AVN disseminates a low-carbon, energy-efficient sustainable building alternative in West Africa, the Nubian Vault (NV). Using only raw earth, a locally available material, the NV technique allows the construction of sturdy, weather-resistant buildings. Its innovative market-based programme is designed to address housing and construction issues (both for private and public use) while creating additional income opportunities for rural smallholder households and enhance local economic development.

Implemented in

  • Africa
  • Benin
  • Burkina Faso
  • Ghana
  • Mali
  • Senegal

Sectors of activity
Buildings and construction, Energy

Type of initiative
Capacity Building & Implementation, Education & Awareness Raising, Policy Frameworks & Tools

Type of lead actor
Civil society

Start date

Shared by

Cecilia Rinaudo

Deputy Director

Nubian Vault Association

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The mission of the Nubian Vault Association (AVN) is to enable as many people as possible to access decent housing and green jobs, as soon as possible, in Sahelian Africa.
Housing is precarious for a majority of the population of the Sahel Region. More than 50% of the Sahel population (100 million people) lack access to decent housing. Climate change, deforestation and demography make it impossible for vulnerable people to use traditional building techniques. Modern constructions use metal sheets for roofing, widely inappropriate due to their cost, heavy environmental impact and limited comfort.
To answer this issue, AVN disseminates through the market a solution for better housing, the Nubian Vault (NV), an ancestral earth construction technique at once more solid, environmentally sustainable, culturally embedded and providing better comfort, shelter and living standards than widespread but inappropriate “modern” techniques (cement and iron steel roofs). The objective is also to support thousands of smallholder farmers to emerge from poverty by becoming skilled NV masons outside the cropping season, generating significant additional income and contributing to an efficient value chain. The social and green entrepreneurship model proposed by AVN brings true transformational change and reverses the housing issue for the poorest and most vulnerable families, while also responding to the needs of a large range of clients (middle-class and upper-class clients, public and community buildings, etc.). Completely integrated into local economic circuits (local materials, local workforce, direct client-to-mason payment), AVN’s method for the dissemination of an appropriate housing concept results in systemic change of the housing and construction markets, but also rural employment, climate adaptation and means for economic development.
AVN has created an innovative programme: “A Roof, A Skill, A Market”, based on the principle that the NV technique will spread quickly only if a real autonomous market is kick-started, through the emergence of supply (NV craftsmen, enterprises and building actors) and demand (public and private clients). Through this methodology, AVN's vocation is to encourage and enable local populations, local organizations and political actors to take ownership of the concept, and to create a dynamic in which the NV market reaches an endogenous and autonomous growth, for reversal of the housing and construction issue, at the BoP


As collected through the One Planet Reporting

Output level

Outreach and communication for SCP

  • Awareness-raising to the technical concept of the Nubian Vault, as a sustainable and low-carbon solution

Knowledge resource and technical tool

  • Transmission of the dissemination methodology of the Nubian Vault technique to local partners

Impact and Results

To date, the NV programme has allowed 2,400 building-sites to be realised (total surface area 89,000 sq.m.), 700 NV masons and apprentices active, 74,000 t. CO2 eq. spared, 3M€ local economies generated and 28,000 end-user beneficiaries living or working in Nubian Vaults. The growth of the NV market is marked by an average annual increase of 30%.

From one region in one country in 2000 (Boromo in Burkina Faso), AVN’s programme boasts today fourteen regional teams present in five countries (Burkina Faso, Mali, Senegal, Benin and Ghana), and stakeholders in neighbouring countries have expressed their interest for further programme deployment. 900 localities have seen at least one NV built in their area.

AVN’s progress is also measured in the rising interest multiple actors now express for the NV innovation and AVN’s popularization and social entrepreneurship programme, especially political actors, at all levels of government. AVN is now invited to participate in States’ policy development, for housing, but also climate change, education or employment. Notably, the Nationally Determined Contributions of Burkina Faso and Senegal, and Mali’s Strategic Framework for Economic Stimulus and Sustainable Development specifically mention the Nubian Vault as a valid solution for sustainable development and climate change adaptation and mitigation in their countries.

Finally, AVN’s growth is measured in its structure: its budget has tripled in three years (today, 1.4M€) and its team has grown from 20 in 2013 to over 70 people invested in the programme today.

The impact of the programme is not just on housing, but encompasses professional development, economic growth and climate change adaptation and alleviation.

AVN is respected for its technical capacities, its market kick-starting method and its environmental impact, and has received local and international recognition. Recent awards include the World Habitat Award (UN-Habitat – World Habitat) in 2017, World CSR Social Innovation Leadership Award in 2016, the My Positive Impact Prize (Nicolas Hulot Foundation) in 2015, the UNFCCC Lighthouse Activities Momentum for Change Award in 2014, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Prize for 100 innovations for sustainable development in 2013, the Dubai/UN-Habitat Award for Best Practices to Improve the Living Environment in 2013, and others.

Next steps and how to get involved

Three types of stakeholders can support the implementation and replication of the global programme in the country: operational, technical and institutional.
1. Operational partners: these are civil society actors (community-based organisations, farmers' groups, local associations, NGOs, etc.), which will each be able to contribute to the programme according to different operational modes, in light of their respective positions, deployment, history, network, capacity and interest. Means of action can include awareness-raising campaigns, construction of NV structures, implication on vocational training, capitalisation on experience, etc., to be decided in a collaborative setting. The strength of these field partnerships lays in the strong relationship that these actors have with the beneficiary populations, to which they belong or from which they have emerged, thus influencing the capacity to energise the AVN programme at the heart of the communities.
2. Technical partners: these are national or international actors who may take part in complementary operational activities supporting the densification of the NV market (vocational training, housing microcredit, community constructions, social housing, etc.), without stemming directly from AVN's popularisation methodology. They can be: microfinance institutions (MFI), vocational training centres, cooperation actors supporting institutional actors, leaders of artisans' or farmers' organisations, etc.
3. Institutional partners: AVN's programmatic ambitions cannot be implemented without the strong and concerted implication of the institutional actors in the intervention country: ministries, centralised and decentralised technical services, regions, departments, town authorities, local elected governments and technicians, etc. Through advocacy work, proposals, contractualisation and support, AVN must “carry” these indispensable actors into collaborative dynamics allowing the emergence and growth of an appropriate housing sector. These actors will be involved on questions of housing, but also of local economy, professional training, and environmental and climatic impacts. Their needs for institutional and/or community buildings also serve the programme (exemplarity, training). Through these institutional partners, AVN also has the opportunity to implicate their financial sponsors and partners, and to provide guidance on the issues of appropriate housing within international cooperation and development financing.