Failure is not an option

By Prasoon Kumar

Very often, a successful business is defined by its strategy, leadership and purpose. Perseverance often does not make it to the list. However, we at bB, have found 'perseverance' to be one of our key qualities that has seen us through our short three year existence.

It was recently proven during our Kickstarter campaign which we ran to fundraise for our WeatherHYDE tents. The project had so many unknowns and had no set of rules to follow, that we went ahead to the best of our judgement. We soon realised that much of our understanding turned out to be wrong. 

Throughout the 50 days of the campaign, we stuck by it, we didn't give up, we kept a positive attitude and applied numerous fall back strategies. These fall back strategies showed results, and we miraculously reached our goal with few hours to spare. See the image which reflects how nervous we were for the large part of the campaign and how breathtakingly exciting it was towards the end. Failure was never an option. 

Here are the most important learnings and take aways from our experience: 

1. Nerves of steel/ persistence - always be prepared for a whirlwind ride of a lifetime; get your health insurance in place if you can't handle the 'feeling of free falling'. 

2. Create a product that people understand - especially if you are campaigning globally with a product that is contextual. WeatherHYDE, our homeless shelter was (literally) seen by millions of eyes. Some saw it for themselves, some for their own country, some for another country, and for all sorts of uses. It made our job of enticing customers to pledge equally hard and we had to shift the focus of our campaign midway.

3. The right platform - This is one which you will see a lot on google searches. Each platform has its own audience, trustworthiness and ease of use. We used Kickstarter, the biggest of all, and since we used their Singapore platform, many from the US could not trust the pricing shown in multiple currencies. Our support base in India had no knowledge of it, and Singapore had too few people to empathise with our product. 

4. Have friends and lots of them - not only to back the campaign, but to emotionally, psychologically and maybe even physically support you. This did wonders for us, as I went to connect with friends from over two decades ago. On the last day, we had mini fundraisers happening in over 7 cities in the world and countless prayers coming our way. 

5. Listen to yourself, and not so much to the consultants - The moment you start a campaign, hundreds of crowdfunding experts show up. They are all experts in google searches and knowing what other experts have said and written. They believe in a crowd funding formula that works, take no responsibility for results and want a lot of money to tell all that is wrong with you. They forget, that people like us may not have the knowledge, but we have the will to do it, which can make all the difference. And it does.

Are you ready for your ride of the lifetime?


bB's Fellowship Program welcomes Åsa from Sweden!


bB's Fellowship Program welcomes Åsa from Sweden!

Starting March 2017, we welcomed a new fellow, Åsa Jonnson, assigned particularly to work on the WeatherHYDE project until August 2017.

Åsa is a dedicated, strong-willed and adventurous individual who is also very kind-hearted, caring, and is taking it as her personal mission to use her knowledge, skills and capacity to serve the under-served and vulnerable.

She is currently pursuing her Master of Urban Planning and International Cooperation at Grenoble Institute of Urbanism, Grenoble Alpes University in France. The Fellowship Program at bB will be credited to her Master's program where she is required to realise an Internship. 

The Fellowship Program at billionBricks is designed to provide students with a practical and professional learning experience by offering professional content and context, and the opportunity to work closely in shadowing senior leadership. A curated experience will allow the student to develop substantive relevant skills and insights into the specific challenges facing the organisation.

In Åsa's 6 months with bB, she will be spending time working with bB team members and leadership, and working-on ground in Indonesia, Singapore and India. 



Urban Homeless Shelters: Institutions of Hope, or Last Resort for the Hopeless?

By Manishankar Prasad

billionBricks Founder & CEO Prasoon Kumar in front of Geeta Ghat Homeless Shelter for Men, managed by Centre For Equity Studies/ Aman Biradiri

billionBricks Founder & CEO Prasoon Kumar in front of Geeta Ghat Homeless Shelter for Men, managed by Centre For Equity Studies/ Aman Biradiri

It was a cool Valentine’s Day morning, with a nip in the air when the billionBricks team led by Mr. Prasoon Kumar travelled an hour in the subway and cycle rickshaw from south Delhi to the banks of the Yamuna where we were invited to visit the urban homeless shelters  (Ran Basera) by renowned Social Justice Activist Mr. Harsh Mander.

