International show: a Mexican housing project gains international attention by achieving higher social impact.

Author:Nunez, Marco Antonio

!Echale! a tu casa (Give your house a go!) was an NGO created in Mexico in 1997. It was converted into a social enterprise eight years ago. The organization's goal is to help low-income people who don't have access to financing for housing. They do this using a savings and credit model with support from government subsidiaries and several public and private institutions.

"We are doing something that enables people, who don't have any kind of support for getting a house, to be able to acquire a decent one," said Francesco Piazzesi, founder and director of !Echale! a tu casa.

Piazzesi discovered that the biggest obstacle facing the organization was being an NGO in the build-it-yourself sector. Its legal environment wouldn't allow it to grow or broaden its scope, and this limited its social impact. "If we wanted to scale up and go worldwide, we had to make this a social enterprise," he said.

Build-it-yourself housing construction is a slow process. It's not unusual for someone to take up to 15 years to build and pay for their house, and it ends up with many shortcomings, Piazzesi said. "It's a house that's no good to anyone. It's unhealthy and it isn't a family asset."

With this in mind, in 2006, the !Echale! a tu casa NGO changed its business model to enable people who build their own houses to receive more benefits to do so. This institution is one of 14,508 civil society organizations registered in Mexico since 1990, according to figures from the Foreign Affairs Department.

!Echale! a tu casa changed the equation of housing in Mexico. This company operates under a system of social participation in which the residents of a community who own their land join forces to obtain financing and designs, and to build their own houses and those of their neighbors under a communal system with the help of a team of technicians. By 2013, the foundation had built more than 4,000 houses throughout the country.

One of the system's big advantages is that the designs of the houses are done professionally. That way, the house ends up being an asset that's much more attractive and marketable--in other words, it's a better way to maintain the build-it-yourself family asset.

Now Piazzesi has a new goal--expansion. Supported by the Ashoka Foundation, an institution that supports social entrepreneurs around the world, and by the American Business Customs Foundation (ABC), formed by businessmen who got together to encourage social impact projects, it will expand...

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