Building Pioneers UG (gemeinnützig)

Building Pioneers UG (gemeinnützig): Affordable, eco-friendly, disaster resistant building material

Germering, AlemaniaShariatpur, Bangladesh
Year Founded:
Organization type: 
for profit
Project Stage:
$50,000 - $100,000
Project Summary
Elevator Pitch

Concise Summary: Help us pitch this solution! Provide an explanation within 3-4 short sentences.

Building Pioneers makes solid houses more affordable, eco-friendly and disaster resistant in developing countries through Compressed Stabilized Earth Blocks (CSEB). CSEB reduce CO2 emissions by 75% compared to bricks and create employment for unskilled laborers. We currently operate in Bangladesh.

WHAT IF - Inspiration: Write one sentence that describes a way that your project dares to ask, "WHAT IF?"

What if everyone in Bangladesh lived in a solid, disaster resistant house? What if all 8000 outdated brick kilns were replaced by eco-friendly compressed stabilized earth block factories with good working conditions?
About Project

Problem: What problem is this project trying to address?

We address 3 problems in Bangladesh: 1) HOUSING: solid building material (fired clay bricks) is unaffordable for most Bangladeshis so they use corrugated iron sheet. 2) ENVIRONMENT: 8000 brick kilns rely on an outdated technology; they consume 3.5 Mio t of coal and 2 Mio t of wood. This causes 9 Mio t of CO2 emissions and severe deforestation. 3) EMPLOYMENT: kilns offer slavery like working conditions; unskilled laborers are most vulnerable.

Solution: What is the proposed solution? Please be specific!

Building Pioneers aims to establish Compressed Stabilized Earth Blocks (CSEB) as an affordable, eco-friendly, disaster resistant alternative to conventional fired clay bricks (FCB) in Bangladesh (18 billion FCB per year). With CSEB we don't offer a technological innovation. We purposefully chose CSEB, because it's a proven technology, used for decades in over 30 countries. As in many other cases, what is missing is not the technology, but a sound strategy to bring it to the people who need it. We aim to create a market for CSEB, without trying to dominate it. Instead, we run production sites to showcase that CSEB can be produced profitably, and thereby encourage other market players (e.g. cement suppliers, brick factories) to follow us.


Social Impact Start, winner, 2014 (social start-up accelerator program), RISK award, finalist, 2015 (disaster risk reduction projects), enorm social start-up competition, winner, 2015
Impact: How does it Work

Example: Walk us through a specific example(s) of how this solution makes a difference; include its primary activities.

1) CSEB reduce construction cost of solid houses by 25% compared to conventional fired clay bricks (FCB). Interlocking CSEB allow disaster resistant building (earthquake, cyclone). This would improve the living conditions of millions of Bangladeshis who cannot afford FCB and thus use corrugate iron sheet. 2) CSEB reduce CO2 emissions by 75% compared to FCB as they dispense firing in kilns; 5% cement make CSEB strong and water resistant. In Bangladesh 8000 kilns rely on an outdated technology emitting 9 million tonnes of CO2 and causing severe deforestation. A widespread use of CSEB would greatly help the environment. 3) Working conditions for unskilled laborers are slavery like, especially in kilns. CSEB production is healthy and safe.

Impact: What is the impact of the work to date? Also describe the projected future impact for the coming years.

Building Pioneers currently runs a CSEB pilot production in Bangladesh with a team of 7 people. This facility serves 4 purposes: a) proof of concept: we produce CSEB to prove key assumptions of our business model, b) training: we train locals in CSEB production, c) showcase: we receive visitors (potential customers; potential CSEB producers like LafargeHolcim; housing organizations like UNDP, HfH (Habitat for Humanity); research institutes etc.) to demonstrate the nature and benefits of CSEB; this serves our ultimate goal to establish a market for CSEB by fostering its demand and supply; d) CSEB production: after our pilot project in Dec 2015, the site will produce CSEB for the local market. Based on the proof of concept, Building Pioneers will set-up a large-scale production facility next year to reduce production cost and convince commercial suppliers to enter into the CSEB market.

Spread Strategies: Moving forward, what are the main strategies for scaling impact?

We pursus a multi-angle strategy to establish CSEB as a widely used alternative to FCB: a) Building Pioneers runs several large scale CSEB productions in various regions of Bangladesh to showcase the technical feasibility and economical viability b) the government finally enforces its policy reforms to shut down the worst forms of FCB kilns given that there is a competitive alternative now c) many commercial building material suppliers (e.g. LafargeHolcim, brick kiln owners etc…) set-up CSEB production facilities d) housing agencies (e.g. UNDP, HfH) only use CSEB for their projects

Financial Sustainability Plan: What is this solution’s plan to ensure financial sustainability?

Every CSEB production facility that Building Pioneers sets up, is designed to be profitable through the sale of CSEB. In addition, Building Pioneers aims to become a consulting / implementing / training company for other organizations who run CSEB projects (e.g. HfH, UNDP, Munich Re Foundation etc.). This generates consulting fees which will be reinvested in expanding our CSEB production. We aim to be financially suitably in 3 years.