Delhi Urban Shelter Improvement Board, as per a senior official, has a capacity of 21, 724 beds this winter for the homeless. The location of the Geeta Ghat shelter is literally at the margins of the metropolis, next to the perennially polluted Yamuna River. The urban homeless, are the marginalized and vulnerable and this geographical juxtaposition at the banks of a river is rather apt.  The male migrant construction worker at the metro construction site or the rickshaw puller is seen all over but retreats to a temporary space, which serves as security and a roof over the head.

The Geeta Ghat Shelter had two distinct shelters within the same facility; a general ward and a ‘recovery’ ward, a segregated section for tuberculosis patients, a biomedical lens for evaluating even the minority within the marginalized.  Aman Biradiri does extensive work in the health space, running a street medicine initiative that ties in well with their homeless shelter work.

We observed many men wandering about on that morning sitting on the green perch soaking in the winter sun. These men, who occasionally work as manual labor in the wedding events sector, were loitering around. Mohammed Inam, the caretaker of the facility originally from Bihar shed some light regarding the intrinsic causes of urban homelessness:

'Migrants come to the city to earn money and are not able to go home since they have not attained their objective of earning money to send back home. Hence they become homeless. In poverty, money is the main reason. They don't have work.'

In the corner of the general shelter, there was an old injured man named ‘Tapan’, from the red soil Birbhum district in West Bengal, singing a wailing baul song; quite emblematic of the despair of the voiceless, where housing is temporary but misery is permanent.

Later on in the day, the billionBricks team also visited the Kilkari Homeless Girls Shelter, nestled in between the historic Kashmere Gate area, housed in an Archeological Society of India certified building where a single shift government school operates. 120 girls use 3 toilets in the facility.  The marginalized again utilize mediocre facilities although this might be the best option available for the girls.

The trade off for the urban homeless is often between freezing to death, getting robbed, assaulted violently and poor conditions in the government shelters, where shelter management agencies or non profits are often paid paltry sums with a six month phase lag, where caretaker salaries and electricity bills have to be paid. Disruptive solutions such as billionBricks WeatherHYDE solution for the homeless are available to convulse this quotidian binary in between a government homeless shelter and sleeping out in the cold.

The Geeta Ghat Homeless Shelter for Men

The Geeta Ghat Homeless Shelter for Men

A Football Field sized urban homeless shelter for men

A Football Field sized urban homeless shelter for men

A homeless man sleeping

A homeless man sleeping

Kilkari Girl Children Shelter run by Rainbow Foundation of India/ Aman Biradiri

Kilkari Girl Children Shelter run by Rainbow Foundation of India/ Aman Biradiri



Housing for All (who & how) by 2022

Affordable housing - macro to micro perspective for design intervention

Cities have the capability of providing something for everybody, only because, and only when, they are created by everybody. - Jane Jacobs

With current world political development, migration and urbanisation are transforming cities across the world. In this scenario access to housing has become centre of development and discussion.

Under the rapid urbanisation by 2020 India is going to witness the population growth and urban migration (2). This will change the housing sector in the country. By 2020, India is expected to capture 7% of global requirement in construction sector to meet its housing demand.

The country is going through huge transition from new government, demonetization, policy reformation and budget. One of the important policy announced by the government is “Housing for All by 2022” to tackle the housing shortage through national level policy. By 2019, India will required 9.44 lakh houses.

This program is focusing on issue of rapid urbanisation and migration across the country (4).

Based on this UDRI and The Architecture Foundation conducted two day conference on State of Housing in India, to discuss and analysed the future requirement for this housing projects with architects, planners, academicians and policy makers.


Eminent Speakers in State of Housing;

  1. Kirtee Shah, Ahmedabad - Some dimensions of the housing challenge in India : rural and urban

  2. Sameep Padora, Mumbai - (Re)coding: in the name of housing

  3. Nuru Karim - Housing beyond borders: multidimensional post earthquake reconstruction

  4. Ashok Lal - Opportunities of collective living : affordability threshold and aspirational range

  5. Hafeez Contractor -  The design of housing :  three decade of practice

  6. Pankaj Joshi - suggestions on alternatives to slum rehabilitation authority model of housing in Mumbai

  7. Prasnna Desai - tailor made transformation (peoples participatory approach to slum rehabilitation)

  8. Sheela Patel - Reflections of four decades of working on urban habitat and informality

  9. Amita Bhide - A call for sociological imagination of housing studies

  10. Aromar revi - DYnamics of housing in India: trends and perspectives

  11. Gautam Bhan - What we talk about when talking about Housing?

  12. Alpa Seth - Construction of Rural housing under awas yojana : need for a fundamental change in strategy

  13. Sharad Mahajan - Housing : a bottom up approach

  14. Gautam Chatarjee - Will PMAY will solve the problem of housing for all

  15. Pranay Vakil - Real estate of real estate

  16. Vidyadhar Pathak - riddle of housing


The Housing for All by 2002 (Pradhan MAntri Awas Yojana)  program main objective is;

