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Janell Kapoor Founding Director of Kleiworks International Shares the Kleiworks International Story.

Cameron Campbell September 28, 2010

Janell Kapoor is joining SOCAP10 as part of the Innovation in International Development Track and is a panelist in the “It Takes a Village: Innovation From the Ground Up” discussion.


After a life of pioneering innovative design, Buckminster Fuller asserted that options do exist to successfully surmount the crises of unprecedented scope and complexity facing all humanity. He challenged the world to find solutions to these crises that integrate social, economic, environmental, policy and cultural system strategies1. One complex crisis that faces the world today is the building industry, which uses 40% of the earth’s natural resources and contributes 40% to the waste stream while hundreds of millions of people live with inadequate shelter, have been displaced altogether, or are experiencing a profound disconnect from that which truly sustains them. Add to this the deteriorating morale of whole populations of people who have neither the voice nor the means to improve their desperate situations. What’s the solution?


Founded in 1998, Kleiwerks International is a non-profit organization and a global network of innovative design specialists collaborating with communities to create ecological and social resilience. With extensive projects in South America and Southeast Asia, alumni from over 34 countries, and collaborative programs currently underway in Haiti, Kleiwerks International is a global leader in natural building and sustainable systems design, education, and development. The Kleiwerks approach to working globally is based on collaboration with local communities. They work by invitation only, conducting hands-on trainings for local leaders while building projects that serve the community at large. Then the trainees go on to lead and train others in their own communities, creating ecologically sound housing, food, and water systems that build relationships between their own peoples, their land., and the greater movement. Kleiwerks International also engages systems change through policy development so that these solutions can be made available in ways that could reduce the building industry’s consumption by 80%. The Kleiwerks International approach fosters regional networks between instructors, alumni, government officials, and invested citizens that integrate lasting social, economic, environmental, policy and cultural system resiliency that Fuller asserted were possible.

Let’s take this one step further. What happens when we invest in that which we most deeply wish to see in the world? What is most important to you, your family, and to your fellow humanity? What would you not do without? When asked this question, people the world over answer that ‘happiness’ is the one thing they want most. In interviews that Kleiwerks International conducted with over 3,000 people, the answer to where we go to feel happiest is: Nature. So, what does it look like to invest in systems, in an economy, that brings us closer to and sustains that which makes us happy? What would our lives be if this connection were inherently fostered through an economy based on place? The innovative solutions that Kleiwerks International offers are pathways that provide for our basic needs through deeper, more resilient connections between ourselves, each other, and the rest of the living world.

1 The Buckminster Fuller Institute. 27 July 2010.  Web. 23 Sept. 2010. < http://www.bfi.org/node/2125>.

-By Janell Kapoor, Founding Director of Kleiworks International

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