Impact Investing by Industry Sector – Priming the Pump

Omidyar Network suggests that industry sector investments will have greater impact

The recently released paper titled ” Priming the Pump” builds a case for a Sector Based Approach to Impact Investing.  Since 2004 there has been an increasing interest in making targeted investments that have great impact for those in need.  With this discussion paper Matt Bannick and Paula Goldman of the Omidyar Network share how impact investing should focus on industry supply systems in order to yield greater success.

Scaling entire industry sectors

The argument is that more lives will be touched “by concentrating investments in specific industry sectors in specific geographies, and by investing in a range of organizations to accelerate the development of  industry segments”.  They acknowledge that successful enterprises  grow when they have a strong and supportive foundation. That the supply chain within a sector must grow in unison with individual entrepreneurial efforts.

If a local concrete producer is to succeed and scale his business, he will need a functioning aggregate and sand production supplier. He will also need access to a materials testing laboratory, some engineering support, good structural steel suppliers and other trustworthy vendors. The impact of investing in the complete supply chain will not only improve the economic fortunes of the local communities, it will also build in greater resilience and safety into the region. This broader investment strategy is the focus of the ON paper.

Omidyar Network paperBetter results over time

By embracing and nurturing full industry sectors, the individual entrepreneurs that grow within the chain have better odds of …”reaching scale and competition that will foster the delivery of better products at lower cost”  When early stage innovators find support from a working supply chain, their risk is reduced and the impact of the investment dollars are better leveraged.  As the sector becomes more dynamic, tomorrow’s next great scalable innovation has fertile ground in which to take root and grow. This expanded investment strategy make a great deal of sense.

Concrete supply chain

It is the Cement Trust’s contention that the concrete construction sector is ripe for impact investments.  There are many entrepreneurial opportunities that would scale within the sector once the greater supply chain infrastructure begins to develop. There are proven business models that can be adapted and appropriately scaled  in many developing regions around the world.

There is no question that concrete is a commodity that impacts enormous groups of disadvantaged people. Crumbling buildings from the poor use of concrete is well documented, yet mostly ignored by investors.  These investments would yield better buildings and greater resilience among the poor as the supply system grows. The international concrete supply sector has the resources to make an impact in this effort, so we call upon the major players to read the ON report and take some action within the impact investment space.

The Omidyar Network is a philanthropic investment firm that was established in 2004 by eBay founder Pierre Omidyar and his wife Pam. To date, the organization as committed more than $550 million to make an impact.

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A concrete idea in 6-seconds – #npvine

Chronicle of Philanthropy shares Vine videos in a #npvine contest

We created a Vine six-second video story of Cement Trust for the publishers of the Chronicle of Philanthropy.

Just click HERE or on the shovel mixing guy to see the story….

mixing concrete with shovels
Death by a 1000 shovels
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Engineering2Empower Works to Create Safe Concrete Structures

University of Notre Dame students and staff work on a concrete solution

A group called Engineering 2 Empower has designed disaster-resistant homes that are built from lightweight concrete panels on a reinforced concrete frame.

Their simple design is a one story structure with four rooms that conform to international building codes and uses materials that are widely available in many of the under-developed regions of the world.

Using smart design ideas and good concrete quality will save many lives when the next disaster strikes.

Here is a video that explains their innovative work:

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A Decentralized Concrete Supply Chain – Call to Action

The goal of the Cement Trust is to create an appropriately scaled concrete production infrastructure in developing nations. This development initiative will reduce the risk from a natural disaster, while at the same time building local economic prosperity.   The key to a successful implementation rests in decentralizing the concrete supply chain and increasing access to simple industrial technology at the local level.  Without good cement-based products and construction practices near the building site, we will continue to see the waste of life and resources in these high risk regions.

A decentralized supply chain

For context – Consider that in the United States and other developed nations, the builders (both self-built and professional) have easy access to quality concrete that is produced with industrial technology.  This “ready-mixed” concrete is produced by a business that takes on the responsibility of providing quality concrete mix at the job site.  Over a period of time the supply chain for concrete in the US decentralized and provided easy access to good concrete. Decentrailized concrete productionIn the US the average distance to job site from someone with this large-scale industrial technology (transit-mix trucks) is about 14-miles.  Because wet concrete has a short “shelf-life” before it hardens, it is critical that a decentralized system be applied to concrete production.  This is why a local supply chain is a very important part of the construction infrastructure in every region of the world.

