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One Home at a Time | Ian Shapiro

Ian Shapiro


Ian Shapiro joined Reall as CEO in early 2018 and found an organization ‘head down’ building homes for people on low incomes in Africa and Asia. He is driven by a passion that where you are born should not dictate your life chances and the recognition that poor people were being bypassed by the rapid urbanization in emerging economies.

He knew Reall had to change. 300 million new homes are needed by 2030 and 90% of the urban growth this decade will be seen in Africa and Asia. As Covid has shown, our home is personal protective equipment and the foundation from which we can flourish. Reall needed to get their ‘head up’.

Ian Shapiro has been working at the interface between private sector effectiveness and public good for 25 years, 15 of them spent living in South Asia and East Africa. Reall’s model has provided an ideal platform for his leadership. Ian spent 16 years at DFID (now the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office), where he progressed to Head of Private Sector Development, then moving to become Chief Strategy Officer for Crown Agents before joining Reall.

As a natural collaborator and strategic thinker, Ian understood that Reall could not deliver even a tiny percentage of the homes that are so desperately needed. He says, “To achieve impact at scale Reall needed to showcase their pioneering, climate smart, commercially viable $10K homes to disrupt the housing market rather than attempt to dominate it.”

Laser-focused on turning Reall’s potential into reality, Ian created a culture of evidence-based innovation fixated on crowding in others to take the mission of affordable housing to scale.

Currently there are 1.2 billion people living without somewhere decent to call home, and this is set to rise to 3 billion by 2030.Ian points out that, “rapid urbanization combined with inequality limits our mutual security and our shared prosperity – affordable homes represent an untapped, $17 trillion market and a doorway to delivering 16 of the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals. Simultaneously, affordable homes offer the opportunity to create greener, more resilient economies and lift millions out of poverty. This is good for people, for profit and for the planet.”

Under Ian’s leadership Reall’s culture shifted to being ‘heads up’ and working at pace to build an affordable housing movement. However, as with many organizations, when Covid hit CEOs had to urgently pivot priorities. Reall needed to tackle both the UK operations and their build and broker ambitions across their African and Asian portfolios – all of which were in lockdown.

Ian Shapiro said, “Covid-19 does not respect race, gender or borders, but it is not a great leveler either. The advice of work from home, wash your hands and remain socially distanced are simply not possible for vast numbers of people in the countries we work in.

Ian recognized early the importance of both protecting his team and keeping Reall performing. “We had a huge logistical challenge in the UK to ensure our staffs at Reall were taken care of and able to focus on delivering our mission.” Ahead of the government lockdown he stress-tested remote working capabilities, perfected systems and closed the physical office.

Having built a high performing, empowered team around him, the organization’s leaders were able to adapt priorities, workloads and time frames whilst retaining high productivity and engagement. “As CEO it’s my job to lead and grow a supportive and engaged culture. My team adapted and thrived,” Ian said.

With the organization functioning smoothly online, Ian turned his attention to delivering Reall’s mission of a better world in a changed world. “For the many families living on a low income in the countries we work we knew housing really had become a matter of life and death. The correlation between safe, affordable housing and healthcare had never been more acute.”

It is Ian’s firm belief that quality affordable housing needs to be a foundational part of the post-pandemic recovery to revive economies, create jobs and assets for low income people, build resilience and help prevent future pandemics.

Ian says, “Reall is building an affordable homes movement to improve the life chances of 100 million people in urban

Africa and Asia by 2030. We are demonstrating that affordable housing is a scalable and a commercially and environmentally viable solution.”

Reall is pioneering the $10K house for people in the bottom 40% of the income pyramid. Kick-starting economies, integrating essential services like water, sanitation and energy all by making housing affordable for those who need it most.

“Reall openly shares detailed impact evidence from our projects to demonstrate the powerful results of our work,” Ian says. “For example; improved access to education and employment; women and girls able to safely use the toilet at night; stronger institutions and a broader tax base. All this stimulates mutual benefit and catalyses action to fundamentally transform markets and create inclusive communities and cities,” he adds.

Ian’s vision is revolutionary. Building affordable housing at scale to address the huge urbanisation crisis represents an enormous challenge and also a huge opportunity. Many think the opportunity cannot be realised, such is the scale and complexity of the job in hand. Yet, Reall has already improved the lives of over 3.5 million people and is a world leader in demonstrating commercially and environmentally viable homes complete with land tenure and services at $10k.

Ian states, “Reall have proved it can be done. For example, The Centre for Affordable Housing Finance found that our

Nigerian partner the Millard Fuller Foundation’s one bed 32sqm house in Abuja, on the market for $8K, is the most affordable quality home for sale across Africa.”

The world today needs 300 million new homes by 2030 when the number of people without somewhere decent to call home will rise to 3 billion if nothing changes. Ian sees the Covid crisis as an urgent wake up call to drive innovative new approaches and jump start more climate-smart resilient economies.

He is clear that one organization cannot do this alone. Ian is leading an alliance across global governments (such as their cornerstone funder the Swedish government development agency SIDA, the UK’s Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office and the UN) the private sector, financial instructions and impact investors to tackle the urbanization crisis.

“We must grab this opportunity to restructure our societies and our markets in ways that drive macroeconomic growth, stimulate the financial sector, mitigate climate change and enable billions of people to break out of the poverty cycle for good,” says Ian.

“Affordable housing is the doorway to achieving this, because it is not just a home – it is a job-creating, GDP-boosting, gender-empowering, health-improving, climate change-fighting engine of human potential.”

To find out more about Reall go to

" To achieve impact at scale Reall needed to use their pioneering, climate smart, commercially viable $10k homes to disrupt the housing market rather than attempt to dominate it. "

Ian Shapiro


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