Holcim MAQER invites the open innovation ecosystem to solve construction ‘chaos’ at HackZurich

The open innovation community finds novel solutions to sustainable construction by democratizing data and technology, and applying successful solutions from other industries. Continue reading “Holcim MAQER invites the open innovation ecosystem to solve construction ‘chaos’ at HackZurich”

My ultimate dream was to build them a house

Leveraging fintech solutions to help make dreams come true in emerging markets

“I was the breadwinner in my family. At a young age, my ultimate dream was to build them a house and fortunately, I was able to do that.”

This is the story of migrant worker Jemelline Lawan from Manila, Philippines. Just like Jemelline, millions of people worldwide make the hard decision to leave their home country and loved ones behind hoping to build a better life for themselves and their families. Jemelline has been living and working in Nagano, Japan for over 30 years now – her income helps support her family in the Philippines.

Remittances to the Philippines make up roughly 10% of the nation’s GDP. According to a survey conducted by BeamAndGo, an e-voucher payment service, over two-thirds of their customers send funds specifically to build or renovate their houses back home. As the leading supplier of building materials, Holcim identified an opportunity  to partner with fintech startups such as BeamAndGo and MyCash Online. These apps allow migrant workers to purchase cement vouchers from Holcim so that their family back home can build strong, resilient homes.

Jemelline adds: “As long as they are all healthy, especially my parents, and they are living comfortably, that’s enough for me. That makes me sleep at night.”

Adonis Quillope of Surigao del Norte, Philippines, who has now been working 12 years in Saudi Arabia, says:

“I told myself that I need to get them out of poverty. I don’t want us to just survive, but I want us to live comfortably. I went to Saudi with nothing but my skill, determination, and eagerness to reach my dreams. And that is to help my siblings finish college, provide my parents a better life, a home for them to live comfortably and some investment.”

Financial instability, social stigma and lack of transparency of money remitted are common issues facing migrant workers. Starting his career as a Bangladeshi migrant worker in Malaysia, Mehedi Hasan, co-founder and CEO of MyCash Online, has first-hand experience of these difficulties. For example, banks often reject low-income earners in opening accounts. On the other hand, many migrant workers do not trust the financial institutions based on previous bad experiences such as high bank fees and poor customer service due to their social status associated with being a migrant. What is worse, migrant workers have no ways of knowing what the money they send home is being used for.

“Cash sent back home for groceries, medicine, education or building a house, is often spent on alcohol, tobacco and gambling”, says Jonathan E. Chua, CEO of BeamAndGo. “Whoever has the cash has the power.”

Jonathan and Mehedi are not letting people’s years of hard work go to waste. BeamAndGo and MyCash Online empower the un- and underbanked population by responding to these challenges. Migrant workers who do not own a bank account or credit card can top up their remittance accounts by paying in cash at dedicated kiosks that these startups partner with. They receive a code, with which they can purchase goods and services directly on the app and hence budget their families spendings. This puts the power back in the hands of the migrant workers.

Adonis says: “Honestly, as a migrant worker, you cannot control how your family is spending your remittance.”

Jemelline adds: “Before I started using BeamAndGo, I used to remit my money in one go and most of the time, I was not sure how it was being spent. BeamAndGo is what every migrant worker needs.”

Holcim is proud to partner with innovative startups that empower Jemelline, Adonis and many others from the un- and underbanked population. Acknowledging the impact of Covid-19 on global poverty, Holcim is committed to democratizing technology by tapping into fintech solutions in emerging markets.

Going forward, we are expanding our partnerships with fintech startups to empower our retailers too. In Latin America, Middle East Africa and India we are partnering with startups that provide e-wallets and micro credit to increase the liquidity of our small and medium- and family-owned retailers to ensure their survival during the crisis and post crisis.

How MAQER supports countries

As many migrant workers share the same dream of building a better future for their loved ones, Holcim generally supports countries in identifying the right partner for their local setup as remittances and community needs differ from country to country and region to region. For countries this is a good opportunity to partner with the local retail business, and to help to channel the money to retail customers, especially across Disensa networks. MAQER provides support in structuring the initiative and developing a proof of concept together with the remittance platform and the local business team. Beamandgo or MyCashOnline are trusted platforms already used by thousands of migrant workers sending money back home which cannot be easily replicated. Additional countries currently working with MAQER on similar concepts are Mexico and El Salvador.

Author: Felicia Noreskar

Largest pour of EcoPact saving 350,000kg of CO2 in one day!

December 5th, 2020, Boston, Massachusetts

A rainy cold, but very active, morning marked the largest pour of EcoPact–the industry’s broadest range of green concrete, delivering high-performing, sustainable and circular benefits. A total pour of 4200 cubic yards, which contains 20% recycled materials and 30% less carbon emission compared to traditional concrete, equalled a CO2 saving greater than 350,000kg, (in other words, over 70 cars off the street for one year!). Building for the future, this major 19-story addition for Boston University’s Data Science Center will bring data scientists under one roof for generations to come.