Cement powder manufacturing

Portland cement plantCement powder is really the only concrete component that is produced and shipped from a significant distance.  Because of the enormous investment to mine and manufacturer Portland cement,  the production of this concrete component is more centralized.  Even so, large multinational cement manufacturers do a good job of local distribution in most places.


Inadequate supply chains

The challenge for developing nations is that they have inadequate local concrete supply systems. These regions lack the production technology necessary to produce quality concrete, especially at the building site. Concrete Batching in poor countries

Mining the aggregate, processing sand and gravel and mixing concrete are accomplished with little or no industrial technology (unless you consider a shovel an industrial tool). Without access to the appropriately scaled industrial tools for processing concrete they produce a very inferior product for their construction. Without a better supply system, the vulnerable populations will always live with a greater risk from falling buildings.

The concrete production infrastructure that makes developed nations so safe during disasters is nearly non-existent in poorer nations, so deploying good tools and establishing local concrete enterprises will go a long way in reducing disaster risks.

.Call to action

The manufacturers and concrete experts from the developed nations should feel embarrassed by the failure of our concrete supply systems to address this critical issue. How bad is it? The International Development Bank suggests that 87% of Colombia’s GDP is a risk because of poor construction, and we all remember the 2010 Haiti earthquake with its deadly demonstration of bad concrete construction.

It is time that the concrete industry joins in an effort to put trust back into cement-based construction materials and practices. Together we can incrementally assist in the development of a decentralized system that provides economic opportunities for those at the bottom of the economic pyramid.  We can design and deploy tools that will work in places like Haiti and Colombia to make people safer.

We ask you to reach out to the Cement Trust and participate in this effort.  Contribute whatever resource, expertise or effort that you can muster to make a difference.

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Cement Trust Symposium 2013 – First Report

Concrete Solutions from Thought-Leaders

On July 11th and 12th of 2013 the first Cement Trust Symposium was convened in McMinnville, Oregon. The following is a report of the work that the Cement Trust has started in its effort to improve the quality of cement-based building products in the developing nations.

Concrete supply chain leaders

Cement Trust background

After the enormous death-count caused by poor concrete during the Haiti earthquake, concrete experts began to express concerns about the poor cement-based construction methods in developing nations. After 2010 the Haitian people lost all trust in concrete, even though it is the building material of choice for most of the world’s poorest people.

The level of devastation shocked the US concrete industry into the realization that a supply chain was in crisis, and needed attention. Then, just a few months later, a massive earthquake hit Chile and demonstrated the value of a good concrete supply chain – Chile had only 525 deaths compared to the 300,000 deaths in Haiti just months before. One nation had taken the effort to build a concrete value chain and improved disaster resilience while the other had not.

Concrete experts noticed

These two disasters clearly demonstrated the difference between concrete success and failure. Cement Trust began to take shape with the simple idea – Trust must be reinstated in cement-based construction within developing nations. Experts from the highly developed supply chains realized that they must share their expertise and tools to make concrete construction more sustainable during disasters in areas like Haiti.

The shovel is symbolic

Concrete mixing on the ground is a failure of the concrete supply chainThe Cement Trust realized that part of the problem with concrete is represented by the practice of mixing concrete on the ground using shovels. This work is symbolic of the many failures of a broken concrete supply chain. Cement Trust saw this as something that could be fixed by knowledgeable experts if they partnered together.


Gathering Experts

 The first step was to create an awareness campaign with the help of a dynamic group of concrete experts, in the form of a Cement Trust Blog. Over the past couple of years the blog has recorded several hundred postings, comments and followers. Most of the discussions on the site have revolved around reducing disaster risk and building local resilience through an improved local concrete supply chain.

Concrete is the 2nd most consumed product on earth so gathering a database of hundreds of industry thought-leaders who can help with this issue has been easy.

Cement Trust Symposium

It was decided that a symposium should be organized to launch the effort beyond just a discussions of ideas and hopes shared on a blog.  The Symposium was scheduled for July of 2013 with the goal of gathering 10 to 15 experts from the many disciplines in the US concrete supply chain.

The event attracted some significant thought-leaders who contributed their expertise to building a foundation for a formal organization, with the mission to:  Improve the Quality of Cement-based Products in Developing Countries.

Participants included:

Luke Snell – Senior materials engineer, Emeritus engineering professor and the Chair of the International Committee of the American Concrete Institute (ACI), with field-experience in many developing nations.

Tracy Kijewski-Correa is the Linbeck Associate Professor of Civil Engineering at Notre Dame.  Her focus on the developing world began with the 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami in Thailand and Indonesia and intensified following the 2010 Earthquake in Haiti. She co-founded E2E: Engineering2Empower to seed an integrated process that empowers local entrepreneurs to deliver engineered modular housing that include local production, retail and construction. E2E will open its first incubator in Leogane, Haiti in the fall of 2013.

