Creating affordable housing solutions in Africa is a key challenge for many countries, and particularly homes that are eco-friendly. But Joelle Eyeson, co-founder of Hive Earth, is bringing a new and innovative solution to Ghana, and one that is replicable across the continent.
LoA learned more about this fascinating and high impact company providing affordable and eco solutions to the country’s housing challenges.
What does your company do?
We are an eco construction company using the rammed earth method of construction. We build using locally sourced, eco friendly and sustainable materials. We construct all of our buildings with mud and granite chippings.
"We are an eco construction company using the rammed earth method of construction."
"There are so many benefits to building with mud in this part of the world. It’s eco friendly, strong, keeps the room temperature cool, and best of all it’s affordable."
What inspired you to start your company?
My now business partner would talk to me a lot about rammed earth construction - this is basically a construction technique of building with mud. We like to say it’s the modern continuation of the mud house, and there are so many benefits to building with mud in this part of the world. It’s eco friendly, strong, keeps the room temperature cool and best of all it’s affordable. After doing intense research myself on rammed earth, I decided to partner with my co founder and in 2016 we set up Hive Earth. I really saw that there was a huge gap in the market here. By building with rammed earth we solve so many problems on the continent. The materials we use are recyclable, eco friendly and building with earth is 30-40% cheaper than conventional construction methods. Due to its labor intensity we can create employment. In addition, due to the cost of building with rammed earth, it means we can build a home to retail for as little at $5000 for a 1 bedroom house. This can really solve the affordable housing crisis not just in Ghana but also on the African continent.
Why should anyone use your service or product?
There are so many benefits to building houses with rammed earth. It’s truly affordable, we can build a 1 bedroom for as little as $5000. Building with mud keeps the internal room temperature cool. It’s eco friendly and its maintenance free - we can put colour and design into the walls, so there is no need to paint every few years. The construction is as strong as concrete and lasts 1000's of years, in fact parts of the Great Wall of China were built with rammed earth and its still standing today. Its bullet proof, sound proof, termite proof, and its free from chemicals and harmful toxins that it’s cement equivalent may have.
"We are currently embarking on a project where we can build a modern, contemporary one bedroom earth home to retail for around $5000, this way everyone can aspire to own a home one day."
Tell us a little about your team
At the moment the Hive Earth team consists of myself, Joelle Eyeson, and I am the CEO and Co-founder; and Kwame Deheer, who is also CEO and Co-founder. Together we currently employ 1 supervisor and 14 laborers. We have done a quiet few jobs outside of the city working with NGOs, and we are passionate about training young men and women who may not have had a formal education to come and work with us. We believe that just because you haven’t had an education doesn't mean that you can’t have a well paid job, just like someone who works in an office in the city. As our company grows we would like to further employ young people from rural areas, train them, give them benefits such as accommodation and company health care, so that they can be part of the growing Hive Earth team.
Share a little about your entrepreneurial journey. And, do you come from an entrepreneurial background?
For as long as I can remember I have always wanted to run my own business. I'm a quiet and introverted person, so being in an office setting I didn't see that I could really shine to the best of my potential. My Father has been a great entrepreneurial influence in my life, and I think that’s where I get my drive from. For as long as I can remember he's always run a business and had great success with it. From when I was 16 years old, I would help my Dad with his property business on the weekends, and it was from there that I gained experience on how to be organized, how to deal with customers, solving problems and undertaking general administrative duties. As time went on my Dad gave me more responsibilities with his business and eventually made me Office Manager. Alongside helping my Dad with his business, I've had various business that I started on the side - for a while I had a business baking, and I've also run a small interior design company providing design solutions for residential and commercial clients in London.
In 2014 I decided that I wanted to come to Ghana and start something. I had saved some money, bought a ticket and had enough to live on for three months, and I came with the intention of starting a honey export business. However, three months later, nothing had gone according to plan, logistically the honey business wouldn't have worked and there was so much red tape importing it to Europe. I found myself in a predicament - do I go back to the UK and settle down in a job or do I stay. I decided to not turn up for my flight home and figure out what I could do in Ghana. At the time I really felt a strong pull that this was where I needed to be, and I spotted so many opportunities that I felt I could capitalize on. After I had missed my flight I started applying for jobs so that I could survive in Ghana, and I got a relocation job which paid pretty well. Working in relocation was great, it was very independent, just like running my own company. The head office was based in South Africa so whenever I got a client they would send me details on who I would be relocating. I had to arrange my own itinerary for the clients and aid them in every aspect to settle into Ghana. This gave me an insight into running a business in Ghana and being independent. Alongside my main job I went through so many ideas, one minute I wanted to start a fashion business, the next I wanted to start a dating app - I had a lot of business ideas.
Fast forward to 2016 after a long Easter break in the UK I came back to Ghana, and I remember my now business partner talking to me about rammed earth. I did my own research into it and thought that this could be something that I could start with him.
The housing deficit in Ghana currently stands at 1.7 million units and counting, and at Hive Earth we have a solution that has so many benefits and can really help the housing crisis. We spent so much money on research and development for the business until we got the right mix and formwork. Since 2017 we have been open for business and it has been going very well so far.
"We also intend to conduct workshops going into universities to teach young up and coming architects how to design with rammed earth."
What are your future plans and aspirations for your company?
In the future we would like to be the number one provider for affordable homes on the continent. We want everyone to feel that they can afford a home, whether they are a market trader, a labourer or a shop assistant, they should be able to afford shelter. We want to be advocates for using locally sourced materials to build with and continue to research further what materials are available to us for construction. We have also started another associated business venture, Hive Earth Studio - this venture plans to produce decor and home finishings solutions, and we would like to introduce earth and lime paints and plasters. We also intend to conduct workshops going into universities to teach young up and coming architects how to design with rammed earth. Through our growth, we hope that we can continue to employ young men and women especially in the rural areas to curb youth unemployment.
What gives you the most satisfaction being an entrepreneur?
For me, I genuinely love what I do. I feel happy waking up in the morning and going to my sites. Even being on site gives me so much motivation and being surrounded by a supportive and open minded team is fantastic. I also find satisfaction in the fact that I have broken so many stereotypes when it comes to what women can do - I work in an extremely male dominated industry, and on top of that I'm working in a part of the world where males dominate everything. I also like the fact that as an entrepreneur I’m making an impact in people’s lives. My founder and I really like talking to our laborers, we want to know what issues affect them in their daily lives and how we can help improve them. When we started this business, it wasn't really our intention to go down the extremely affordable route as we didn't think it would be a good business decision. Living in Accra is one of the most expensive cities in Africa, the vast majority of people cant afford to buy or even rent homes. It was sad to hear that most of our laborers didn't really have any intention to ever buy a place in their lifetime as they knew they could never afford it. This encouraged me and my partner to do something about the situation. We are currently embarking on a project where we can build a modern, contemporary one bedroom earth home to retail for around $5000, this way everyone can aspire to own a home one day.
What's the biggest piece of advice you can give to other women looking to start-up?
Go for it, don't let stereotypes of what a woman should be or look like stop you from achieving your full potential.
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Why LoA loves it….
There is nothing quite as inspirational as seeing a new business emerging that has the potential to be a real game-changer in Africa, and that is certainly the case with Hive Earth. Joelle Eyeson is an entrepreneur on a mission to make eco-friendly and affordable housing construction on the continent a reality, providing a possible solution to chronic housing shortages, all using the rammed earth method of construction. She is proof positive that thinking big and thinking innovatively can change the world for the better. --- Melanie Hawken, founder and ceo of Lionesses of Africa