Alex Rose-Innes

Chinwe Ohajuruka, with her interest and vast expertise in architecture is addressing climate change in the building industry, not only in Nigeria, but also in the United States (US), where her green building projects are gaining a noticeable foothold in this formerly male-dominated industry.

A Laureate for the Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards, Chinwe was awarded the Sub-Saharan African prize in Paris for her innovative and green architectural initiatives. With a master’s degree in architecture from the Heriot Watt University in Edinburgh in the United Kingdom (UK), her extensive experience saw her also gain accreditation from the US, the UK and South African Green Building Councils.

Not only does her organisation, Comprehensive Design Services (CDS), focus on climate resilient architecture, but Chinwe is also a green building trainer and coach. While her initial focus was on Sub-Saharan Africa, she now also works in the Caribbean for Small Island Developing States (SIDS).

Her team at CDS designs, engineers and constructs affordable green homes. These are all highly energy and water efficient, featuring innovations to regulate temperature, total sustainability in one package.

When she left the US a decade ago to do research for the Green Council in her home country of Nigeria, she realised the immense need of the people and the challenges they face. After being selected as one of the winners of the USAID and Western Union’s African Diaspora Marketplace competition, the CDS’s green eco prototype of a 100% self-sustainable home became reality. With the winnings and raising additional funds from family and friends, CDS constructed Nigeria’s first eco village. It featured eight totally off-grid units for those at the lower end of the socio-economic hierarchy and eight families, formerly living in the slums, moved into these barrier-breaking homes.

Chinwe and her team designed these one bedroom units with solar panels to provide energy and pump water from a borehole. Compressed and aesthetically- pleasing earth blocks were used to keep the walls cool. Most importantly, the owners could own a decent home for a fraction of the cost an ordinary house would have cost them.

With Chinwe at the helm, CDS boasts a lead engineer and a female project manager with assistance from a team of advisors and consultants.

Before embarking on this now well-renowned initiative, the entrepreneurial Ohajuruka started a company exporting crafts from beautiful African products, but she decided that her expertise could be put to better use than constantly having to negotiate devaluing currency and hyper-inflation.

It is no surprise that her mother’s initial nursery school now also incorporates a primary and secondary school. The socio entrepreneurial genes obviously run deep in this family.

This plucky and driven lady is still facing a mammoth task as global economic woes are impacting the provision of housing to the poor and at the same time, address climate change. However, Ohajuruka had never let it deter her previously and CDS is in the process of raising enough money to build a large- scale affordable green housing development in Nigeria.

Working with other consultants and organisations in her country and Ghana, there is no doubt that CDS that Chinwe and her core team would achieve their dreams and execute their plans to address several of the Sustainable Development Goals.

Former American Vice-President, Al Gore’s, Climate Reality Project featured CDS, but according to Chinwe, it is the gratitude of those who own their first decent homes, who make the trip worthwhile. Awards and acknowledgement provide funding, but as one former slum dweller said, “it is heaven on earth owning my first toilet,” this is what drives Chinwe. Who can argue with that heartfelt praise and with socio entrepreneurs working towards a better future for all, Africa and the world, can only benefit.