Chinwe Ohajuruka: Architect of Nigeria’s Eco-Housing Future

Chinwe Ohajuruka

Chinwe Ohajuruka’s father often told her she had a strong sense of social justice, something she never understood until years later. But clearly – even as a young child – she displayed a nature that indicated she would follow the words of Mahatma Gandhi and be the change in the world she wished to see.

“My hopes and dreams as a child were simple: to be a difference-maker for good. I’ve always had empathy for the under-served and determination to do something about it though advocacy and action. Coming from a region where there’s a lot to be done, I feel that there are huge opportunities for the private sector to work alongside governments to do good, while doing well entrepreneurially.”

“Whether the world knows it or not, it’s waiting for the rise of the African woman … the hard-working, creative and passionate woman who’s not seeking a reward but rather wants to make a difference especially in the face of suffering.”

The daughter of a Jamaican mother and Nigerian father, Ohajuruka grew up in Port Harcourt and Lagos, Nigeria, with her five siblings. With a BS and MS in architecture, for 27 years, Ohajuruka practiced in her homeland but also abroad in Barbados, Jamaica, Scotland – where she received a second Masters – and the US where she currently resides.

About five years ago, when helping establish the Green Council of Nigeria, Ohajuruka became aware of the enormous housing, energy and water challenges facing her native Nigeria. Knowing with her experience and green-building accreditations that she could make a difference, together with two engineering colleagues she entered the USAID and Western Union’s African Diaspora Marketplace competition, showcasing their passive house prototype (PHP), a scalable and replicable product designed around climate change resiliency.

Passive House Prototype_resizedThe pitch won $50,000 and – as the seed grant had to be matched dollar for dollar – Ohajuruka leveraged the win to raise funds from family, friends and business contacts. Comprehensive Design Services (CDS) was born and constructed its first eco-village based on PHP, a concept they plan to replicate across the country.

“We have a housing deficit of 17 million units, an 80/20% energy demand/supply gap, and 40% of the population has no access to sanitation. The African continent is the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change and global warming, yet the least prepared,” Ohajuruka explains. “Housing design and development is one area where all these challenges come together. CDS’ affordable modular homes are built with local materials, labor, and technology and respect the African concept of community in their design as families share a compound. The small but mighty affordable units are self-cooling and water is sourced from underground, pumped up with solar power. With most of Africa’s infrastructural development yet to happen, we are trying to lead by example. If Africa can build green going forward, we can show the world how to slow down the effects of climate change.”

PHP4

The social entrepreneur has big plans for the future. In the next five years, she envisions CDS as a leading developer of affordable green homes in Africa, both directly and through partnerships and collaboration. But for now, she is relying on word of mouth, customers-as-ambassadors, and “a little help from above” to achieve this goal.

Having recently been selected as the Cartier Women’s Initiative Award Sub-Saharan Africa Laureate, Ohajuruka’s work as a social entrepreneur is gaining recognition, but the path has not been an easy one, particularly with respect to capital investment.

“For our business to thrive and make an impact on the housing deficits that abound across Africa, we need construction capital to be able to roll out thousands of housing units. More importantly, we need an enabling environment where people who desperately need these houses can access mortgages and micro-finance to be able to purchase and own the housing units,” she explains.

Faith Gift & Children_resizedAccess to capital is a problem faced by women entrepreneurs across the board face in Nigeria. Ohajuruka bootstrapped CDS from the beginning, supplementing the business with earnings from her work as a project manager in the US and Nigeria.

“Finding investors to believe and invest in female entrepreneurs, helping them take their business to the next level is problematic. Getting access to technical assistance to build capacity is another large barrier. But attitudes are changing as people are beginning to realize that women business owners are the mainstay of the economy and a force to be reckoned with, especially in food production,” Ohajuruka adds optimistically with good reason.

“Whether the world knows it or not, it’s waiting for the rise of the African woman … the hard-working, creative and passionate woman who’s not seeking a reward but rather wants to make a difference especially in the face of suffering.”

And with tenacious yet compassionate women like Ohajuruka out there as a role model for others, hopefully the world won’t have to wait too much longer.

Chinwe Ohajuruka’s advice for entrepreneurs:
  • Don’t take “no” for an answer! Be bold, be courageous, be passionate and most importantly, be true to yourself!
  • Do not be put off by the obstacles. Start small and grow quickly.
  • Be knowledgeable about what you want to do and assertive, following your passion while remaining courteous.
  • Be a good team player, appreciate other people’s complementary abilities and differences, and, most importantly, show RESPECT!
  • Every entrepreneur will experience both success and failure along the way. I try to use success as a springboard for even greater success and likewise learn from failure, and use it to leverage success going forward!

Watch this interview with Chinwe: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EiCBcOzDlZo&kui=I96VA74YtUpPuFN4Vtsrvw

Installing Solar Panels

One thought on “Chinwe Ohajuruka: Architect of Nigeria’s Eco-Housing Future

  1. This is a very good idea. As an architect and environmentalist by vocation, I want to be part of this success story . More grease to your elbows

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