Building Projects

A concrete investment?

We’ve learnt a lot over the years about building and this has brought us to a place where our involvement with Capital projects now tends to be in emergency situations (for example after a disaster), and where construction is a small part of much wider development programs.

Because education is so vital and because people need somewhere to call home, we support school and housing reconstruction after natural disasters and conflict situations, most recently in the West Africa and East european. For children and refugees in conflicts, to support recovery after severe trauma we will create safe spaces, play areas where children can gain a sense of normality and start to put their lives back together.

The other area where we make considerable capital investment is in Water and Sanitation. Toilets can be lifesavers and we look at providing these in the places where they will make the most difference, at schools and in refugee camps. We also construct water towers, wells, irrigation systems and reservoirs, all of which are integrated with Hygiene and Sanitation training and programmes.

In thinking about construction, there are 3 main considerations to reflect on.

  • The goal you are trying to achieve (will a building result in the biggest impact)
  • The dynamics of the local partner you work with (know and manage the risks)
  • The practicalities and capacities you have at your disposal (experience)

What’s the vision?

Is a building the best investment to achieve the end goal? Is a building really necessary? As lovely as a building looks they are expensive and complex, other investments often achieve a much bigger return.

If your end goal is poverty reduction or church growth, a building is rarely the best option. A much higher return on investment can be felt from other initiatives.

LGMI’s Country Representative for West Africa

Local Dynamics

Legal ownership

Whose name, governance and control will be over the site and building? Often, it’s not clear who owns land, and assets. Laws vary between countries, but common complications include (the state having control, individuals holding deeds rather than organisations or churches). This increases the risk of assets being taken by fallen leaders after a relationship breakdown, or when the state gets hungry for cash. There is little Tearfund can do in response, so often risk of this is high.

Ghost Buildings/businesses

Who’s behind this, how well do you know them e.g. sheep stealing, personal small business (not a ministry). Often unscrupulous people project the image of church in order to attract funding from overseas churches. This is diverted into the family business of a private school, orphanage etc… providing employment to certain leaders and family members.

Vision and designated use of building

Diversion from vision, churches becoming schools, schools becoming houses – Leaders go astray and so do plans. With complete control of assets there are some occasions where despite a large investment by outside donor, the local leaders decide to do inappropriate things with assets. e.g. turn an office into a personal private school. Things not in keeping with a donor’s vision.


Expensive property = money and expectation, what are you projecting (prosperity gospel, rice Christians (the thinning) etc…)? Big or expensive buildings in poor communities attract a lot of attention. If someone is seen to do that, they can easily also be seen as the solution to many other expensive problems.

Practicality in Building projects

Maintenance costs (ownership and sustainability)

Falling into disrepair (what’s the business plan and is it realistic given local capacities?). Who’s building is it anyway, “you paid for it, so it’s your job to maintain it not ours”! In many cases the vision is bigger than the capacity to maintain, and large assets can become a drain on resources, or fall rapidly into disrepair.

Partners Experience

Few organisations in the charity sector build on a regular basis. It can be tempting to save money by doing things themselves, using overseas professionals etc… , however good use of local architects, contractors and suppliers can save a lot of angst and having to put right many mistakes by foreign “experts” or local volunteers.


All the usual complications of agreeing terms, budgets and payments. If things go wrong, many overseas contexts don’t have the legal structures we have in the UK to put them right.

If you do go ahead with a construction project, here are our top tips

  • Ensure that your local partner is jointly raising funds for the building i.e. part contribution locally
  • Support building projects only alongside other pre existing work where a building is low down priority list, and not the main thing
  • Only support pre existing building plans i.e. not initiated from outside leadership or yourself
  • Ensure there is clear group ownership of plans i.e. not the idea of 1 local leader
  • Ensure there are clear realistic business plan for the assets management
  • Ensure there are clear written down plans, capable project managers, and good quality contractors
  • Learn from others who have done the something similar recently