Disaster-resilient architecture that’s sustainable and affordable: bamboo housing in the Philippines.

Phil­an­thropy as a matter of principle

Active role as a charitable foundation

The Hilti family feeds their company’s success into the Hilti Foun­da­tion. This charity enab­les people in disad­van­ta­ged situa­tions to bene­fit from the company’s profits, repu­ta­tion and skills.

‘As a family, we’ve always been invol­ved in phil­an­thro­pic acti­vi­ties on a perso­nal level. My grand­f­a­ther had a huge influ­ence on this,’ says Michèle Frey-Hilti. ‘Every single one of us supports social program­mes or gets perso­nally invol­ved in projects.’ Aware of their own good fortune, the family is commit­ted to helping those in less fortu­n­ate posi­ti­ons. A 1996 project by Franck Goddio spar­ked the idea of bolste­ring this work by formally setting up a foun­da­tion. An under­wa­ter archaeo­lo­gist, Goddio was trying to track down the anci­ent harbour of Alex­an­dria, and his inno­va­tive, stra­te­gic method of explo­ring the seabed won the family over. The Hilti Foun­da­tion is still working with him today, though the charity’s acti­vi­ties now focus on inter­na­tio­nal social projects.

Sustainable bamboo houses 

One of the charity’s key areas of inte­rest is the deve­lo­p­ment of sustainable tech­no­lo­gies for afford­a­ble housing, geared to the market in question. The diver­sity of its projects is perfectly illu­stra­ted by the bamboo houses built in the Phil­ip­pi­nes. An engi­neer working for Hilti comple­ted her master’s degree at ETH Zurich, writing her thesis on sustainable, safe buil­ding tech­ni­ques for crea­ting afford­a­ble housing in deve­lo­ping coun­tries. ‘It inclu­ded a concept for a bamboo house, which we thought was really inspi­ring!’ says Michèle Frey-Hilti, a member of the foundation’s board of trus­tees. The Hilti Foun­da­tion made it possi­ble for the concept to undergo a prac­ti­cal test in the Phil­ip­pi­nes. The findings reve­a­led that this ‘cement bamboo frame tech­no­logy’ is able to resist high winds, earth­qua­kes, and natu­ral disa­sters, while being sustainable and afford­a­ble. Plus, it offers high-quality accom­mo­da­tion that’s produ­ced from almost 100% local mate­ri­als. ‘Then, we set up the Base Bahay Foun­da­tion, a Manila-based orga­ni­sa­tion that has now construc­ted more than 800 bamboo houses in colla­bo­ra­tion with local part­ners. In addi­tion, this foun­da­tion has built up a supply chain for specia­list bamboo proces­sing across various regi­ons of the Phil­ip­pi­nes,’ she says.

Winning toge­ther

Two percent of the Hilti Group’s annual profits go to the foun­da­tion so that there are enough resour­ces to fund these projects, with addi­tio­nal dona­ti­ons from the Hilti family adding to this amount. Michèle Frey-Hilti thinks that the foundation’s closeness to the company offers major advan­ta­ges: ‘It enab­les us to make use of the company’s in-house exper­tise in the projects them­sel­ves and draw on a highly skil­led global network.’ It gives a sense of secu­rity to local part­ner orga­ni­sa­ti­ons: the Hilti Foun­da­tion works with local part­ners because these teams are fami­liar with what’s going on in their regi­ons. These skil­led part­ners help the foun­da­tion to achieve its goals, in line with its stra­tegy, but the foun­da­tion also works with other chari­ties who offer funding for exter­nal projects. ‘Ideally, the teams’ members have comple­men­tary skills,’ says Michèle Frey-Hilti. She adds: ‘As a charity, we play an active role in our projects, so it’s important to us that our values and ways of working align with our colla­bo­ra­tors’ approa­ches.’ All its projects have a goal and are inten­ded to conti­nue having an impact even after the Hilti Foun­da­tion has step­ped back from them.

Charity begins at home

Its close ties mean that the foun­da­tion has a sense of commit­ment towards the family, its custo­mers and its employees alike. ‘They’re proud of the Hilti Foundation’s work, and see the deeper meaning in it,’ says Michèle Frey-Hilti. ‘That is why Hilti is now giving its employees the chance to be directly and actively invol­ved in projects.’

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