Building for the future

ConcreteDirect, Holcim’s mobile application, helps customers place, manage and track concrete deliveries, digitally connecting everyone involved. This guaranteed just-in time deliveries for almost 400 truck loads, enhancing product quality and mitigating the risk of waste and rejected loads. The app also communicated real-time CO2 savings from the first to the last pour.

“At Holcim, our commitment to building a sustainable future is stronger than ever. We’re proud to couple both product and process innovation at the Boston University Data Science Center. With EcoPact, this site has the lowest carbon product available in the market today and with ConcreteDirect, the entire process for the customer has been digitized with no paper exchange,” says Magali Anderson, Holcim.

largest ecopact pouring courtesy of concretedirect

Innovation to build safely

Another cornerstone in real-time communication is the app’s Field Level Risk Assessment (FLRA), which helps to detect any hazards on the ground. This rigorous health and safety coordination kept all parties safe at all times while preventing construction errors. Moreover, including 3rd party trucks in its touchless ticketing, the app also helped everyone to maintain social distancing.

“ConcreteDirect allows everyone of those stakeholders to have their own view of each individual truck, allowing them to perform their tasks independently and safely on the job site,” says Sean Ali, General Manager Digital RMX Solutions, Holcim.

Congratulations to the teams on the ground who made it possible–Holcim’s US ACM Northeast and our partner S&F Concrete and Suffolk Construction. Further strengthening our partnerships, advocating for the use of our green products and digitizing processes, Holcim is on its way to becoming the global leader in innovative and sustainable building materials and solutions.


Author: Felicia Noreskar

Holcim sees 700% sales increase through digital apps in Africa in 2020

Middle East & Africa

Despite the unparalleled health crisis facing many retail markets in Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America, Holcim recorded a 4% strong volume increase of cement bag sales during the second half course of 2020 compared to the previous year. Digital solutions have been instrumental in this success, as they are helping to satisfy the strong housing demand that is being driven by a growing middle class while maintaining social distance and guaranteeing safety standards.
Digital solutions for a booming middle class

In the Middle East Africa region, where the middle class is booming, the adoption of the Holcim Lead Retail mobile app, a customer application to place orders, track deliveries, and check balances in real-time, has surged over the last year — from five countries in 2019 to thirteen countries today, reaching a 700% increase from 2019. The retail business represents more than 60% of total cement volumes sold at Holcim. With Uganda at the forefront of digitalization, over 90% of all sales are completed via the app. Egypt and Nigeria, where the app was launched in late May 2020, experienced in-app ordering rates above 80% of total bag sales.

Miljan Gutovic, Head of Middle East & Africa at Holcim:

The adoption of digital ordering is skyrocketing in the MEA region, where individual homebuilding is very important. In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, we are glad to see how our innovative digital solutions can also make a contribution from a public health perspective.

Innovation is the only way forward.

To further drive digital, easy-to-use solutions, Holcim actively tests mobile payment, microcredit, wallet, and last-mile delivery solutions. Lafarge Zambia’s partnerships with Afridelivery and Tigmoo, two local e-commerce and last-mile delivery companies, allow homeowners and contractors to order cement on their mobile phones and have their orders delivered directly to their premises in less than two hours.

Philipp Leutiger, Chief Digital Officer, states that,

Holcim MAQER, Holcim’s open innovation platform, has helped our customers respond to the challenges of shutdowns and social distancing while creating growth opportunities for the future.

As an essential sector to keep society running, Holcim looks forward to playing its part in driving the recovery while also navigating towards the post-pandemic normal.

Author: Felicia Noreskar

How Holcim empowers the un- and underbanked through fintech solutions

Latin America.
“Our typical customers are low-to middle-income earners between 35-55 years old, often in need of urgent home improvement, such as fixing a leaking roof or expanding their home for a new baby. Unfortunately, there is a common misperception among Mexicans that getting credit is difficult. I want to change that,” says Guillermo Gomez del Campo, CEO and founder of Prestanómico, Mexico.

The un- and underbanked population (individuals and organizations with either restricted or no access to financial services) have limited opportunities to build prosperity. For many individuals, this could mean not being able to send their children to school or, as Guillermo says, “providing a safe, comfortable home for your family.” For businesses, this often results in lost sales opportunities due to lack of inventory and cash flow.

According to the World Bank, over 1.7 billion adults (45% of the world’s adult population) are unbanked. The reasons vary. On one hand, traditional banks do not serve this customer segment due to their lack of credit history and low income. On the other hand, the un- and underbanked choose to not open an account due to high banking fees, their own distrust and inexperience with financial institutions, or geographical barriers, as most banks are located in cities, not rural areas where many financially unprivileged people live. This is the unfortunate reality for many family-owned businesses, including many franchisees of Disensa –Holcim’s retail network in Latin America.

disensa maqer open innovation

“Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) do not have the credit history or documentation requested by the traditionals banks. Credisensa understands our needs and provides affordable and accessible credits,” says Ruben Avila, retailer, El Conchero.

