Feb 27, 2009
Heinz College student Gerardo Hernandez Arroyo wants to play matchmaker, but his vision has nothing to do with roses and dinner dates.
Arroyo recently submitted a proposal titled “CanDoHouses: Suitable and Affordable Homes” to the Dell Social Innovation Competition, a worldwide challenge created by the RGK Center at The University of Texas and Dell to identify the most ingenious and innovative ideas for social change.
CanDoHouses would serve as an intermediary between U.S. ports and Vita Espacios Consortium (VitaE), a Mexican company that builds affordable and environmentally-friendly housing from steel shipping containers.
“From containers, VitaE is constructing houses at a very affordable price, and these houses are being made available to low-income families,” said Arroyo, who is scheduled to complete the Master of Entertainment Industry Management program in May.
Arroyo originally submitted his proposal to Heinz College’s Institute for Social Innovation, a research center dedicated to fostering entrepreneurship among organizations and individuals driven by a social mission. Heinz College students take courses in social entrepreneurship, attend lectures by experts in the field and research strategies and tools to resolve existing social challenges.
“The Institute for Social Innovation is focused on training the next generation of social entrepreneurs by providing them with the knowledge, networks and confidence to move their ideas from concept to reality,” said Brenda Peyser, acting director of ISI. “Many of our students, like Gerardo, have great ideas for solving difficult social problems in new ways. Assisting these emerging social entrepreneurs is exciting and gratifying.”
Arroyo’s proposal states that CanDoHouses would track and secure unwanted shipping containers through donation or purchase. The company would then sell them to VitaE, which would convert them into affordable houses in rural areas of Mexico, home to more than 24 million people.
“There is plenty of demand for the VitaE houses in Mexico, and they're trying to provide as much housing as they possibly can,” said Arroyo. “VitaE constantly has to turn people down because they don't have the containers.”
The United States now imports far more merchandise than it exports, and large steel shipping containers are becoming an environmental hazard. It is often cheaper to construct new crates overseas than to transport the empty containers back to their point of origin. The containers, or inter-modal steel building units (ISBUs), are piling up in port cities around the country and being dumped in landfills and waterways.
Surprisingly, though, VitaE is finding it difficult to locate these unwanted ISBUs. The empty containers are tough to track and, because of red tape and regulations, even tougher to acquire.
“VitaE is making an effort to reuse these containers and make houses for poor people in Mexico,” said Arroyo. “The challenge for them is to actually find the containers.”
The Dell Social Innovation Competition requires students to submit a proposal for a world-changing idea by March 2. Submission titles and descriptions then become publicly available on the competition website, and visitors can vote on their favorite ideas. Semifinalists, announced on March 9, will move on to Round 2 and will be asked to submit a 3-minute video to accompany their plan. The winning idea will win $50,000, and one concept that addresses an environmental issue will win $10,000.
Round 1 voting ends on March 5, and you can access Arroyo’s submission directly to support his idea.
“I have a very clear strategy of where to start, but I need funding,” Arroyo said. “What are the specific things that I will need in order to know how many containers I can get from ports here in the U.S. There is a lot of research to be done.”
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