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Digital solution puts Africa’s small-scale constructors back in control

Housing a continent

Digital solution puts Africa’s small-scale constructors back in control

Many Africans trying to build their own homes have been been stung by dishonest contractors, but a new digital platform is helping to put small-scale constructors back in control of the process, as Nancy Welsh explains.

Transparency and accountability are paramount when funding overseas projects. Real estate investments and construction projects can be particularly daunting, with insecure titles and deeds. Qualified contractors are also hard to find and even materials can be scarce. 

Due to fraud, leakage, and other factors, research suggests that in emerging markets, only $0.55 out of every dollar invested in housing construction is actually spent on its intended purpose. Fixing this one problem could nearly double the flow of capital into housing construction projects. 

According to the Africa Union for Housing Finance, 70%-80% of housing across Africa is self-managed construction; this means whether you are looking for a maisonette or a small home, you are most likely relegated to building it yourself. Understanding these two data points is significant to realising how individuals and families in emerging markets are impacted by the scarcity of housing.

With very low inventories of basic housing, most people in Africa must take on the challenge of constructing their own home. They are generally novice builders, taking years to construct their dream homes, having to navigate a very unorganised, informal marketplace.

There are countless stories of honest, charitable people trying to build their own home or help out a family member back home with housing repairs, only to find out later that the contractor had to be paid in advance, and then never showed up to do the work.

Stories of fraud and unintended consequences abound in the construction industry. Despite the exciting innovations in so many other sectors, the construction industry has lagged behind in providing the high-tech accountable and transparent solutions you would expect to be available to solve these issues.

Imagine a world where you could create construction and repair projects right from your phone – a world where you could find qualified and rated contractors, skilled labourers, and trustworthy material suppliers near your construction site with the touch of a button – and you could additionally make secure payments direct to the contractors and suppliers based on milestones of completed work, without ever having to set foot on site. In response to such a vision, iBUILD Global has launched the world’s first integrated platform as a service for small-scale and incremental construction.

The platform emails you to remotely manage your projects from anywhere, local or abroad, enabling you to find rated and qualified contractors in a trusted ecosystem where you can view digital examples of their work, see their ratings and verified certifications – all without having to meet face-to-face.

Payments follow completed work

Another innovative iBUILD app feature allows customers to make incremental payments tied to actual work done, avoiding upfront, risky payments. This is accomplished through simple digital contracts, geo-tagging of project photos, and real-time project site updates on progress, with full traceability of funds, and a historical record of transactions – all conveniently saved to their project records.

The in-app chat function creates a record of chats, tied to your project to improve communication between customers, contractors and suppliers, and to organise chat document sharing and commitments made – stored directly in the app for historical reference.

iBUILD also provides the ability to digitise workers’ profiles, for ease of connecting with a broad network of opportunity. They are no longer forced to stand on street corners to find work but can search and apply for jobs on their iBUILD app instead. Skilled workers receive custom badges for certified training and can be easily found and recognised for their achievement.

In response to the Covid-19 pandemic, the iBUILD app promoted access to its digital, cloud-based platform tools for free in Kenya, from the Google Playstore. 

Remote management is important even for locals, which an end-to-end financial technology solution such as iBUILD can address. In addition to the e-wallet, iBUILD has launched an insurance marketplace for workers registered on the platform and is also making mortgage finance and micro lending available for consumers through the platform.

Providing digital opportunities for financial inclusion is a strategy that further supports and stimulates housing production and is long overdue.

Nancy Welsh is Co-Founder & CMO at software development company iBUILD Global.

To read more articles from our special report on affordable housing in Africa, coordinated by AFFORD UK, visit the Housing a Continent webpage.

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