Sarah O. Dimson

A Closer Look At Ashoka’s Urban Housing Challenge (With Video)

Today, more than half of the world’s population lives in urban areas. Globally, cities act as the heartbeat of economic and social life for millions of people whose livelihoods inextricably flow from the dynamic opportunities within urban centers. By 2050, three out of four people in the world will live in cities. And more than 90 percent of the expected urban growth will occur in the developing world, which will add an estimated 70 million new residents to urban areas each year[i]. Many cities in the developing world, as a result of market deficiencies, inadequate policies and gaps in public sector capacity, are littered with slums, slipshod infrastructure and are not able to support such intense growth.

How do we harness the power within the pulse of these cities to inspire innovative ways to keep up with urban growth and provide access to sustainable housing?

In partnership with the American Planning Association, U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, U.S. Department of State and the Rockefeller Foundation, Ashoka’s Changemakers launched a global competition in November, 2010 – Sustainable Urban Housing: Collaborating for Liveable and Inclusive Communities. In support of U.S. President Barack Obama’s Energy and Climate Partnership for the Americas and in anticipation of the 2012 Summit of the Americas, the competition sought to accelerate the pace at which innovative, sustainable and environmentally conscious housing and urban development models are shared and scaled around the world.

The competition inspired the submission of 289 entries from 48 countries. The ideas presented were incredibly diverse and modern. The most competitive entries were market-based, collaborative solutions that demonstrated an understanding of community needs; respected local, indigenous culture, materials and practices; incorporated environmentally responsible methodologies; worked with existing economic and political frameworks; and pulsated with awe-inspiring energy.

For months this online competition provided a dynamic platform for discussion and collaboration. By spring, 2011 the panel of esteemed judges had the incredible task of selecting the following three winners:

Aaron Bartley, Green Development Zone (USA)

Constanza Ledezma, Habitat for Humanity (Argentina)

Sergio Prado, Zero Waste/Curadores da Terra (Brazil)

Last week, the winners and top finalist from over 10 different countries convened in Washington D.C. at the National Building Museum to exchange ideas, get expert advice on scaling strategies and celebrate a growing movement towards housing for all. Watch winner Sergio Prado discuss his perspective on sustainable cities:

Prado’s message – “Yes, we can green it!” – touches on how a strong movement can eradicate slums. He speaks to the power of alliances between private entities, public institutions and community-based organizations. This concept goes beyond conventional public-private partnerships in its ability to realize long-term economic and social value; change systems and processes; and transform livelihoods. Ashoka’s Full Economic Citizenship-Housing for All Initiative (HFA) hosted a global Summit of Housing Entrepreneurs in Barcelona, Spain with nearly 35 experts from around the world; a key message from the Summit was consistent with Sergio’s assertion about the importance of deriving value out of strong alliances and market-based collaborations (for more information on HFA’s report on the Barcelona Summit visit

The convening highlighted other interesting insights, for example the importance of revitalizing neighborhoods through community organizing, which is discussed in this perspective given by competition winner Aaaron Bartley:

During the three-day event at the National Building Museum, winner Constanza Ledezma participated in a financing workshop that would help improve the scaling strategy for Habitat for Humanity-Argentina; she articulated an insight that cut across hundreds of entries – the need to couple financing with technical assistance. View Ledezma’s perspective on the competition here:

Changemakers will release a Housing Solutions Guide that captures the major insights from the competition. The initial results regarding the barriers and solutions to scaling sustainable housing and urban development strategies are in line with HFA’s forthcoming research report, Access to Housing at the Base of the Pyramid: Enabling Markets for Affordable Housing.

The Sustainable Urban Housing entries represent a growing movement of audacious leaders that are implementing sustainable models that engage and energize the mission to provide effective socio-economic solutions that bleed across income segments and geographies. The finalists, in particular, pumped new life into the movement and captured the hearts of many along the way – reminding us all that the though this work is often complex, nuanced and requires undying commitment…humanity is worth the effort.

Click HERE to view the all the videos from the finalists, Ashoka Staff and HUD.

Videos produced by The Collaborative.

[i] World Bank Group: Urban & Local Development Strategy “Systems of Cities” (2009).