David Boroto

I am an Infrastructural Engineering student in Engineering Science program at the University of Toronto in Canada. I am interested in the intersection between structural engineering, international development and poverty alleviation and love to explore these areas in the work that I do. My desire is to leverage infrastructural development to create social change and stimulate community development. In my free time I enjoy playing and coaching rugby (and any other sport really), hiking, camping, reading and blogging, among other things!


Sub-Saharan Africa
4. Aug 2017

Very few organisations have housing as a strategic area. Why is that?

Because it is hard!

Housing is slow, capital heavy and involves a lot of bureaucracy, multiple stakeholders and many agendas - especially in informal settlements. But the impact of investing in a house is undeniably great. Shelter is one of the primary human needs. Having a safe and secure house protects the family from crime and fires that plague informal settlements all too often. An investment in housing delivers a 4 - 9 times benefit to the community depending which report you read (Acumen Fund, Habitat for Humanity and the Kenyan Government). As the World Bank says, “economic growth, job creation, and (a) deepening of the financial sector” can all be attributed to an increased investment in housing. The housing financial multiplier effect is all too real.

Housing Multiplier Effect

Tracking the Impact of Housing

What is much harder to measure is the impact of housing on the individual. It is tough to quantify the psychological effect and mental ease that an increased level of safety and security provides a family. It is hard to estimate the sense of pride and joy that comes from a new, better home. At Kwangu Kwako, we have had families say they “would be so proud” to live in “my first permanent home!” How does one measure that increase in dignity and self-esteem? The increase in self confidence that a quality home can provide? That is the million dollar question.

The metrics we use to track our impact are simple - how many safe, secure and affordable fire resistant homes do we provide? Based on the assumption that there are approximately 5 people per household living in informal settlements, we are able answer a more important question: how many people in informal settlements are living in safe, secure and affordable fire resistant houses? Understanding the demographic outlook of our beneficiaries is very important to us as well. The size, structure, age range and gender breakdown of families in informal settlements is important to understand, since, for example, a single mother of four would benefit much more from a safe and secure home than, say, a middle aged man living on his own. And then, there is larger data that we hope to collect over time. How many fires have been mitigated due to our Kwangu Kwako homes? How many houses have been saved because our homes prevented the spread of fire? How much money have we saved those living in our homes because they don’t have to rebuild after a fire? How many jobs have we created while building homes in informal settlements? How much have we boosted local economies by procuring all our materials and labour locally? These are all important questions to ask, but they are tough questions to answer. Yet, in order to track the true  impact of housing, they are metrics we need to consider

Reaching One Million

Today, number of beneficiaries is the most common impact metric – can your venture reach 1 million beneficiaries? But is this the most important metric? The pursuit for large beneficiary numbers is, I believe, indirectly discouraging people from supporting housing. However, reaching one million is possible with housing, but the timeline needs to be longer than other interventions! In Nairobi alone, between 1.4 and 2 million people live in informal settlements, 90% of whom live in inadequate bush bole and mabati (sheet metal) houses! That is over 1 million people who could benefit from improved affordable housing! The housing market is ripe with opportunity! But housing takes time - time that many organizations and funders today are not willing to put in. And even more challenging, there isn’t yet a clear-cut solution to the affordable housing problem. Despite the many benefits that affordable housing provides, people are still discouraged from investing in it.

The Value of the House

This leaves us with many organizations that are missing out on the opportunity to support one of the most vital foundations upon which all the other initiatives are built. Job creation and employment assume that people already have a secure and dignified dwelling place. Education assumes that one has a conducive learning environment at home and health care that the home is weatherproof and prevents illnesses. But with the current status of housing in informal settlements, the reverse is true. If the house burns down, vital identification documents, birth certificates, marriage certificates, diplomas, school books, cook stoves, solar lights and medicines are burnt with it, not to mention the carbon emissions that result from housing fires. If a home is cold and dimly lit by an open flame, studying and remaining healthy become that much harder. If a house is broken into and robbed, solar panels and cook stoves are stolen leaving a family right back where it was without those technologies.


If quality houses are not affordable, people are deprived of the opportunity to improve their standards of living and remain stuck in a cycle of poverty. And so while education, healthcare, environmental sustainability, solar technology, clean cookstoves etc.  are important, their impact is less sustainable and less meaningful if the house is forgotten.

Everything but the house; the unspoken, subconscious rule of many socially driven organizations. Housing has been forgotten. Housing is difficult, it is not sexy and it takes time. But housing is important, and a fundamental human necessity. So I ask you, how much do we value a safe, secure and quality home?