This conference has helped to raise some important points related to Land as resource, technology intervention, redevelopment, improved infrastructure, private players and financing with the main focus on housing.For billionBricks as well as Architects, Planners and others in Housing sector this two day conference was insightful to understand the parameters of affordable housing in India. We hope that this short summary of this conference will help everyone to understand the transformation of housing in India and open new debate to develop the design intervention for better quality affordable housing for All.


  • The main theme of this conference was categorised under 4 sections;

  1. Parameters for viable housing as seen by the government

  2. Important policies, schemes and events since independence

  3. Codifying housing typologies in the country

  4. Challenges of specificities of governance and physical, political and social geographies


  • The Housing for All 2002 will change the Indian city completely and it's some of the benefits as mentioned below,

  1. The construction of such large number of housing will share in GDP and economic growth.

  2. The will help to create investment and assets creation.

  3. The job creation across rural and urban India through material production and construction.

  4. The new housing development will help to improve the quality of life in Cities.

  5. Their is possibility to achieve city without slum.

  6. Most important is to achieve housing right through Housing for All program


  • How do you define Affordable housing?

  1. The combination advantageous location with live and work affordable shelter makes it affordable housing. The integration of Affordable housing is very important across the fabric of the city.

  2. For affordable housing the understanding of the ecosystem of housing production, distribution and consumption in varied scales of urban settlements is equally important.

  3. Rental shelter on Leasehold/licenced land


  • Recommendations:

Design & Innovation

  1. Promote innovation of quick build, demountable, transportable, temporary shelter.

  2. Houses getting the full benefit MUST SURRENDER 10-15% of their footprint /land for common good This will help & benefit in creating open breathing/interactive spaces along the streets for the community/

  3. Vehicular accessibility to be restricted & pedestrian accessibility encouraged

  4. Part (percentage) of the unit cost must be reserved for site development

  5. Slum upgradation as the solution of choice and transparent process for determining the tenability of slum rehabilitation

  6. Building affordable housing stock in peri urban areas is important.


  1. Involvement of community in construction at individual house level & community level needs to be encouraged & accounted for financially

  2. Partnerships with private sector are essential for large scale affordable housing

  3. Creation of social/rental housing

  4. Encouraging community participation to develop customised approaches for slum rehabilitation related to local needs

  5. Corporatised agency for delivery of affordable housing

  6. Accredit community based organisations

  7. Promote public private partnership

  8. Simplification of the process of approval for projects of affordable housing

  9. Slum rehabilitation scheme for smaller towns under - affordable housing in partnership

  10. Revitalise and reorient the role of state housing boards

  11. Increase the corpus of the credit risk guarantee fund


  • Gaps or problems to achieve housing for all:

  1. Rising housing stock and high levels of vacant housing coinciding with rising housing shortage

  2. Maximum density and maximum FSI obviously impact costs and affordability

  3. Housing market depends upon supply land

  4. Availability of Land

  5. Investment and developers

  6. Permissions and clearance by Government authority

  7. Finance

  8. The quality of affordable housing largely affected because of construction and material quality, skill deficiencies.


To achieve this housing target the state of housing has helped to opened the new debate for inclusive solution for the urban and rural India.This open platform conference has helped us to understand the other affordable housing sector from architects, planners, officers and real estates perspective. billionBricks team is constantly working on developing inclusive and innovative design solution for housing, where the affordable housing related dialogue amongst professionals help us to gain more knowledge. Join this movement of Housing for All and participate through your comments and suggestions to help biilionBricks to contribute to this large demand of housing.



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The Bicske Refugee Camp: The Story of Humans

And we are the past year, team bB has been very busy with numerous activities, ventures and campaigns. Stay tuned as we share our memories, activities and experiences here.