Chad Coil – Vice President of Lazarian World Homes, a non-profit building homes in underdeveloped nations using a unique ICF (insulated concrete form) system. Master in Marketing from San Diego State University, with years of experience building homes on Mission Projects. 3 ½ years using concrete to build in developing nations around the world.

Laurel Dovich – A engineering professor with a PhD in Structural Engineering and years of experience living, teaching and working in developing countries. She did post-earthquake assessment and engineering consulting in Haiti quake and for the  Kobe/Hanshin earthquake.

Brad Inman – With 41-years contracting experience with emphasis on concrete construction in the California Bay Area. He is the immediate past-president of the largest concrete contractors association in the US and a 25-year member of the ACI.

Joel Troyer – Founder and Operation Director of Impact of Hope-Haiti, non-profit church-based organization working to help rebuild Haiti with better concrete. Their unique business model links US-based congregations with Haiti-based congregations to provide better concrete technology.

Brett Rose – President, Advanced Crusher Technologies, Woodland, WA. and Dallesport Foundry, Dallesport, WA. ACTECH is a leading manufacturer of aggregate processing and mining solutions.

Billie Snell – Teacher, Researcher, Consultant and Author of many articles on Concrete.  Active member of ACI.

Jake Main – ACTECH consultant with years of experience in aggregate processing and ready-mixed concrete distribution.

Jim Wixon – BS, M.Eng., Iowa State, MS M.Eng., MIT, employed by NASA and owner of a private Computer Consulting business.

Tom Vail – President/Co-owner of Cart-Away Concrete Systems, Inc., sponsor of the Cement Trust Symposium.

Bruce Christensen – Founder of Cement Trust, GM of Cart-Away Concrete Systems, Operates the Cement Trust Blog and organized this conference.

The attendees were facilitated in this two-day session by a strategic planning professional from HP who helped this diverse group establish a vision and set some goals for the organization.

The Future: Work is now beginning in earnest to establish Cement Trust’s vision as critical to the sustainability of construction in developing nations. Effective disaster risk reduction will succeed only when a dynamic concrete supply chain is established in these regions. The evidence provided by both the Haiti and the Chile earthquakes lends support to the mission of Cement Trust and it’s growing list of partners. Cement Trust will expand opportunities for the poor to join a working supply system that will raise their economic futures.  A stronger concrete system will result in more local resiliency and less loss of life and property in the next disaster.  As Cement Trust expands, it will draw-in more and more concrete experts to support those who find themselves with only a shovel to build their homes and their futures.

Thank you to all those who attended and shared your expertise and enthusiasm for this effort. We also thank everyone who expressed an interest to participate yet were unable to attend. We will continue to share the details of this effort as we move forward.

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Cart-Away’s Report on Nigerian Block Production

The following are the notes from Scott Crist, Product Manager for Cart-Away Concrete Systems as he worked in Nigeria.   Mr. Crist and Cart-Away are working with the GEMS2 team to demonstrate modern block mixing technologies to improve the quality of Nigerian block production. This is the third report in Cement Trust on the GEMS2 program – click HERE for additional stories on this effort.

New to Nigeria

It was very hot, very humid, and I was very much in Nigeria. It was my in-person debut in Africa with a consulting/training trip to Abuja and Lagos for Cart-Away and GEMS2. The product that I was training on was the Concrete MD Mixer.

Concrete Block MDAs you may know, the MD comes with the ability to mix concrete with a spiral auger and also mix a block mix using a custom designed paddle auger. Both augers share the same mixing properties in that they each pull material to the outside edges of the hoppers and roll it over to get a very thorough mix.paddle auger for block mixing Reversing the rotation sends the materials from the edges to the center of the hopper for discharging. When mixing a block mix, the paddle auger is used because the material is much drier than a concrete mix and the paddles help to blend the material better. We shipped two of the MD’s, with paddle augers, to Nigeria for a program called GEMS2, a development program managed by the World Bank and funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID). Coffey International Development implements the program and it was they that invited Cart-Away’s participation.

Most buildings in Nigeria are made with block. Actually, just about every building you see is made of block. With their vibrant economy the growth rate is tremendous is building is being done at a furious pace. Which is a very good thing in the construction sector as it expands employment and makes a good environment for entrepreneurs. However, it also makes regulating everything very difficult.

