Seri Youlou

Association la Voûte Nubienne (AVN)
Year founded: 

AVN is creating a self-sustaining construction market by training farmers in the construction of homes withss vaulted earth-brick roofs. The home design provides an affordable, ecologically sustainable housing alternative.

Focus: Environment, Housing
Geographic Area of Impact: Burkina Faso, Mali
Model: Hybrid Non-Profit
Annual Budget: US$ 367,500
Percentage Earned Revenue: 30%
Number of Direct Beneficiaries: 10,000
Recognition: Social Entrepreneur of the Year, Africa, 2012

The Sahel is a vast green belt threatened by desertification. The future of its rural families and its ecosystems are interconnected. Affordable housing that utilizes local skills and materials, has a low environmental impact, and is economically self-sustaining, is essential to the region's social and environmental restoration. People living in the Sahel region of West Africa no longer have access to traditional building methods using bush timber. Instead, for roofing they rely on corrugated iron, which has no insulation properties, is unhealthy and uncomfortable, and is expensive for many families and thus perpetuates a cycle of poverty.

Innovation and Activities
The AVN strategy focuses on three ideas: a roof, a skill, a market. The roof refers to the ecologically sustainable Nubienne Vault (NV) design that uses earth bricks. AVN rigorously tested the design between 1998 and 2000. Once it had a proven design, AVN began studying the ways to transfer construction knowledge from masons to apprentices. AVN worked on this skill component of its strategy from 2000 to 2008 and during this time also researched demand for the construction technology. Finally, AVN devised an innovative methodology for spreading the technology and creating a market.

The methodology for creating a market is based on four-year Pilot Village and Pilot Zone Deployment Programs (PVDP /PZDP). These programs aim to help generate a sustainable local construction market in selected regions. At the core of each PVDP/ PDZP is a local 'champion' and a group of potential apprentices and clients in an area that includes several villages. AVN makes available teams of experienced NV builders to train local villagers in the technique and to supervise the construction sites.

The PVDP strategy, phased over a four-year period, involves: (1) Identification of a local champion and client base for NV buildings and houses in the village community. (2) An agreement with AVN about the construction schedule and the number of local apprentices to be trained (3) Providing a team of experienced NV masons to construct the houses and train apprentices (4) Evaluation of Year 1 activities in order to determine a construction and training schedule for the next three years (5) The return of NV masons to the village in Year 2 and Year 3, to supervise construction and help select and train new apprentices. In this way the program spreads to neighboring villages.

Today more than 200 masons have built over 1300 NV homes in West Africa. Now AVN is striving to scale up growth of a self-sustaining market in NV houses with the goal of establishing an autonomous market throughout the entire Sahei region by 2020.

The Entrepreneur
In 1998, Seri Youlou, a farmer from Burkina Faso, Thomas Granier, a French mason, tried to build a Nubian Vault home in Burkina Faso. The founder of PIAMET in Burkina Faso suggested developing the original prototype of NV buildings. Thomas had practiced traditional stone masonry for 25 years and he found the project an “architectural and social adventure.” The interest eventually led Seri and Thomas to the set up the Association Vaute Noubienne and the “Earth Roofs in the Sahel” Program.