When we started Brick by Brick Construction in January of 2011, our ambitions were very modest. At the time, our only program involved partnering with free Universal Primary Education Schools to rebuild crumbling classrooms, water and sanitation systems. So when Peace Corp volunteer Jonathan Blanchard and local community leader Max Ssenyonga presented the idea of creating a small construction company utilizing an innovative and environmentally sustainable technology to make bricks (Interlocking Stabilized Soil Bricks), it seemed like a good fit.
Five and a half years later, we have gone farther than we could have imagined in those early days. We have completed 90 construction projects throughout Uganda. Our rainwater harvesting systems are now providing clean, safe drinking water for approximately 100,000 people. While we are all very proud that we have been a profitable enterprise in each of our first five years of operation, the financial bottom line does not really tell the whole story. From the beginning, we have been committed to creating a new model for business that sees social enterprise as a catalyst to improving the health and economic wellbeing of our communities. Our mason staff has been steadily employed for the past four years. We have established a profit-sharing plan, distributing 15% of net profits to our highly skilled workers. We meet regularly with our employees, who have significant input into our company policies. As we have implemented new quality assurance systems, our masons have provided valuable input to ensure success and full partnership.
In the past several months we have expanded our product services beyond the construction of houses, schools, water and sanitation systems. While our masons often lack higher education, we are blessed with a highly skilled and intelligent staff, with real world experience not taught in a traditional classroom. Last month, we facilitated a highly successful weeklong training in solar systems installation attended by our masons and construction management team. This month we will install our first solar system at the Kirumba Primary School, providing electricity to this school of 500 students for the first time.
Late last year I attended a staff meeting with our skilled masons. Profit-sharing distributions were on the agenda but before discussing this I asked our masons a question.
“In a typical business, who keeps the profits?”
All were in agreement and answered almost in unison, “The owners.”
“So, who gets the profits from Brick by Brick Construction?”
“ The profits go back to the community to build schools and water tanks.”
“And where do the rest of the profits go?”
There was a minute of silence before our Chief Mason Sunday Kimera stood and said, “They go to us, the masons.”
“So, who owns Brick by Brick Construction Company?”
The 12 assembled masons began to laugh with recognition of their newly discovered ownership, “We do!”
Brick by Brick Construction Company is forging a new path for social enterprise in Uganda. We have much to learn. This year we began to implement a marketing plan, with the first of our radio ads hitting the airways. Building a successful construction business is not easy and its not without its pitfalls, but if our 13 years working in Uganda has taught us anything is that persistence combined with a willingness to learn from our mistakes pays off in the end, and not just in terms of money but in improving the lives of our employees and the communities we serve.