Better block is needed

Concrete block has a standard set by the Standards Organization of Nigeria (SON). The standard regulates the ratio between cement and sharp stone to create a block that’s strong enough to use for building. Where the problems come in is in how the materials are mixed.

Nigerian block mixersIn Nigeria there is abundant labor. Block makers make use of this labor force as mixers and loader for their block business. When these laborers mix, they are using very simple instruments: wheelbarrows and shovels. They do all of their mixing on the ground, by hand. These laborers work very hard, there’s no questions about that, but their manner of measuring materials and mixing them leads to varying quantities of materials along with a semi-mixed block mix. This is the challenge the MD was brought in to solve.

Starting in Abuja, with block makers from all over the area surrounding me, I began to teach them how the MD could produce a consistent mix for them every time, over and over, all day long. That, I explained, was key to putting out quality block. Had any of them ever experienced varying quality at their facilities? They all had. I began to show them how the MD could eliminate that.

Consistent recipe required

The first step was to define their recipe of materials. Each one had a common unit to measure material: the wheelbarrow. In Abuja we were making a 9” block and the recipe was four wheelbarrows of sharp sand, one wheelbarrow of soft sand, one 50kg bag of cement. I began by asking one of the workers to please fill a wheel barrow with some sand. He filled it right up to the top; another shovel-full couldn’t have fit on top. I asked the men around me if the wheelbarrow was full. They agreed it was.

concrete block measurmentsI explained that now that we had one unit of measure, we needed to get that put into something we could work with and that would have no variance. I brought out a one gallon paint can. I assigned three men to count and we filled another wheelbarrow until it was as full as the first one had been. Each can full of sand was filled and stuck off so each was the same. In the end we had our figure: 25 cans per wheel barrow.

I then weighed one can of each material. Now I was able to use multiplication to find out how many kg’s of each material they were using for the mix. After that was done I was able to come up with a mix ratio that would use the batching buckets on the MD so that every load would be the same all the time. Everyone followed along with the math and when I pointed out the batch buckets, they caught onto the idea that this was a big step in producing quality blocks.

Batch measuring for concrete block productionOnce we had the recipe figured out we began to make block mix. I demonstrated the use of the batching buckets and when we put in the soft sand (brown) on top of the sharp sand (almost white) you could really see the mixing action of the paddle auger. In less than 20 seconds the brown sand was completely mixed in. We continued on with the cement and it was mixed in the same short amount of time.

The last thing was to add the water. As with the recipe, I left this up to them. I quickly found out that the amount of water varied widely amongst these producers. I finally decided to defer to the owner of the business where we were set up. His name was Kabir (kuh-BEER) and we added water a little at a time, doing a grab test each time after letting it mix for a few seconds, until he pronounced the mix just right.

A better block!

For these demonstrations we were set up a little ways away from his block molding unit so we had room for all of the people. We transported our mix over to the molder and made some block. I knew the MD performed well, we had tested it plenty, but one can never know how well something will do until you are on site using their materials. Everyone seemed to be milling around the block we had just made. Suddenly, I was pulled through the crowd by one of the block makers and asked to explain the block we had just made.

Nigerian concrete blockTake a look at the striking difference in the photo above. The MD block is on the left; very smooth, all the gaps filled in. On the right is a standard one of their blocks using hand mixing on the ground and a varying recipe. Notice all of the gaps between aggregates in the block on the right. The block makers were astonished! I explained to them that with a consistent mix recipe and thorough mixing we could produce blocks like that all day every day.

Concrete Block MD productionI continued training that class twice a day for the remainder of the week and at the end each block maker was pleased with the block we made. They also all agreed that block of this quality could fetch a higher price on the market. The next step for them was to do the math and find out how long it would take to pay for one of their own. We did some quick reckoning and found that, depending on how much more they could make per block, and their production rate, pay-off was three months to a year.

The unit remains at Afro Block (Kabir’s business) so he, with the help of the GEMS2 project team, could spread the word to as many block producers as they could that there was a new way to mix block in town. And the results are good for the business owner and great for the people of Nigeria.

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Nigerian Concrete Block Report – GEMS2

GEMS2 report on batch mixing technology

The following is a report by GEMS2 technical director Ronald Ashkin concerning the introduction of batch fed mixer technology in Nigeria. The GEMS2 program is funded by UKaid (DFID) with the objective of improving the economic stability and employment opportunities in Africa. In doing this work GEMS is greatly improving the quality of the concrete supply systems in this region. 90% of Nigerian construction projects use concrete block.

