactory solution and make no prize award. And even if we received a submission deserving of prize money, we didn’t know if the quality of responses would merit field testing or thoughts about next steps. However, I am pleased to report that the quantity and quality of submissions exceeded our expectations!

The first requirement of a successful crowd-solving project is a clear and concise problem statement. Although this was the first project for SeaFreight Labs and Habitat for Humanity, it was far from it for InnoCentive, our open-innovation platform partner. Their challenge designer efficiently and effectively steered the Habitat team to a problem statement that was ambitious but concise. The goal was focused: propose a design to retrofit an existing foundationless home to make it more resilient in earthquakes (of magnitude up to 6.5 on the Richter scale) and typhoons (with wind speeds of up to 240 kph); and the main constraints were clearly defined: the cost should be under US$300 for a home of 25 square meters and the design should comply with the Philippines Building Code (“NSCP”).

The next task was to attract enough potential solvers AND to find the right type of people so we would receive many submissions with a good portion of them being deemed ‘quality submissions’. Figure 1 (below) shows the excellent challenge results in attracting register solvers from all over the world. Figure 2 (below) shows that 30% of the registered solvers submitted a proposal and 16% of the registered solvers submitted a proposal that was of high enough quality to be admitted to the judging process. The net of this effort was 44 quality submissions purporting to solve the stated challenge.

Figure 1.

Figure 2.

The final stage of the challenge was to determine the absolute best solution from all of the quality submissions. This task involved 13 different judges across 3 distinct judging cycles in order to arrive at the list of 4 finalists. It took about six months to winnow the set of remarkably high-quality proposals down to 4 that Habitat field tested. The field testing was possible because of the generous support of a corporate sponsor.

The opportunity to do proper field testing was invaluable for the ultimate goal of finding a solution that was technically suitable for promotion to regular homeowners. Figure 3 shows the sophisticated effort made to simulate earthquake and typhoon forces on a typical Philippines CHB (concrete hollow block) home. The winning solution exceeded the NSCP minimums by at least a factor of two and can be implemented by workers typically found in Philippine communities.

Figure 3.

Fittingly, the winning team came from the University of the Philippines, in the Construction Engineering and Management Group of the Institute of Civil Engineering. Their winning solution was titled “Column Footing Grade Beam Monolith”. None of the judges knew the identity of this team until the field testing began so although it is poetic to have a local winner, this team truly earned the first prize. They won US$25,000 for their innovative and effective solution.

The ultimate success of the challenge depends on the aggressive pursuit of next steps to refine the design and prepare it for widespread use. The business case for these actions includes: a) saving lives; b) creating jobs; and, c) returning an ROI on the retrofitting investment of as much as 6x for every dollar invested in preventing destruction of existing homes.

One of the speakers at the Virtual Awarding Ceremony was from the Department of Human Settlements and Urban Development. Her presence at the event and the symbolism of official government partnership are both promising indicators of continued progress in truly solving the issue of earthquake and typhoon risk for the 1.6 million Filipino homeowners who live in homes with no foundations.

What a feeling of professional satisfaction to be involved in such a high-impact project! The skills and efforts of so many people and organizations came together on this project to get it to the current status. Deploying the ‘global crowd’ to a global problem seems fitting in a way that is definitely worth celebrating. The Virtual Awarding Ceremony certainly felt like a celebratory party to me!

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