As the year's first post, we have a photo essay documenting the experiences of one of our close friends, who brings back her  vivid memories from the Bicske Refugee Camp, in Hungary.

Hope these stories of bravery, courage and perseverance will help us look at the new year with a fresh perspective! 



 The photographs of this camp are taken privately and the names of all people mentioned are kept anonymous to protect their identity.My only hope by creating this photo album is really to show the faces behind the camp, to quash desensitised media reports which fail to highlight human stories of courage and perseverance, and to encourage more people to open their hearts and mind to help their peers in need.I do not wish to criticise any country in this story. All I want to do is to portray the stories of these people as accurately as I can.


I did a search online about the Bicske Refugee Camp, I found photographs of an empty, seemingly isolated camp with no humans involved.My question is: If we want to raise awareness about the plight of these people, why are we showing the camp, and not the stories of the camp?


-From My Friend, a Wonderful Lady in the Camp

Sara was educated. She had been a medical assistant and had experience with computer programming. She speaks fluent English and when I met her, she met me with gratitude that I was willing to help her improve her English during my time in the camp.She was older than me. But age does not matter to her. All she wanted is to learn and learn more.She came from Pakistan out of fear that she might lose her life. As an educated young lady who worked, she had received death threats from the Taliban. She came out of need, and walked for four months to Hungary with her brothers.Although she received her status to work and stay legally in Hungary (and thus no longer stay in the camp), she was haunted everyday by people, coming to her on the streets and shouting at her to go home. She could no longer stay with her brothers and her brothers are still waiting for a home in Hungary. A NGO personnel was kind enough to lend a room where her brothers, and some other refugees, stay together in Budapest.When I talked to her recently, she was depressed. She just had an appendix surgery and she had to wait 1 to 2 days, in pain, to receive treatment. She had been roughly treated by nurses who dislike her presence in the town.You know, she is a really strong woman. But when I hear her telling me like this, I know that something is really wrong.



I met the mother of this little boy and she told me the story, how they have to flee from their home country due to violence. They are French-speaking and love France. But one day the police came and took away all their belongings, and deported them to Hungary.

This little boy, together with his lovely sister, are the most loyal comrades we ever met in the camp. They regularly pulled us to their home in the camp and made us stay for hours. They are ordinary kids, in bleak circumstances. This little guy taught me that all the education I ever learnt was useless.

In one of the art and craft sessions I held for the children, I wanted to teach them a catapult but I did not have the materials to do so.This little guy took the medical gloves that was used in the camp for cleaning and the top half of a plastic bottle. He tied the fingertip portion of the glove to the top half of the bottle and created the best catapult in the world.He taught me how to make the best out of a constraint, like he always did.I called him Wise. His name is somehow similar. He is intelligent, he loved learning everything and he picked up English pretty fast. The last time I saw him, I saw him waving at me, waiting to board the train to travel to Germany. I pondered how he has been since. He is a bright kid, with a bright future ahead of him, if he hasn’t been caught in a war.





He was the best gentleman I ever met.Ever protective of his siblings, he would be so apologetic if he accidentally knocked into his younger siblings while playing, and starting kissing them on the forehead and saying “Sorry” many many times.


 One day, when we were playing games with the Syrian Siblings, they suddenly wanted to play the bomb game. They told us that in Syria, there are “bombs everyday, everywhere”.

And that’s not the only game. A very popular game among children in the camp is the police game. One child will be the policeman while the others will be normal civilians, and when the policeman says stop, you are supposed to stop and the policeman will search your pockets before allowing you to pass.




She was only eight years old. But she was the eldest sister and she had to be strong for her parents.Her sister’s leg was broken during their journey from Syria to Hungary, and her parents had to carry a baby and her younger sister while they walked.She walked with them.


You know, at the end of this, if you are still thinking it’s no big idea that these people get discriminated, then think about how you would feel in their situation. How does it feel like, to be discriminated day in and day out, to be told that you have to leave, even when you can’t. To fear your lives everyday and fear the future. To live a life where your whole world is only home or work because you fear what outside world tells you. You know, what separates you and them is only where you are born, and whether you are lucky to be born at the right moment.


Note : The Bicske Camp was going to close on 31/12/2016 but we were recently made aware that it closed ahead of schedule and about 60 refugees who remained in the camp were given one hour to leave premises.

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