Social Enterprise – Part 3

Presented by: Center for Balanced Development


Focus: Shelter & Clothes


Conceptual Framework:


History and Background

Since the ancient times when human beings lived in caves wearing animal skin until wearing highly designed clothing and living in modern apartment units of the in big cities with millions of inhabitants, shelter and clothing have been a basic human need. When we read the history books and observe the remains of ancient cities and structures, we see an evolution from group-living towards a more personal and individualistic dwelling. Also looking around the world in various regions, we see the evolution of the city-dwellers and the development of mega-cities, skyscrapers, roads, public transportation, waste management and a complex system of institutions and entities that function as part of a global network of commerce and finance.  


Present Status & Needs

Very little has changed for many poor regions of the world, where most people live in shelters made of plastic, tin and dirt without access to running water or proper sanitation. On the other hand, in the developed areas of the world, market speculation has created an highly inflated housing units that either is out of reach of most people or home-owners have lost their home as the economy collapses and the home prices drop sharply below the market value and current loan amounts. There is clearly a dire need for new and innovative housing concepts all over the world.     

In terms of clothing, we have highly priced designer outfits in one end of the spectrum and barely adequate clothing in the poor areas of the world. There is a great need for empowering human resources at the local level to be able to produce locally-made natural fabrics and simple clothing with local cultural flavor.


Future Outlook

As always, through innovation, the future can be bright. As the old standards and practices fail and new concepts and models take effect, we see numerous ideas in design, urban planning and home concepts that could be used as a model for future cities and dwellings. One such concept in urban planning is MASDAR city in the UAE where the city produces zero carbon emission and 80% of the water is recycled. The city uses no cars and the power comes from a solar-grid placed outside the city.



Application for Social Enterprise Focused on Shelter & Clothing:


Innovation in building Homes

There are lots of innovation being made in building homes out of recycled materials, earth-shelters, industrial space and numerous other innovations. One of the most popular application of recycled material for building homes seems to be old shipping containers. A quick search on the internet can produce hundreds of designs using shipping containers. The idea is attractive for economical reasons as well as ecological factors, usefulness and aesthetics. There are thousands of shipping containers that are no longer being used due to age or trade slow-down and can be purchased for very low prices. A creative designer can then use one or more containers to build a very modern and solid structure on a simple foundation. A social entrepreneur can renovate and build these units for a variety of applications, including low-income housing, emergency and disaster-relief units, storage … etc.  


Community Shelter for the Needy

A social enterprise that is highly needed and could receive assistance from government grants and private donations is a community shelter or a half-way house where children or adults – particularly abused women - can stay while proper housing or foster homes can be arranged. Although, this initiative takes great dedication on the part of the social entrepreneur, it can be very rewarding in terms of saving people from very difficult situations and seeing them go through a transformation when opportunity is given.


House-Sharing and Room-Mates

This type of enterprise is becoming popular as economic hardship forces individuals and families to consider sharing a home or an apartment. This enterprise can be easily started with a website and a simple canvassing of a neighborhood to find available resources and those in need of housing. Also there are lots of elderly that live alone in big homes and would love to share their home in exchange for some assistance in shopping and food preparation.


Abandoned Home Renovation

During the economic downturn and slow down in industrial production, many cities ended up with lots of abandoned homes as residents moved out of the city searching for jobs. There are ways to get title to these in collaboration with the municipal, state or federal government development plans and renovate these homes using guaranteed loans and help from local businesses. In Baltimore, the local government offered a very creative program where an abandoned home could be purchased for a dollar in return for an agreement to renovate the home.     


Recycling Garments

There are lots of clothing items in every household that can be recycled. A visit to the local neighborhood and talking to neighbors can prove to be very fruitful in terms of collecting old clothing items that is collecting dust. Some of the clothing is only good for recycling while some could be sold for very low prices to local entrepreneurs in poor countries.


Sewing Workshops

A great social enterprise is to enable and empower others on the path to social enterprise. A sewing workshop is a great way to training local villagers to produce clothing for the local consumption. The initial investment for the equipment can come through private foundations, development bank and government grants.


Fabrics and Clothing Made Locally 

Through training and some initial assistance in terms of borrowing equipment and tools, many individuals can be empowered to produce fabrics and articles of clothing for their neighbors and villagers. The micro-lending programs that are becoming increasingly available in the poor regions of the world such as the Grameen Bank, can be another source of financing for the locals.      


Implications of a Social Enterprise Focused on Shelter & Clothing:



Shelter and clothing are two of the most basic needs of any society. Whether we are in a large city or in some remote village, having a home is vital to the well-being of individuals and in turn to social balance. This is a concept that is apparent in nature among various species of animals. As a matter of principle, having a home a basic human right that society cannot ignored. It can also be said that It’s social duty and a responsibility of every government to ensure that all the members of society have the opportunity and the means for having a home and access to proper clothing. The picture of the “homeless” in the major cities of the world is a reflection on the underlying issues and challenges that need to be addressed by all members of society.       



Having a home and adequate clothing is one of the signs of economic balance. This seemingly very simple balance is missing in most parts of the world. The solution, like many other aspects of human life, is to empower individuals and families to have a home. In some countries, market speculation on housing has created a very difficult situation where many home-owners have lost their homes and life savings or home-owners that are paying mortgages that are much higher than the current price of the property. In some other parts of the world, due to the unstable political picture, there is very little security in owning a home and therefore life and development is in a state of flux. Overall, the condition of the housing market is a great indicator of the economic health and prosperity of a nation.  



Today most homes and urban development models are hardly a picture of ecological balance. However, in recent years as the awareness of ecological balance concepts has increased, there are efforts being made by young designers and home-builders to create more environmentally friendly homes and habitat.

As mentioned earlier, we are even seeing the building of a very unique concept in urban development – namely the creation of a city with zero carbon emission in UAE called MASDAR city.

In terms of clothing and the production and use of natural fibers, we are also making progress, as the young generation becomes aware of the benefits of organic fibers.  


In conclusion, shelter and clothing constitute two of the basic needs of life. Considering the population of the world and our limited resources, we must make globally consorted efforts to address the excesses on one hand and the shortages of proper shelter and clothing on the hand to be able to create a stable global economy where whether your needs are a simple grass hut in the tropics or highly insolated housing in the icy cold climate, that the possibility and means of having a home and adequate clothing is considered the basic right of each individual and family.    


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