Peter Williams: Designs houses that prevent disease

Peter Williams, executive director at Architecture for Health In Vulnerable Environments. Photo by: personal collection

Peter Williams started ARCHIVE in 2006 with a novel concept, using housing design to avert the spread of infectious diseases. Today, ARCHIVE volunteers in Saint-Marc, Haiti, are about to complete houses designed to prevent tuberculosis. The nonprofit also looks to launch in October a project focusing on housing improvements that can protect dwellers in Yaoundé, Cameroon, from bites of malaria-carrying mosquitos.

Williams is one of today’s most influential development leaders under 40 in London. He and his peers have inspired change that transcends borders.

Devex is recognizing 40 of these young London-based trailblazers in international development. They are social entrepreneurs, government leaders, development consultants, business innovators, advocates, development researchers, nonprofit executives, philanthropists and investors.

We asked Williams about his leadership and vision for development cooperation in the years to come. Here’s what he said:

How do you keep volunteer experts committed to ARCHIVE?

Volunteers are drawn to the organisation because of the cross-disciplinary approach to our work. Most often, these individuals are motivated by the unique opportunity to work across disciplines and alongside other experts from various professions who share a commitment to addressing complex challenges systemically. One example of this occurred when we engaged world-renowned architects, micro-biologists, engineers and public health practitioners to listen to the voices of Haitian communities and facilitate a process for identifying practices that could improve living conditions and health simultaneously. At this event as well as others before and after — such individuals were able to draw upon/share evidence which is used to help unearth new knowledge (innovate) in the process.

How do you fundraise and scale up successfully without detracting limited resources from ARCHIVE’s field work?

The organisation is grouped into 4 areas — research, fundraising, public engagements and projects. Though each group maintains its own mandate/deliverables, we reinforce the extent to which each directly has bearing on our capacity to effectively deliver our projects. Fundraising is at the heart of this. E.g. public engagement is an important part of all our project deliveries as it is used as an advocacy tool to bring about behaviour change among project beneficiaries. Yet, public engagement also forms an integral part of our fundraising strategy as it is important to keep our support base informed of our expenditure priorities and needs. In this way, we use the same resources (group) for dual purposes. In 2011/2012, the organisation will launch a for-profit arm to further its work/mission. Client base has been established to pay for the services delivered. Fortunately these services are identical to that which is already being delivered — though to a different client/market.

What innovative solutions to housing challenges are you eager to push in the coming years?

I’m eager to address the challenges of neglected tropical diseases which fly under the radar and so receive little attention. Little is done to address the impact of living conditions on health in this context. Chagas disease is one example of this. Tuberculosis control in densely populated informal settlements is also on the radar. In addition, I’m eager to communicate the importance of not isolating water, sanitation and indoor housing conditions. We have already commenced work on examining innovative designs to toilets, drainage and piping/purification systems that are well integrated with sound/safe living conditions.

Read more about the Devex 40 Under 40 International Development Leaders in London.

About the author

  • Eliza Villarino

    Eliza Villarino currently manages one of today’s leading publications on humanitarian aid, global health and international development, the weekly GDB. At Devex, she has helped grow a global newsroom, with talented journalists from major development hubs such as Washington, D.C, London and Brussels. She regularly writes about innovations in global development.