Aims and Objectives
The main purpose of the project is to transfer the technologies and systems created through the organisation’s research and development programme, leading to improved living conditions, increased capacities within low-income communities and the promotion of endogenous development in the various regions of Argentina.
The Experimental Centre for Economic Housing / Association for Economic Housing (AVE/CEVE) – a non-governmental organisation regulated by the National Council for Scientific and Technical Research (CONICET) – was established over 40 years ago in the context of rapid urbanisation, increasing urban poverty and deepening social and economic inequalities in Argentina.
Whilst much has changed in the country over the last four decades, housing remains a critical issue. With almost two-fifths of its 37 million inhabitants living below the poverty line, the country is currently facing a rapidly increasing housing deficit, increased unemployment and growing social exclusion. Public housing schemes favour the construction of expensive homes that are accessible to few. Research into building technologies remains detached from urgent practical needs. There is an ever-growing need, therefore, to tackle the housing problem through a comprehensive approach that addresses housing, employment and local development.
For the last four decades, AVE/CEVE has worked to develop, apply and transfer a range of technical solutions to address various housing issues affecting low-income communities, including integral building systems and sustainable building components (‘hard’ technologies), such as lightweight insulated panels, FC2 (ferro-concrete), reinforced ceramic components and products developed from recycled waste materials, among others. From the outset, it was clear that the technologies that needed to be transferred and would have the greatest impact were those that considered the multiple aspects of poverty and not simply the lack of housing. Therefore, ‘soft’ technologies such as methods of community organisation and participation, housing finance, local development, self-management, etc. also began to be developed by AVE/CEVE and incorporated into the organisation’s technology transfer programme.
Funding for the project has been obtained from a range of sources. Technologies are developed through a participatory process with local communities and the organisation’s research/action/transfer approach ensures that participating communities provide information on the use and application of the technologies that have been implemented, which in turn feeds into further research and development.
The technology transfer process carried out by AVE/CEVE takes various forms, including the following:
- Mass dissemination – making alternative housing solutions known to the general public through campaigns, media, etc.
- Mobilising local actors – bringing organisations together, strengthening networks and encouraging the formation of research and action groups. Local workshops are carried out with the coordination and support of the organisation’s technical team.
- General training activities in the fields of housing and local development – carried out primarily with local and national government agencies, private entities, academic and research organisations and occasionally with local communities.
- Specialised training activities – in-depth training in specific building technologies, management approaches, participatory evaluation processes, etc. through practical workshops with participating groups.
- Consultancy services – ad hoc support to a particular group with a specific demand.
AVE/CEVE’s approach encourages the active participation of residents throughout the process – both in projects for housing construction and in technology transfer processes. This includes participatory design and planning of appropriate technologies and systems, participatory evaluation and monitoring and self-management of projects and resources.
Approximately 140 organisations to date, including grassroots groups organised into housing cooperatives, NGOs, local governments and micro and small enterprises both within Argentina and throughout Latin America, have worked in partnership with AVE/CEVE to transfer the technologies developed by the organisation.
Funding for AVE/CEVE’s projects and research has been obtained from the National Council for Scientific and Technical Research (CONICET), local and national government agencies, private companies and a number of international agencies, such as MISEREOR, GTZ, UNESCO, the World Council of Churches, the Organisation of American States, the Inter-American Foundation and the governments of Italy, Belgium, Canada and Spain.
Eighteen per cent of AVE/CEVE’s current annual institutional budget of US$600,000 is allocated to the organisation’s technology transfer programme. The remainder is used for research, development and implementation. An agreement has recently been signed with CONICET, renewing its financial support to the organisation. In addition, funding for current and future projects has been secured from a number of sources, including the Ministry of Science and Technology, as well as various international donors and government agencies. Income is also obtained through AVE/CEVE’s consultancy work.
Besides the improvement of housing conditions for low-income groups, qualitative results have been achieved in terms of strengthened social networks and processes, citizenship training and the recognition of civil rights.
Over the years the organisation has become a reference point in the region for technological development, social housing production and technology transfer. AVE/CEVE has contributed directly or indirectly to the creation and development of other local NGOs, such as SEHAS (Housing and Social Action Service) and SERVIPROH (Human Promotion Service) and there has been extensive national and international transfer of the project, benefiting a wide range of organisations and communities throughout Latin America.
AVE/CEVE, in association with other national NGO networks, has worked to influence housing policy and raise awareness among political leaders on crucial housing issues that must be addressed. In some cases, localised impact upon housing policy has been achieved (e.g. the development of municipal social policies, integrated habitat policies, etc.).
Why is it innovative?
- Recognising that housing is more than just a roof over one’s head – it is a process that should be viewed from a broad perspective, addressing a wide range of social and economic issues.
- Promoting the use of traditional systems and environmentally sustainable building materials.
- Developing technical processes that generate employment for non-skilled workers.
- Working in partnership with a wide range of organisations, both at grassroots level and at national and international levels.
- Transferring knowledge and experience within a range of local, national and international networks.
- Promoting new housing policies that prioritise social inclusion.
What is the environmental impact?
- Ongoing research is carried out into sustainable building materials which are tested and implemented. Current research includes the recycling of disposable materials (plastics and soda bottles) for the production of bricks as well as the use of renewable resources such as wood and its by-products from fast-growing sources that are easy to reforest.
- AVE/CEVE has developed a number of technologies and systems that seek to ensure the efficient use of energy and water resources. One example includes a compact toilet and sink unit which enables water from the hand basin to be recycled for use in flushing, resulting in water savings of 20 per cent.
