“The programme really helped me to make my intitative more holistic, to combine different aspects and to take key decisions”

Indian architect, director and founder of Needlab, Sameera Chukkapalli shares her experience of the Swedish Institute Management Programme Asia (SIMP) and how it helped the organisation develop its work. Needlab is a non-profit research organisation that solves sustainability issues with the motto “For the people, by the people, of the people”.
Portrait photo of Sameera Chukkapalli.

Why did you apply to Swedish Institute Management Programme Asia and what are your recommendations to anyone thinking of applying?

I wanted to be among people who are making decisions, wheter it’s in the privat sector, governments or organisations. In SIMP you are surrounded by people who think in the same direction as you are. If you’re applying to SIMP you’re already thinking about sustainability, climate change and human rights. You’re thinking about what we can do in our current job to make the world better.

Can you describe what your initiative “House for all” is about and what you are working on now?

The initiative “House for all”, aims to provide one of the basic human needs – shelter. We use principles of circular economy, using local materials with low carbon, and creating employment and sustainable development. In Nairobi, Kenya, where we currently work, there is a great demand for urban housing to provide shelter for people. The government are looking at a scale of 500 000 houses to meet the needs. We are now planning for 20–25 site houses and before we scale it up we improve the design. For example, how the house is handling different weather seasons. The best person to listen to, for an architect like me, is someone living in the house.

The houses have solarpanels and feed the grid, they make energy but they don’t store it. We hope that the government realize that these houses produce a great amount of energy.

Dignity is an important aspect for “House for all” and we believe that when you donate something, it’s not socially and emotionally dignifying. But when you pay an amount, the transaction creates dignity. We intend for the families living in our houses to pay around 30 or 40 USD in proportion to their total earnings.  The next step for us is to make a plan for people to own the land as well as the house. For that we need to collaborate and continue our conversation with the government.

How did your participation in SIMP Asia help you with “House for all”?

It really helped me to make my intitative more holistic, to combine different aspects and to take key decisions. “House for all” developed into what it is today thanks to SIMP. I remember a very supportive and motivating lecturer that made me stop and reflect on how big the issue of housing really is. We as an organisation hadn’t tought of housing as a world crisis. Our focus had been very local but now we realised that this is a much bigger problem. I was able to not only think of housing in Kenya, but rather as an intitaitve that changes for each place, each climate, while the concept remains the same.

Where do you see yourself in the future – what’s your goal?

My goal is to share information with governments and other non profit organisations which are working on housing issues. Then we can take it from there, offer them consultation if they need and continue to share design that we build through open sources. It is as if we’ve created a new recipe and want to share it rather than cook it for everybody.

Note: Needlabs initiative ”House for all” is a finalist in World Changing Ideas 2020, arranged by the American business magazine Fast Company.