The Gaffat Community Preschool Project represents the first application of the Envision framework in Africa

An early childhood education project in Northwestern Ethiopia is the first in Africa to register their project to pursue Envision verification. Envision is the sustainable infrastructure framework and rating system developed by the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure (ISI). Use of the framework made it possible for the project team to better focus on broader community benefits, opening new opportunities for stakeholders to identify and pursue long-term sustainability goals.

The project’s sponsor and leader, Early Childhood Education Ethiopia (ECEE), is driven by a clear mission to meet the educational needs of rural communities throughout Ethiopia. They are committed to prioritizing, advancing, and expanding early learning programs on a significant scale while embracing sustainability as a core principle. ECEE integrates environmentally responsible practices into every aspect of its projects – from the initial design and planning to the use of locally-sourced materials and sustainable construction methods.

Early Childhood Education Ethiopia project location (highlighted in red)

The Gaffat Community Preschool Project is located in Debre Tabor in the Amhara region of Ethiopia, and it is the first in a series of planned preschool projects in the area. It consists of six community classrooms following a Gojo Bet design – a traditional circular housing structure commonly used in Ethiopia and throughout Africa. These structures will accommodate regular classrooms, as well as a library, an art room, and a science lab, and they will open to an outdoor eating area, equipped with a fully functional kitchen. The project design also includes an open play area that progressively expands to offer increasingly complex play opportunities, aligned with the students’ varying developmental needs.

The overarching objective is to use sustainable, local materials and preserve architectural tradition. (Image credit: ECEE)

Early in the planning and design discussions for the project, an engineer from the US who was supporting the team contacted ISI to request technical assistance. Given the unique project type and ISI’s interest in better understanding the challenges of using Envision outside North America, ISI felt it would be a good opportunity to offer additional support. Over the past year, ISI has provided the ECEE project team with resources for earning their ENV SP credentials, customized training on what to expect from the Envision verification process, and a series of “deep-dive” workshops focusing on each Envision credit category and its applicability to the project. With this support, the ECEE project team was able to register the Gaffat Community Preschool Project as the first project in Africa to formally adopt Envision.

Registered, under review, & completed projects in Envision Verification (Cumulative value USD $237 billion)

Embracing Sustainability

The Envision sustainability framework and rating system was designed to help infrastructure stakeholders to implement more sustainable, resilient, and equitable projects. Envision is comprised of 64 sustainability and resiliency indicators, called “credits”, which are organized around five categories: Quality of Life, Leadership, Resource Allocation, Natural World, and Climate & Resilience. Together, these categories and credits address community development, planning, collaboration, human well-being, mobility, materials, energy, conservation, and more.

Integrating infrastructure into the natural setting to enable an effective early childhood educational environment. (Image Credit: ECEE)

The Gaffat Community Preschool Project has used Envision to guide a sustainable and holistic approach to its design methodologies and materials selection, making an intentional effort to respond to the project’s immediate surroundings. For example, the school’s outdoor space will integrate farming as a central driver of its outdoor play, learning, and discovery by providing students with small, allocated plots of farmland where they can engage in hands-on growing experiences. Additionally, as part of the ECEE’s commitment to long-term sustainability, the project plans to conserve resources by utilizing solar energy and harvesting rainwater. “We at ISI congratulate and applaud the Early Childhood Education Ethiopia team for their sustainability efforts and commitment towards ensuring a sustainable future for the children in Ethiopia,” said Abdel Mustafa, Verification Specialist at ISI.

Gaffat Community Preschool playground and enclosed landscape with space for farming. (Image Credit: ECEE)

Many of Envision’s credits encourage watershed protection and preservation, which is key for Ethiopia, as a member of the Nile Basin Initiative, dedicated to promoting sustainable and equitable management of the region’s water resources. The ECEE project team’s practical adoption of Envision establishes them as a leader for sustainable infrastructure development in the region and might serve to encourage future projects in Ethiopia and other parts of Africa to follow suit. “From the onset of this project, we have closely worked with faculty and administrative staff members to better understand the community makeup, capacity to support such a project, and commitment to the changes it will bring,” said Dr. Hawani Negussie, ENV SP, Founder and Executive Director of ECEE. “Beyond the involvement of these community members, the Debre Tabor University president, Gaffat school principal, local education bureau, administrators, teachers, parents and  elders in the community have also been fully engaged in the process. We hope as an organization that the Gaffat Community Preschool project will influence the way schools are built in Ethiopia.”

ISI’s Technical Assistance Program (TAP)

ISI is dedicated to providing people and projects with the tools, resources, and roadmaps needed to succeed in the development of sustainable and equitable civil infrastructure. Building on the success of this unique project experience in Ethiopia, ISI was inspired to formally design and pilot a Technical Assistance Program (TAP) to provide support for using Envision for small and economically distressed communities. “We recognize this type of support to use Envision is needed in economically distressed areas,” said Kristi Wamstad, Verification Director at ISI, “and, while we can’t subsidize credentialing and verification for everyone, we are committed to finding ways to reduce barriers to access and leveling the playing field, hopefully attracting investments to where it matters most.” Through this pilot program, ISI hopes to gain a better understanding of the various and unique challenges faced by economically distressed communities – for example, resource constraints impacting access to information or analysis. This knowledge will better equip ISI to design solutions to help overcome those challenges, informing the development of tools and resources that allow for lower costs and greater adoption by underserved communities.

Meet the Project Team