Credisensa, a joint venture of Disensa and Maqer–Holcim’s open innovation platform–is committed to democratizing banking and financial services. Powered by fintech startups, including Centeo, Aliatu and Prestanómico among others, Credisensa offers retailers (B2B) and end-customers (B2C) affordable credit solutions. Before Credisensa, the financially underserved retailers were struggling with illiquidity, debt and lack of inventory. Partnering with fintech startups is a win-win as it reduces bad debt for Holcim while helping retailers to improve their cash flow, manage their inventory and establish a credit history. Today, our Disensa retailers supply building materials not only to private customers, but also to major construction companies doing large construction projects.

“Having access to credit is crucial. Small business owners like myself often have scarce resources. Credisensa is a great ally as they promote growth by helping us to buy products on credit. This way we never have to miss out on a sales opportunity,” says Eduardo Navarro, retailer, Guadalajara, Mexico.

Credisensa’s loan application is easy, whether it is B2B or B2C. For example, our B2C customers fill out a form, which takes on average four minutes or less. Leveraging Artificial Intelligence (AI), Prestanómico pre-approves (or declines) the loan immediately. The fully automatic process helps the startup to keep interest rates low, compared to those of traditional banks, who have not yet adopted such technologies. Finally, the customers are asked to submit three documents: ID, income statement and proof of domicile before receiving credit. The B2B loan application, too, is fully digitalized and through the startups Aliatu and Centeo, Holcim guarantees its retailers credit within 48 hours or less provided their application is approved.

“We used to have a high debt. Aliatu gave us leverage and got us where we are today–up to date on payments and with a good credit score. In this time of pandemic, it helps me run my hardware store”, says Janeth Granados, Girardot, Colombia.

Matthew Meehan, CEO Centeo, Mexico: “Before founding Centeo, I worked for 15 years in the banking/financial sector and I was always frustrated with their rigid legacy system and inability to adapt to new technologies. It is amazing to see how Holcim, with over 100 years of history, is eager to embrace new innovative solutions for their customers and collaborate with startups like Centeo.”

Adopting fintech solutions is a game changer, especially in emerging markets where the population is expected to spike. Our retailers play an instrumental role in helping us to provide safe, affordable housing and infrastructure–a demand that, despite COVID-19, remains strong. Innovating with local startups and customers to build bottom-up initiatives, Holcim also provides e-wallets, micro-credit and remittance services in Asia, the Middle East and Africa.

Going forward, Holcim is scaling these initiatives to cater to more financially underserved families and individuals, and unlock prosperity for all.

Author: Felicia Noreskar

African customers go digital

From flexible orders to increased transparency via dashboards, our customers in Africa are growing their businesses with the help of “Lead Retail”, a mobile app from Holcim.

E-commerce for a growing middle class

Mobile technology is expanding rapidly in Africa. Digital tools assist in overcoming limitations in physical infrastructure while reaching a growing middle-class that is expected to reach 900 million by 2040. Most African homeowners build and renovate their houses by themselves. Over two-thirds of cement in Africa is sold in bags, while in Europe and North America it is primarily sold in bulk.

Digital solutions for different local needs

Digital solutions can help African builders do more than just purchasing online and tracking their cement orders. Our customers require transparent logistics, real-time balances and reliable cash management. Our mobile app “Lead Retail” offers all these features — this explains how it continues to break sales records in Africa while helping retailers thrive. LH MAQER contributed to develop this app with a customer centric and bottom-up approach. Our digital team helps scale up innovative ideas and provides startups with an access to the global building materials sector.

Standout success in Zambia

Over 85,000 tons of building materials have been sold through Lead Retail in Zambia. This online sales volume in the country has doubled between March and August 2020. For many retailers in Africa, transparency in logistics and cash management is crucial.

Empty shelves, lost or delayed orders, and simple fraud can be devastating for the businesses as well as the families and communities they support. “Thanks to Hima Cement and Holcim, my life has become digital. Nowadays I am able to see my orders, performance, payments and rebates any time, which gives me full confidence in the business,” says Kimera Samuel Gyagenda from Masaka, Uganda.

“It was difficult to book and dispatch in the late hours and I couldn’t follow up on my quantities on a daily basis. Now the app organizes my daily life as it saves me time and effort,” adds Ashraf Roshdy Elmorshdy from Kafr El-Sheikh, Egypt. “Today, I am more independent. Lead Retail gives me fewer intermediaries to place the order, speed, self-management of transactions, better visibility on rebates and zero paper,” says Sawadogo Mamadou from Ferkessedougou, Ivory Coast.