Beneficial Innovation

The benefits of innovative new-to-Nigeria concrete block making technology were demonstrated to 150 enthusiastic block makers at pilot sites in Lagos and Abuja in late May and early June 2013. The invited block makers, ranging from owners of small and medium block making enterprises to informal roadside block makers and their associates, were evidently impressed as the operation of the batch mixers was demonstrated to them: 86% of respondents to the post demonstration survey agreed that the equipment demonstrated would solve their problems with quality, and 96% said they had never seen the technology before.

Nigerian block mixing machineThe batch mixers are beneficial in creating strong, uniform and consistently high quality concrete blocks versus traditional methods of block making for a number of reasons. First, the batch mixers fill by volume using uniform ‘batch buckets’ to ensure that the ratio of cement to gravel and sand is the same each time. Traditional methods use shovels, head pans, and wheelbarrows to measure, resulting in quality variations from batch to batch. Second, the batch mixer ensures a uniform and thoroughly mixed concrete; usually mixing is done by hand using shovels which takes more time and results in a less thoroughly mixed and thus poorer quality block. Third, the machine has a generator and thus does not rely on the National Electric Power Authority (NEPA) which has frequent blackouts and is often not available at all on site.

Improving efficiency

The GEMS2 introduced batch mixer therefore increases the efficiency of concrete block production by utilizing a well-engineered, robust batch mixer that is affordable to buy and run and produces more high quality, greater value blocks in a given time than traditional modes of production thus resulting in increased incomes.

GEMS2 is acting as the pioneer for this new-to-Nigeria, and indeed new-to-Africa technology, thus removing the risk from market players. In May 2013, two batch mixers were bought from Cart-Away Systems of Oregon, USA and placed on site with the Abuja based Afro Blocks, a private sector block making company with a significant network in the construction sector, and the National Association of Block Moulders of Nigeria (NABMON) in Lagos.

In order to retain the batch mixers after the pilot, 200 block makers must be demonstrated the technology over a 6-month period. In this initial round of demonstrations Scott Crist, the consultant from Cart-Away Systems, was present to assist with the batch mixer delivery and installation, provide training to users and discuss distribution possibilities with local market players – part of the longer term sustainability and scale-up of this pilot project. In total 150 representatives, who employ 809 workers (of which 115 are women) from various block making firms, attended making the market potential of the new batch mixer technology extremely significant and demonstrating great potential for scalability.

Visible quality improvements

During the demonstration attendees commented on the immediate and visible difference in block quality and the high quality of the machine itself that is simply engineered, well-built, easy and economical to operate. Indeed, one block maker remarked that he currently owns a Chinese built pan mixer that it is extremely unreliable and requires its electric motor to be regularly repaired or replaced – having visited his site later that week members of the GEMS2 team were humored and troubled to find a pile of unusable rusted Chinese built construction machines in the corner of his yard.

Nigerian blockLeft: block made with new batch mixer
Right: hand-mixed block

To ensure this pioneering pilot project is scalable and sustainable and with 41% of respondents interested in buying the equipment within the next 12 months and an additional 53% possibly interested, GEMS2 is working hard to facilitate market led financing options for the initial purchase of the batch mixer and demonstrate the clear financial benefits to this mode of more efficient production.

First, the batch mixer is affordable and due to increased production and block value can easily be paid for in a few months. Second, GEMS2 is working with NABMON to understand the possibility of group financing and grants to support the initial cost of the batch mixers. Third, time studies of the batch mixer and the higher value of the block demonstrate significant potential in increased incomes and jobs for the poor.

GEMS2 is enabling the introduction of pioneering batch mixing technology to active market players in order to increase incomes through a more efficient and modern production technique, meanwhile providing a source of local high quality building input materials in order to help tackle building collapse in Nigeria.
We thank GEMS2 for the photos in this report… MORE TO COME

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Coffey and GEMS2 work for better Nigerian Block

GEMS – Growth and Employment in States


We are pleased to report that Coffey International and the UK government are moving forward on a plan to improve the concrete block in Nigeria. This effort is identified as GEMS2. The following are some excerpts from their plan to improve the concrete block supply chain. We will publish the findings of this pilot program as we get them.

The Issue..

The frequent collapse of buildings in Nigeria has been attributed to two main causes: the poor quality of construction work and the inferior quality of building materials. The Nigerian system of building is masonry (building of structures from individual units laid in and bound together by mortar) and the common material of masonry construction in Nigeria is hollow concrete block. Deaths by building collapse in Lagos have been reported as recently as January 1, 2013.

