As a child, Elizabeth Hausler loved playing with Lincoln Logs™, connecting each piece to create one solid structure. The daughter of a mason, Hausler’s interest in building and engineering was reinforced throughout her adolescence when she would spend summers working for her father, learning the ins-and-outs of sturdy bricklaying. As an adult, Hausler observed the devastating effects of homes not being built with the same diligence she had been taught – especially in natural disaster-prone regions of the developing world. She saw an opportunity to provide a man-made solution to this man-made problem. For her ability to create sustainable, safe housing solutions in developing countries through an innovative implementation model, Hausler is the recipient of the 2011 $100,000 Lemelson-MIT Award for Sustainability.
With her innate enthusiasm for construction, Hausler enrolled in a general engineering program at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and later a doctoral program in civil engineering at the University of California Berkeley. Halfway through her doctoral program, after learning of the destruction and loss of life caused by poorly-built homes during the 2001 earthquake in Gujarat, India, Hausler was inspired to use her engineering skills to benefit humanity. She won a Fulbright fellowship to India to study and assist with post-earthquake reconstruction. Following her work there, she continued to pursue her passion and skill at socially-engineered home construction in China, Haiti and Indonesia.
During her fellowship, Hausler witnessed challenges with costly, unsustainable, donor-driven reconstruction models. She believed a new model – one that did not reinvent the wheel but made small, culturally-accepted and affordable changes to the current construction methods – was needed for sustainable adoption and impact.
In 2004, Hausler’s approach to building earthquake-resistant homes became the basis of the business model for Build Change, her nonprofit group with the mission of greatly reducing deaths, injuries and economic losses caused by housing collapses in developing countries.
Along with technological design improvements, the core of the organization is its implementation model for natural disaster reconstruction. By promoting homeowner-driven construction, where builders are trained to construct low-cost homes with locally-available materials and improved techniques, Build Change empowers homeowners to manage their own building process. Currently, Hausler and Build Change crews are working in Morne Lazarre, Haiti, an area still suffering from the after effects of the 2010 earthquake.
Hausler has received significant recognition for her work to date in developing countries, most recently being chosen as a 2009 Ashoka-Lemelson Fellow and a 2008 Tech Awards Laureate. In 2006, Hausler was featured as an ABC News World News Tonight “Person of the Week” for her work in Indonesia following the 2004 tsunami, and in 2004 she was selected as an Echoing Green Fellow.
Hausler is an inspiring role model for budding engineers, demonstrating that engineering and research skills, combined with creativity and innovation, can make lasting, positive changes in the world for those in need.