Designing houses for the homeless that produce up to four times the amount of energy consumed
Prasoon Kumar still remembers feeling out-of-place during a conference in Manila on affordable housing. "All the talk was about policy, finance and land acquisition," the 40-year-old architect recalls of the event, which took place a decade ago. "I was the only one speaking about sustainability and a person's quality of life."
Kumar had spent nearly two decades designing airports, hospitals and apartment blocks across Asia, Africa and the United States of America. But it was the plight of the poor across India that particularly struck a nerve.
"Many cities across Asia have seen tremendous wealth in the last decade. But my work had exposed me to the other side. It was one of tremendous poverty, increased traffic, pollution and health problems."
So, after receiving seed funding in 2013, Kumar, who lives in Singapore, left his full-time job to start billionBricks.
The start-up, which has a vision that "no one is homeless in this world", designs sustainable housing for the homeless.
Their first product, WeatherHYDE (pictured), was an easy-to-assemble tent that served as a life-saving homeless shelter. The latest shelter, called PowerHYDE, is even bolder in its mission.
It is an affordable home that produces up to four times the amount of energy it consumes, thanks to solar panels on the roof. Surplus energy is then sold by each household to finance the house, with the mortgage fully payable within 11 years.
A community of 115 PowerHYDE homes can generate the same amount of energy as a 1 megawatt solar power plant.
Kumar says he sees homeless people as customers, and not helpless beneficiaries. "We want to empower them so we work with them to come up with financial plans,'' he says. After testing prototypes in Phnom Penh in Cambodia, the company is now looking for land and funding to build more homes in India, Sri Lanka and the Philippines.
It has been hard work. But Kumar is motivated by the example he sets for his two sons, aged three and six, and his conviction that homelessness can ultimately be eradicated.
"I want people to rethink their belief systems," he says. "We need to approach homelessness as we would any other enterprise."