Nigerian block mixingThe Product…

Concrete (also known as sandcrete) blocks are made from cement, sand, aggregate, and water. The cement market in Nigeria totaled 17.1 million tonnes in 2011, worth approximately $4 billion at market prices. Dangote Cement, Nigeria’s dominant cement manufacturer, estimates that 50% of cement demand is driven by residential construction, as concrete blocks are far and away the most common structural material used for home-building in Nigeria.  A 2004 report concluded that over 90% of physical infrastructures in Nigeria are constructed using sandcrete blocks.

The most common sizes of concrete blocks in Nigeria are 6’’ (6” x 9” x 18”) and 9” (9’’ x 9’’ x 18’’);  The price of concrete blocks fluctuates with the price of of the main cost input, Cement.

Concrete blocks used in Nigeria are all made locally. The vast majority of concrete block makers in Nigeria are small and medium private enterprises; there are literally thousands of small-scale block makers nationwide; the National Association of Block Moulders of Nigeria (NABMON) estimates 200,000. You can see them along the roadside any time you drive through Lagos.

The quality of concrete blocks used in Nigeria is mostly very low, contributing to building collapse. Although the Standards Organization of Nigeria (SON) has established standards for concrete blocks, most of these small and micro-scale block makers do not adhere to any established quality standards and few, if any, have documented manufacturing processes or quality assurance systems in place. In the field study conducted by Anosike and Oyebade in 2012, all the blocks sampled from four Nigerian manufacturers failed to meet SON standards. In particular, all blocks sampled were well below the specified values in compressive strength for load-bearing walls, some blocks bearing as little as one-fifth the specified load. However, blocks made under controlled conditions did meet SON standards.

Block quality is dependent on these major factors:

    • Use of the proper proportions of all components (portland cement, water, sand and gravel)
    • Accurate measuring of all the components
    • Consistent and adequate blending of the mixture
    • Sufficient watering and drying of the blocks
    • Molds that meet the block specifications (i.e. dimensions)

In Nigeria, there are four primary block quality problems:

    • First, in terms of proportions, the quality of the blocks is better with a higher ratio of cement to sharp sand, but because of its high cost, block makers reduce the quantity of cement and end up with lower-strength blocks. Anosile and Oyebade cite cases where the specified 1:8 cement-to-sand ratio is reduced to 1:12.
    • Second, laborers in Nigeria typically use buckets and shovels to measure the quantities of components that go into the concrete mix, resulting in imprecise/inaccurate measurement.
    • Third, quality also depends on whether the components are mixed properly, meaning the aggregate is blended 4-5 times. The current practice in most small and medium enterprises is that the laborers mix manually with shovels, resulting in inconsistent mix and therefore sub-standard blocks.
    • Fourth, water should be used in correct proportion, but to make shovel mixing easier, too much water is often added which reduces the quality of the end product.

Practically all small-scale block making companies in Nigeria resort to shovel measurement and mixing.

There are some transit-mix suppliers in Nigeria, but there are problems with using standard mixers for block production. The relatively dry mixture required for concrete blocks does not lend itself to conventional drum mixing methods like those found in the truck mixers.

GEMS2 discovers the issues with concrete block

GEMS2 conducted interviews with some major stakeholders in the construction industry in Lagos and the F.C.T., Abuja. Some further issues were identified:

      • Lack of enforcement by the Standards Organization of Nigeria (SON): Though they have the responsibility of checking and ensuring material quality, due to various resource limitations and irregularities they cannot enforce the standard requirements of block quality.
      • A largely price conscious population: The population generally lack knowledge about quality, so other than large scale industrial clients, most customers prioritize cost over quality.

Block workerImproving awareness about block quality and more widespread use of higher quality block among end customers is an ambitious long-term goal which will only be effective after product quality is actually improved. GEMS2 can affect block quality by influencing and improving the small scale block making process through a pilot project that introduces on-site batch-fed mixers to Nigeria. This technology has been used to solve similar problems elsewhere in the world but has not yet been introduced into Nigeria. The portable batch mixer uses measured boxes to insure a consistent recipe of concrete ingredients. A paddle mixing auger then turns and blends the mixture much better than shovels. The mixer is powered by a small generator which allows it to be used in the field. The equipment is relatively simple to maintain and operate and its use does not displace manual labor.