Marketplace: Who else is addressing the problem outlined here? How does the proposed project differ from these approaches?

The government passed a law to close old brick kilns; it is not enforced due to corruption and a lack of alternatives. UNDP and Worldbank tried to replace old kilns with modern ones; it failed because the investment is 10-times higher. A few NGOs ran small CSEB projects (philanthropic). Once the money ran out, operations stopped. In contrast, Building Pioneers aims to bring CSEB on the market. Ava as an industrial engineer has the technical expertise to design efficient production processes and make CSEB competitive. This will convince commercial suppliers to follow.

Founding Story

My first approach in affordable housing (import based, prefabricated panels) failed. Spectacularly. So I quit and went to Bangladesh in March 2014 to learn more about local building materials. I saw CSEB at an NGO for the first time. Despite the poor execution of this project (no quality- /cost control, tiny scale), I realized the huge potential of CSEB to protect the environment, improve housing, and create employment. So I decided to get CSEB out of the NGO niche and onto the market in Bangladesh. I thought: "Soil, sand, water and a bit of cement - compressed in a manual press. Peanuts! CSEB already work in other countries. I just have to get it right here!" So I founded Building Pioneers


I started Building Pioneers together with my co-founder Odin Mühlenbein in January 2015. We are as contrary and compatible as the white coconut and dark chocolate of a bounty. I, based in rural Bangladesh, am the practical, hands-on part that runs Building Pioneers on the ground. I love dirty safety boots and improvising in an chaotic environment to get the job done. Odin, based at a desk in Germany, is the rational strategist who ensures that Building Pioneers achieves measurable social impact in a systematic, well-planned approach. I am the CEO of Building Pioneers and work full-time on this project since April 2014. Odin represents Building Pioneers in Europe and works part-time. Bios: I studied Industrial Engineering and Management and developed good craftsmen skills through ongoing renovation and construction projects in my family. I worked in affordable housing and prefabricated refugee shelter before founding Building Pioneers. Since childhood, I visited India and Pakistan several times and got familiar with living conditions in developing countries. I also spent 4 months in Bangladesh before making the decision to start a social business here. Odin studied philosophy and formal logic in Munich, Oxford and Cambridge. Besides Building Pioneers, he works as a consultant for Ashoka specialized in scaling strategies and impact measurement. Odin used to worked as a strategy consultant at McKinsey & Company and co-founded two companies before. Odin has compelling analytical skills, that can even sort out the most chaotic challenge. After completion of the pilot project, we will welcome a Bangladeshi social entrepreneur at Building Pioneers, to support me on the ground.
Please confirm how you heard about the Unilever Awards:

Odin Mühlenbein

Please confirm your role in the initiative (eg Founder/co-Founder) and your organisational title:

Co-Founder, CEO

Which of the 8 UN Global Goals (Sustainable Development Goals) pre-selected for this competition does your solution relate most closely to? [select all that apply]

Decent Work and Economic Growth, Responsible Consumption and Production, Climate Action.

Leadership and the Unilever Awards
Please provide examples of any previous entrepreneurial initiatives you have pioneered.

I co-founded a social initiative at my school in grade 7. I led this organization for 7 years until graduation and was awarded the Max-Born-Medal for "outstanding achievements in shaping school life". The initiative won the 3rd prize of the "Children for a better world" award (IKEA foundation). The social initiative called "Schüler Service für Senioren" (= "Pupils for the Elderly") consisted of 40-50 pupils who dedicated their free time to assisting elderly people of our hometown in daily activities like grocery shopping, shoveling snow etc. My task as the head of this organization was to receive the requests, select suitable students according to their preferred activities and local proximity and follow-up after the job was done. The biggest learning for me, that helps me with Building Pioneers, is that it is worth to continue doing what you consider meaningful, even in times of difficulties, even in times that are less "glamorous". The Schüler Service für Senioren still exists today, 16 years after its foundation and has made many pupils familiar with the idea of voluntary work early in their lives.

Beyond your existing team, who else are you working with to achieve your objectives, eg partners, advisors, mentors?

Building Pioneers runs the current pilot project in partnership with a local organization that has financed more than 1400 houses over the past 2 years. We greatly benefitted from their local infrastructure, e.g. import license for machinery, and their financial contribution to the project (50/50 share of costs).
Our German donor is an experienced social impact investor and offers good guidelines while leaving us the freedom to run Building Pioneers the way we consider best.
We won the Social Impact Start scholarship, a social start-up incubator program. The mentoring, network and other support helped us in the crucial phase from the raw idea to the start of the pilot project.
In many questions related to the start-up, leadership skills, etc. I seek support from my mentor, who is a successful serial entrepreneur and VC. He became my mentor in 2012 within the Bavarian Elite Academy scholarship and joined me on my bumpy road from graduation to founding Building Pioneers and moving to Bangladesh.