A unique international architecture competition is being organised to help solve one of the biggest problems in Southern Africa today: lack of affordable housing. Veronica Stivala speaks to philanthropist and entrepreneur DANIELA GUSMAN about her project in Lesotho
The country of Lesotho is considered a lower middle-income country, with more than half the population living below the poverty line. As a result, the country, like most of its neighbours in sub-Saharan Africa, is facing a big social problem: lack of affordable housing. Some 70% of the working population earn less than €60 month and are in dire need of accommodation that can withstand the cold winters, hot summers and strong winds in Lesotho.
To tackle this, a project entitled rise in the city is in progress. The brains and energy behind it? Maltese philanthropist and entrepreneur Daniela Gusman. The project takes the form of an international architecture competition for students and recent graduates from anywhere in the world to design affordable and sustainable housing solutions for Africa’s growing population.
Gusman first came to Lesotho in 2009 to volunteer for three months with an NGO called Kick4Life, which uses football as a tool for social change among youth. Three months became three years as she was offered to take on the country director's position and was able to help convert the charity into a social enterprise bringing her two worlds together: business and philanthropy.
Knowing the country well, she picked Lesotho to pilot her first programme last year with rise, a social enterprise she co-founded with Oliver Needs from BOND Events, a company that puts together meeting forums between architecture firms and suppliers.
“Lesotho seemed like the obvious choice. It's a country with great potential but with many challenges. It's a small enough country with less than two million people, the size of Belgium, making it ideal to launch a new concept of combining entrepreneurship with architecture and construction to see if we can try to help solve two of the toughest problems facing most African countries: lack of employment opportunities for the youth as well as the need for infrastructure development,” explains Gusman.
The first rise in the city project took the form of an art competition and exhibition, which saw 74 pieces of art from 11 countries auctioned to benefit a group of children in Lesotho. The art pieces were inspired by different areas of Manhattan, and fused with an element of Lesotho. The project was an immense success and the money went towards the construction costs of an orphanage in Lesotho. To learn of the feat of putting together this first project gives one a pretty good insight into Gusman’s relentless energy and drive: they had to get all 74 art pieces to New York a day or two before the exhibition, then they had less than eight hours to put up the installation and to top it all, Gusman had never done anything of the sort in her life before. The list goes on, seeing as most people have not heard of Lesotho so it was a tall order to attract enough artists, designers and architecture companies from around the world.
Now, Gusman is taking her project to the next level for 2019 and is seeking architecture firms and sponsors to try to help find a housing solution – without having to leave their desks – for Lesotho. She reiterates how “Lesotho, like the rest of Africa is facing a huge challenge of urbanisation which according to the National Housing Policy is soon to reach 34% and will be at 60% by 2050. People are moving out of their rural communities to live in the cities for economic prosperity. However, there is a huge lack of housing and people can't afford to build a house for themselves.”
Essentially the project works like this: Maseru, Lesotho’s capital, is split into 100 virtual blocks. Each block serves to match a student, who will be designing, with an architecture firm, who will mentor the student, and sponsors, who will sponsor the block.
The project is divided into three phases: for the first phase, 100 students and recent architecture graduates from 39 different countries from as far as Myanmar, design an affordable, residential house for low income families in Maseru; in Phase Two, 100 leading architecture and design firms take up virtual residence of one of the blocks for free. During this phase they mentor and review the student’s preliminary design. Finally, 100 companies choose a Maseru block to sponsor and get to enjoy the experience with the resident architecture firm in their block.
100% of proceeds goes directly towards the project – a design and build training programme for Lesotho unemployed youth who are constructing a residential centre and entrepreneurship hub for vulnerable adolescents. If enough additional funding is raised from the competition, the prototype will be built so people in Lesotho can see the design, get inspired and adapt to build houses that are equally as sustainable and made from locally sourced materials.
Apart from trying to solve a social problem, rise in the city is also an annual fundraiser. All of the funds raised go towards rise's programme ‘in loco’, a live, design and build and entrepreneurship programme whereby recent graduates from the built environment learn how to design, project manage, negotiate, build relationships, and pick up all the technical skills needed to construct a community project.
Architecture companies from Malta are invited to get involved as mentors (deadline October 31 2018), and other companies are invited to sponsor the competition for €1,000 per block (deadline December 15), or anyone can make a donation. For more information contact Daniela Gusman or visit rise in the city.
This article originally appeared in The Sunday Times of Malta, October 22