Pilot project includes batch-fed mixers

The pilot project is based around the introduction of small scale batch-fed mixing technology to Nigeria. The introduction of this relatively low-cost technology, simple for unskilled laborers to use, can gradually foster the widespread improvement of block quality throughout the concrete block industry. The batch-fed mixer produces consistent mixes from a unique yet simple batching process that shovels alone cannot produce. It not only measures the materials that enter the mixer accurately but also blends and mixes the inputs uniformly. The technology also eliminates the constant supervision required to ensure that laborers manually mix the aggregates the required number of times before adding water to the mix. It is portable and designed for small and medium sized sites.

Batch-fed mixers will lead to consistent production of better quality concrete blocks, allowing small and medium scale operators to differentiate their products by quality. The differentiation will eventually lead to market uptake of the ready-mix technology as users realize the benefits of using better quality block and give a larger share of their business to block makers employing the technology. This same technology can be used in the production of other concrete products such as interlocking tiles. If the pilot is deemed successful, the project can be replicated in other parts of Nigeria.

GEMS2 will provide the technology and assistance to run the pilot project, while National Association of Block Moulders of Nigeria (NABMON) in Lagos and/or Afro Blocks in Abuja will host and operate the first pilots. If the pilots are successful, the hosts will permanently adopt the technology and expand use of batch-mixing in production of their concrete blocks. GEMS2 will require the pilot hosts to invite other block making companies to view the pilot project in operation.

The expected output of the pilot projects is not only better quality concrete blocks, which in and of itself does not serve our program objectives, but also more efficient production which directly leads to higher incomes for block making laborers since they are paid by output. The number of laborers affected could reach into the thousands based on NABMON’s estimate of 200,000 block moulders. The means to earn higher incomes through selling better quality blocks with a modest investment would attract crowding-in, a quantum step in the technology that raises the bar for block makers.

The idea of better quality can spread

Once a few blocks moulders start to see the financial benefit from improving production techniques, other producers will also emulate this model, which can induce an industry-wide systemic change. Also, when builders and contractors gradually notice the consistent quality difference in the concrete blocks made with this process versus those produced through shovel-mixing, there will be a heightened demand for such concrete blocks/products. Demand can be stimulated through awareness programs targeted at users, and eventually private sector certification of block quality. SON does currently have responsibility for certification but their enforcement capability falls far short.


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Disaster Risk Spending – The Last 20 years

GRDRR and the Overseas Development Institute report on disaster risk spending history

A failed concrete supply system contributes to destructinThis summer the Global Facility for Disaster Reduction and Recovery (GFDRR) and the ODI will share a report on what has been spent on disaster risk over the past 20-years. These organizations are a part of a partnership of 41 countries and 8 international groups who are working with developing countries to reduce vulnerability to natural disasters. These are thought-leaders who are attempting to lay a foundation for better disaster risk management.

The first release of this information came from ODI this week, with an infographic detailing the spending breakdowns in US dollars.

Disaster risk spending ODI

Disaster Reconstruction & Rehabilitation

The report indicates that in 20 years we have spent $23 billion in an effort to rebuild following damaging earthquakes like those in Marmara, Gujarat, Kashmir and Haiti. We have used billions in reconstruction money to rebuild in Pakistan and the Indian Ocean region following a tsunami and flooding.

The question that must be asked is whether this money actually produced rehabilitation toward disaster risk reduction?  If we didn’t improve the resiliency of the structures, then are we just expediting work projects and contributing to a future risk in these developing nations? 

We have also spent $13.5 Billion in disaster prevention from 1991 to 2010 with the hope that we will not need the billions of dollars needed for emergency response in the future.

To restore damaged structures to a safe condition, fully operation, and with better risk capacity, our reconstruction spending should be directed toward stronger buildings, not structures that are built as poorly as before .  Unfortunately much of the reconstruction money is spent using the same failed construction practices and materials that were in place before the rehabilitation began.

Spend 1% on the construction supply system and save…

We must consider a slight deviation from the reconstruction and rehabilitation budget illustrated in the GRDRR / ODI report… If we had diverted 1% ($233 Million) of the R&R budget to improvements in the concrete supply system during the 20-years prior to the Haiti quake, would we have saved billions of dollars in emergency response from crumbling concrete? If we had targeted Haiti, Bangladesh, and Kashmir with investments in their concrete supply systems, could we have saved hundreds of thousands of lives from falling concrete buildings?

Are we confident that 20-years of work and $23,000,000,000 in reconstruction spending has made concrete construction practices any safer in the poorest regions of the world?

