'The $300 House' Challenge

Bring affordable housing to the world’s poor. $25,000 prize pool

Bring affordable housing to the world’s poor.


From the one-room shacks in Haiti's Central Plateau to the jhuggi clusters in and around Delhi, to the favelas in São Paulo and the township settlements in South Africa, the problem of housing-for-the-poor is truly global.

The $300 House Project, originally conceived by Vijay Govindarajan and Christian Sarkar, is an initiative to bring affordable housing to the world’s poorest: a plight facing roughly two billion people.

They started with five simple questions:

  • How can organic, self-built slums be turned into livable housing?
  • What might a house-for-the-poor look like?
  • How can world-class engineering and design capabilities be utilized to solve the problem?
  • What reverse-innovation lessons might be learned by the participants in such a project?
  • How could the poor afford to buy this house?

The project has grown from these simple questions into a global forum of experts, innovators, entrepreneurs and advisers. One of the biggest challenges faced is harnessing the thoughts, insights and concepts offered by the growing global community of supporters.

Task Definition

Creating a viable prototype is the first of many challenges required to successfully bring a $300 house to market. There are a multitude of considerations, but in essence the challenge faced is straightforward:

Design a simple dwelling that can be constructed for under $300 which keeps it’s occupants safe from the weather, allows them to sleep at night, and gives them both a home and a sense of dignity.

Not only is the challenge one of extreme design efficiency, but also that of material choice and implementation. Numerous factors should be taken into account, amongst them: regionalism, sustainability, cost and replicability.

To be successful, innovators and entrepreneurs have to address the multitude of design challenges that have bedeviled previous attempts at affordable housing:

  • Low-cost, the $300 figure being largely arbitrary but a useful means of anchoring expectations is based on studies that people who have escaped poverty live in shelters worth roughly $370. $300 is a reasonable, yet aggressive, price.
  • Self-built or self-improvable, because that both lowers the cost and works to reduce the potential for corruption capturing donor aid.
  • Low-tech, because we want the slum dwellers themselves to build or improve or expand their house, as this will generate income for them and reduce the risk of value capture by landlords and rent-seekers.
  • Local materials, preferably those that can be found or bought very cheaply.
  • Build greener, cheaper and encourage sustainable homes and communities.
  • Replicable, since the slums are proliferating faster than any government's or formal sector's capacity to cope.

Unlike design challenges faced in the ‘first world’ a smart solution doesn’t necessarily mean an innovative product, but a solution that exercises humility and is firmly grounded in reality. The following video by Paul Polak illustrates 12 steps to consider when solving problems for a target market we’re seldom taught to cater to.

The following valuable insights were shared by Bill Gross:

  • Give your customers options. One size fits all models for kit homes are not likely to succeed across multiple countries or even multiple cities or states within the same country. Successful designs need to be customizable, allowing families to use local materials and adapt the house to local cultural norms. It is also ideal to offer different features according to the needs of your specific customer.
  • Choose the right materials. A number of materials are available on the market today, from bamboo to foam, to galvanized steel. Materials must be selected not only on the basis of cost, but on durability and compatibility with local aesthetic and functional norms. Can your product withstand extreme weather like floods and earthquakes? Is it vulnerable to termites, corrosion, or damage from everyday use?
  • Make it both practical and sustainable. Growing families need the ability to modify, move, or add to their homes as time goes on. These practical needs can be met with ecological responsibility, and making homes out of recyclable, reusable materials should be mandatory.

Award and Workshop
Briefing Update on May, 23rd:


The goal of the this contest is to find identify 5 concepts and designs to be tested as full scale prototypes. The top 3 community winners and 2 jury nominations will be invited to a 2 week prototyping workshop. The specifics of the workshop are yet to be determined, updates following soon.


Judging Criteria



  • Feasibility. Can the design easily be realised using existing technology and materials for under $300?
  • Viability. What are the chances of the design meeting additional cultural and commercial hurdles faced in bringing it to market? Is there a business model or business plan presented along with the idea?
  • Adoption. What is the probability for global adoption and retention?
  • Impact. What is the anticipated impact to society and personal well being
  • Sustainability. Is the design green and affordable?

Submissions can be made in the form of image and video files. jovoto is an open submission platform and encourages you to submit thinking throughout the design process, from your first napkin sketches all the way through to final rendered prototypes, for feedback and review.

Further research, ideas, inspiration and a whole lot more can be found on the $300 House site.



Target Group

  • Cultures across the globe.
  • Ages 16-60.
  • Low income (Base of the pyramid).


  • Safe
  • Secure
  • Practical
  • Sustainable
  • Aspirational

Mandatory requirements

The dwelling should meet the following requirements:

  • The house can be constructed for under $300.
  • The structure should be no smaller than 2.2m X 2.2m
  • Space to sleep and cook.
  • Access to light.
  • Access to drinking water.
  • Access to electricity.
  • Constructed with durable material that will resist the elements for 50+ years.
  • Secure from animals and criminal elements.
  • Resistant to fire, storms, earthquakes and other natural disasters.
  • The house NEED NOT have sanitation. Sanitation in a $300 House village will be housed in a centralized communal facility.


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