Finnish know-how improving African housing shortage

A Finnish architectural collaborative developed a new housing construction concept that is aiming at easing the housing shortage of Ivory Coast. Finnartnership’s support helps companies establish themselves on-site.

Ivory Coast is slowly recovering from a civil war that tore the country from 2002 to 2007. Ensuring peace and stability requires improvement of basic services for the people. This includes adequate housing, of which there is a severe shortage. This was the issue the Espoo-based architect Rauno Ali-Kovero began finding solutions for in order to speed up the development of reasonably-priced housing. “This requires, among other things, construction techniques that are suitable for the local conditions, training and guidance on project management, modern working methods and innovative building materials,” Ali-Kovero comments.

Local partner setting up project foundations

Ali-Kovero has previous experience in working on construction projects run by the World Bank and European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD) in developing countries. In Ivory Coast they found a partner in Amara Doumboya. Doumbouya, who has lived in Finland for a long time, has his roots in Ivory Coast, and he is one of the founders of Sisu Africa, which promotes business partnership between Finland and Africa. “One of the main observations we made was the poor quality of building design and construction. For example, due to inadequate ventilation, the houses often form mould, which leads to significant health impacts,” Doumbouya says. One of the key issues is the lack of skills among the builders. “The locals learn their skills from their fathers or relatives. Building, however, requires professional training. Same goes with design.”

Innovative building concept

Based on Doumbouya’s observation, Ali-Kovero began thinking of solutions to problems that included, for example, slow building progress, old techniques and poor project management. Other issues were poor energy efficiency and humidity problems. The planning resulted in the HULE concept (home units with low energy needs), which is an eco-friendly method of constructing 4-5-floor apartment buildings. Ali-Kovero and Doumbouya have charted the markets in Ivory Coast, showcasing their concept to various parties. “We are focusing on construction trade unions, local investors, a state-owned social housing construction company and local politicians,” Ali-Kovero lists. The team has also established a HULE co-op in Ivory Coast. “Stage two of the project will be initialised after we have gathered more information on what is optimally achievable here,” Ali-Kovero says. He says it is possible for HULE to expand their portfolio from housing to other construction sectors that require modern working methods and materials. “The aim is to establish at least one production unit based on a new construction material,” Ali-Kovero plans.

Finnpartnership has provided initial support

Rauno Ali-Kovero’s company Arkkitehdit Ali-Kovero Oy received partnership support from Finnpartnership for identifying potential partners, pre-feasibility studies and the preparation of a business plan for entering Ivory Coast. Through these stages the company sought to establish a co-op in Ivory Coast, and the objective was met with the founding of HULE. “The funding provided by Finnpartnership provided excellent financial foundations for the project.”

Learning the local practices and agreement procedures has taken its time. According to Ali-Kovero, the progress would have been significantly more sluggish without Amara Doumbouya’s connections. “Having pre-established networks on-site has been a vital factor for success,” Ali-Kovero emphasises. According to Doumbouya, his main task is to convince clients that this Nordic construction method guarantees a cost-efficient, high-quality result within the agreed timeframe. “A major issue here is that a one-year project can wind up taking five years. In such cases, investors often face financial trouble with mortgage payments looming,” Doumbouya says.

Potential markets for Finnish companies

Ali-Kovero and Doumbouya are looking to pave way for other Finnish companies entering Ivory Coast. Among the plans is the construction of an unofficial “Finland House”, where the visiting ambassador of Finland would have a workspace during visits. “This way the house would also serve as a more official channel of communication between Finland and Ivory Coast,” Ali-Kovero comments.

Ivory Coast has remained a somewhat distant land for Finnish companies, and the recent civil war has not made the country an attractive place for investments. “Now is the perfect time to get to know a country that is getting back on its feet and has dire need of various services.” According to Ali-Kovero, another potential opportunity is embodied by the African Development Bank, the main branch of which is located in the largest city of Ivory Coast, Abidjan. “The development bank could potentially finance our project, but currently housing construction is not one of the main areas of emphasis of the bank. If, however, we are able to complete impressive projects, the entire Africa will soon take note,” Ali-Kovero exclaims.

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