The evidence of misdirected funding may be found in a recent study of Nigerian building blocks…. The random testing of some of the 200,000 block producers in that country found that 100% of the blocks failed to meet standards for building structural walls.  It appears that there is a failure in this portion of the concrete supply system in this developing nation. Have improvements in the concrete block supply system been a part of the $13.5 Billion disaster prevention budget during the past 20-years?. The sad fact is that concrete block is used to build 90% of the structures in Nigeria, so there is a very high level of concrete failure for this country. Note: Thousands died in Haiti from these same type of blocks.

In Haiti, many are rebuilding using the same poor materials and practices that where in play before the quake of 2010. Three-years downstream from hundreds of thousands of people crushed under concrete, and most are ignoring the important work of developing a functioning concrete supply chain in that region. Today in Haiti there are major charities expediting work projects without any thought of improving the failed construction supply system. Are we willing to waste billions of dollars not preparing for the next emergency in Haiti?  The probability is high that we will spend  billions more in another major rescue effort in the next 20-years.

Thought-Leaders and 3000 PSI Concrete

The thought-leaders of disaster risk management might consider what would happen if all international organizations agreed that they would never allow reconstruction spending without proof that concrete met a 3000 PSI benchmark (In Haiti the concrete tests at 1300 PSI). This one requirement would force the investment in a supply system with good raw materials, consistent production practices, improved testing resources and much more. Just emphasizing the development of a quality concrete supply chain would encourage better engineering, appropriate structural reinforcements and many steps beyond. The responsibility for leadership for better supply systems rests with those who raise the money and do the disaster risk management planning in developing nations.

If we don’t demand building resiliency from stronger concrete then we will spend another 20-years wasting money and lives in developing countries.  We invite all thought-leaders to work on the foundation of a strong concrete supply system in the nations that depend on our good works.

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Cement, Charity and Concrete Sustainablity

Is Cement Production an Evil Earth Killer?

Cement Factory sustainablityIt is difficult to promote improving the construction supply chains in poor nations when CEMENT is part of the story. Many in the “Sustainability and Green Movement” view the CO2 output from cement production with such disdain that they reject any effort that includes what they believe to be the evil earth-killing powder.

Concrete uses cement

Regardless of the issues that some have with cement, we still need this powder as the glue that makes concrete stay together.  And, concrete remains the most widely used building material on the planet, by a very wide margin. Ignoring the value of cement in concrete actually causes a huge sustainability problem.

The poor use concrete

The poor find cement-based products as the most  practical building material for their construction needs.  Unfortunately poverty causes many to reduce the amount of cement used in their concrete and this creates a big problem. Too little cement creates weak concrete, and weak concrete crumbles down in disasters. Then, collapsed building need to be rebuilt and people need to be rescued, both use up resources.

But skimping on cement is only a small part of a concrete supply system that contributes to the waste.  When you consider that there are billions of people building with bad concrete on this planet, you can find a under-discussed issue.

Bad concrete crumbles

History demonstrates that concrete construction in poor regions has a high probability of failure during extreme events like earthquakes, high winds and floods. Over and over they rebuild using the same concrete practices, only to have it crumble down upon them. Time and time again the raw materials are mined and mixed, only to end up as poor quality rubble that cannot even be recycled. And in most cases, our developed nations continue to rush in to rescue and rebuild.

Charities relies on concrete

Many who step up to rescue and rebuild are well-meaning charities from the industrialized nations. These organizations and their workers know the value of good concrete because they rely on it to keep them sheltered and safe back home. Sadly, they find themselves working in regions where the concrete supply systems are poorly structured. And, because their mission is not to fix a supply system, they do what is expedient – They build using the local building methods. This process ignores the root of sustainability – To Sustain.

In many of these rebuilding projects we place expediency ahead of sustainability, and this causes natural resources to be wasted and more CEMENT to be processed. We know that good concrete can withstand disaster and sustain its structure better than most materials, yet we ignore its importance when it comes to international development.

We must change our thinking from responding and rebuilding to a more proactive mindset that involves fixing supply systems. Better construction supplies and processes will allow charities to rebuild in a sustainable way.  Unfortunately many who want to save the planet’s resources and want sustainable buildings are missing this issue all together.

Concrete Supply = Sustainability

We will never reduce the impact of CEMENT production if we don’t find a way to plug this hole in worldwide waste. Cement Trust is reaching out to charities and concrete experts to join forces with those who want a more sustainable planet. It is time to reialze that a quality supply systems is the foundation of sustainable building in developing regions. Until we focus our efforts on the base of the problem, concrete will continue to crumble and be unsustainable.  Will you join in the conversation?

Concrete Sustainability Video

The following video was produced for the Concrete MD and provides additional insights into how better concrete will improve worldwide sustainability.

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