November 18, 2017

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Best for the World: Creating Affordable Housing, Financial Empowerment for 4.9 Million with Échale a tu Casa

Over one billion people globally currently lack adequate housing. In Mexico alone, 4.9 million people lack affordable, permanent housing.

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Editor's Note: This is part five of a new weekly series aimed at learning more about the 92 B Corporations who won the 'Best for the World' title earlier this year from nonprofit B Lab. Through short interviews with company founders, CEOs and directors, we'll dig into their motivations, missions, challenges and what makes them truly Best for the World.

Through their stories, we'll search for best practices, tips on aligning mission and profit, and identify gaps where better regulation can help or private-private partnerships can play a role. Becoming the change is an ambitious order – and one that over 1,000 companies have accepted already. Let's learn how they're doing it.

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Today we spotlight Échale a tu Casa, a social enterprise in Mexico that aims to improve housing conditions for the poor through a comprehensive integrated model that combines community empowerment, local technical capacity building, an affordable financing system and “green” building techniques.

Quick facts:

  • Founded in 1997.
  • Provided 30,000 new homes and helped provide an additional 150,000 home improvements over the last six years.
  • For over 25 years Founder Francesco Piazzesi has worked in Mexico to improve housing conditions for this excluded population.
  • Recently created a sister company to provide a financial vehicle for the poor to have access to fair interest rates and products tailored made for assisted self building.
  • On track to meet its goal of producing 10,000 homes a year across 22 of 32 Mexican states via community-based social franchises and extending the model through strategic partners to South and Central America.

We chatted with CEO Francesco Piazzesi, Ph.D. Excerpts:

What motivated you to start your company?

Over one billion people globally currently lack adequate housing. In Mexico alone, 4.9 million people lack CEO Francesco Piazzesiaffordable, permanent housing.

Being in the construction business, I constantly faced the horrors of housing in Mexico. Self-builders (58 percent of the total housing market) spend 30 percent of their income in buildings that do not offer technical assistance and force them to use high cost, low quality construction materials due to low demand.

This results in an expensive and inadequate housing solution that does not fulfill the purpose of a home. My family business, which is dedicated to development of construction machinery, developed the Adoblock technology as a green substitute for cement block and brick clay. When the Adoblock technology emerged, we also started donating free houses to families displaced by natural disasters.

But the donation model led to little impact as funds were scarce and we realized families were willing to pay for a home in order to give their family a much-needed secure environment. What was missing was quality construction and access to fair finance.

So we recruited a team to use our technology along with community participation to create a for-profit model and achieve grater scale. Through our comprehensive solutions, Échale has influenced several changes in public policy in Mexico and built over 30,000 homes and 150,000 home improvements.

Why did you become a Certified B Corp? How has becoming a B Corp helped grow your business and brand?

Échale a tu Casa was one of the pioneers of the GIIRS/B Corp rating system. As a social enterprise, we are required to talk both the social and corporate languages. Presenting a rating system that solely focuses on one of the Echale a tu casa_Company highlights for B Labaspects was a huge challenge since none of the available rating structures offered a comprehensive overview of the company. They were either too focused on social impact or just asking about financials.

When the opportunity to be one of the first international companies to use and rate themselves with a system that encompassed both approaches, we decided to get involved. In fact, the GIIRS adoption was a fairly easy transition because we soon realized the potential this system offered – not only to validate our work to potential investors, but also for internal communication and engagement.

Since becoming a certified B Corp, Échale has experienced growth both internally and externally. Internally, the certification has helped us see were we stand with our practices and where we want to go – and helped us set realistic, measurable and attainable goals.

Externally, being a B Corp helps us start conversations in a more proactive way since people understand that being a B Corp entails meeting a certain standard. It has also helped open doors in the international arena and helped grow the Échale brand.

What challenges did you face in meeting or exceeding your CSR goals?

At Échale, CSR is not run as a separate department. The philosophy of bringing value to all stakeholders is embedded within the operations of the company.

For us, the first challenge was setting CSR goals by truly identifying where Échale was and where we needed to go. We had to identify what each department was doing to bring value to all our stakeholders and where we were going to take the company.

B Lab's Impact Assessment made this task much easier. Everyone in the company understood the value this brings to Échale and the value it brings to costumers. It was not a matter of checking items off of a checklist but rather a philosophy of always looking for ways to become better and achieve greater standards.

What is one critical area that you're challenged with because of lack of industry participation or government regulation?

One critical area is the lack of regulation in financial solutions offered to low-income communities. Our clients need products made for housing solutions that offer transparent and comparable interest rates so more people can have access to Echaleaffordable housing. This is the main reason why Échale created a financial institution that could provide that service.

What does being honored as a 'Best for the World' company mean for Échale?

We are humbled but also derive great motivation from the honor. We feel committed to incorporate best practices into our business, continue reinventing ourselves to create value not only for partners and clients but also for our workers, community, the environment and the world.

B Corporations enter conversations with new tools, stronger arguments, and the validation helps us open new doors every day.

The opinions, beliefs and viewpoints expressed by CSRwire contributors do not necessarily reflect the opinions, beliefs and viewpoints of CSRwire.

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