- In addition to developing products that are environmentally sustainable in terms of efficient water and energy use, the preservation of natural resources and the use of materials with low embodied energy, AVE/CEVE also works towards recycling urban waste (PET) as well as industrial and agrarian waste through its projects.
Is it financially sustainable?
- Funding for AVE/CEVE’s projects and research is obtained from a wide variety of sources, as outlined above, and the organisation’s record of 42 years of uninterrupted activity attests to its financial sustainability. An agreement with CONICET ensures the continuity of the research staff and maintenance of basic operational requirements.
- The implementation of projects and technologies developed by AVE/CEVE has provided training to communities in administration, construction and related fields. On many occasions, the skills acquired have been applied in the provision of related services to third parties and in the creation of work cooperatives and other income-generating activities.
- The technologies transferred through the programme have been specifically developed to be affordable and accessible to low-income families. This is achieved through the use of local materials and local knowledge and implementation through self-help, self-management and the optimisation of existing resources within the community. In addition, AVE/CEVE’s revolving micro-credit fund for home improvement and construction helps to make housing more affordable to low-income groups. There are currently problems with the sustainability of the fund since only very low rates of interest are charged, which are below current inflation rates.
What is the social impact?
- AVE/CEVE’s work promotes greater community cooperation and integration through participatory work and training processes. Women have actively participated in a range of projects and initiatives, and the self-management of projects and building processes has led to greater cooperation and integration among group members.
- The work of AVE/CEVE has led to increased skills and abilities among residents and communities, both in administration and in occupations directly related to the technologies developed (e.g. civil construction). On several occasions, skills acquired as a result of projects have led to the creation of income-generating micro-undertakings by community members.
- AVE/CEVE’s work actively promotes social inclusion. Increased skills, improved living conditions and increased employment and livelihood opportunities contribute toward the reduction of existing social inequalities.
- An immediate effect of people’s participation and organisation in the development and transfer processes has been greater political participation by residents and communities, as well as the increased participation of women in community decision-making processes.
- With the organisation’s priority being to work directly with and address the needs of low-income families, not enough time and financial resources have been spent on the promotion of the technologies developed by AVE/CEVE. In addition, because the organisation’s activities are not limited to research but also extend to the production of components for housing construction, many companies view AVE/CEVE as competitors rather than providers of technology. In order to overcome this, emphasis is placed on the promotion and transfer of technologies at local level, particularly with grassroots organisations and local governments.
- In some cases there has been resistance by some community members as well as workers who are not familiar with the new technologies and/or are unwilling to try a different approach. AVE/CEVE has worked to share the advantages of using these new technologies, as well as working directly with the communities to obtain feedback and develop new products.
- There is a lack of public policies to ensure access by low-income families to land, housing and employment. AVE/CEVE has formed alliances and networks with other groups to put pressure on governments to address these issues.
- The transfer of technologies cannot be unidirectional; it must be a two-way process. It is important to listen to the residents and fully understand the issues to be addressed when developing new materials and technologies.
- Learning to build one’s house can lead to a range of multiplier effects, such as the ability to develop solutions to other issues through the new skills acquired, the generation of income and employment and the capacity to multiply and transmit the experience to other residents.
- ‘Soft’ technologies such as community organisation, project management, public participation and monitoring are just as important – if not more so – than the ‘hard’ technologies (e.g. building methods, materials and technologies).
- In 1979, AVE/CEVE established a separate Evaluation Department whose sole responsibility is to evaluate and monitor projects, materials and technologies. A range of monitoring and evaluation tools have been developed and applied over the years, ranging from conventional methods to participatory evaluation processes. Many of these tools have since become products in themselves and have been transferred to local communities, government agencies and other groups.
- AVE/CEVE also relies on the residents’ feedback and evaluation of its products for the development of further research.
- Through networks such as the Cordoba Forum of Institutions for Promotion and Development the project has been transferred to a number of communities and municipalities in the greater Cordoba area.
- Some of the housing cooperatives that have been set up by the organisation have since begun to work independently, building hundreds of additional units in the surrounding areas.
- The building materials and systems developed by AVE/CEVE, as well ‘soft’ methods and techniques (assessment, technology transfer, project administration, etc.), have been applied by a range of organisations throughout most provinces in Argentina.
- A multiplier effect is achieved through the transfer of technologies to a network of public institutions, grassroots organisations, non-governmental organisations and micro and small enterprises. Approximately 140 such groups and organisations have worked with AVE/CEVE over the last 45 years to transfer the approach, both within Argentina and in a number of Latin American countries.
- Knowledge transfer is carried out through networks of national and international organisations, including the Ibero-American Programme for Science and Technology for Development (CYTED), Habitat International Coalition and the Meeting of Non-Governmental Entities for Development in Argentina.
- The appropriate technologies, systems and products developed by AVE/CEVE have been widely used and transferred throughout Latin America over the last four decades, although less so in recent years. Housing projects have been developed in Uruguay and Cuba using the AVE/CEVE approach and the experience in Fortaleza, Brazil, where 650 houses were built in partnership with French NGO Research and Technological Exchange Group (GRET) has since led to other groups transferring the approach in other parts of the country.
- A wide range of ‘soft’ technologies developed by AVE/CEVE have been transferred by organisations in a number of Latin American countries, including Nicaragua, Guatemala, Panama, Honduras, Mexico, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, Bolivia, Paraguay, Chile, Uruguay and Brazil.
Academic/Research, Local government, Local community