The ShelterTech Kenya Accelerator program achieved a key milestone this April when it hosted a Round table discussion at Nairobi Tech Week 2019 (NTW2019.) The 3-day event considered to be sub-Saharan Africa’s largest tech event attracted mega tech corporations including Microsoft, Google, IBM and Facebook. Other noted players included successful tech businesses in Kenya such as Andela Kenya, Github, Little Cab, Humanitec among others.
As key players at Nairobi Tech Week, the ShelterTech Accelerator program hosted a round table discussion titled, “Innovation in Shelter:Affordable housing solutions through innovation.” The packed room brought experts in design thinking, urban design and smart city, venture capitalists, development partners, incubators and other innovation contributors to discuss on the topic. The session kicked off with a snapshot, presented by Jonathan Bii, Pangea Accelerator’s Communication Lead, which gave context to the housing sector in Kenya. Here are the key highlights from the snapshot and the ensuing discussions.
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Contextualizing the Kenyan Housing Sector
The right to decent housing by all Kenyans is a constitutional obligation and access to adequate housing and to reasonable standards of sanitation an economic and a social right. Kenya has a deficit of 2 million units with about 61% of urban households living in slums. Statistics indicate that by 2050, half the Kenyan population will be living in cities and this is putting pressure on the demand for affordable housing.
The Kenya Affordable Housing Task Force highlighted some of the key challenges to the delivery of affordable housing start with poor urban planning and the failure of municipalities to service land. Furthermore, the high costs of construction are in part, due to Kenya’s very high import duties, poor import logistics, and an unfavorable tax regime.
Thoughts and Perspectives from Industry Players
Jane Otima, the Associate Director Market Systems & Entrepreneurship shared on a recent survey conducted by Habitat for Humanity in Kenya to better understand the market. They observed how cultural perceptions and ideas have influenced movement, for instance, noting that urban centers become ghost towns during holidays indicating a sense of sentimental attachment to rural homes. This directed the question to, how then can we build housing within this context?
Mutembei Kariuki, the Regional Coordinator for the Make-IT in Africa initiative at GIZ shared on how Artificial Intelligence (AI) can be used to help build livable cities. Building on the discussion, he lent his experience on an urban design experiment they conducted in Tokyo by tracking how users move around the city using their mobile WiFi and Google Maps then collecting that data to inform the city on how to design better for the inhabitants. He encouraged businesses in innovation to consider using technology and data to help local governments design urban and semi-urban centers better.
Harriet Kariuki, Co-founder of Afrijob.Org, a platform that is matching global talent to African startups, asked for input on how we are approaching affordable housing and innovation in the context of global issues such as climate change, drawing from the devastating impact of Cyclone Kenneth in Mozambique. She also provided her key learnings from the shared economy and how this can be replicated and adopted within the affordable housing sector through alternative financial models geared towards the sharing economy.
Brian Ouma, Co-founder at Greenhub, an early stage business currently in the ShelterTech program, remarked on the need for startups to understand if their innovations can easily be taken up by the market. George Mugweru from Habitat for Humanity added to this discussion, noting the complexities that exist in the entire value chain of housing and called on stakeholders and innovators to comprehend consumer behavior to achieve scale.
Robert Yawe, Managing Director of Synaptech Solutions Limited, took the discussion even further by challenging participants in the discussion to rethink the approach of shelter. He said that, to address the challenge of shelter, it needs to be built in scale. He gave candid examples of how economies such as China have used scale to solve some of the big issues they have.
These highlighted discussions were not only part of the larger discussion but gave insights into how different industry players are addressing this affordable housing and the need for stakeholders to collaborate. Additionally, it was an opportunity to rethink, re-strategize and learn from others point of view in tackling this issue.