Colombia: Safe, healthy, and sustainable construction in poor neighbourhoods (Construya)

Three quarters of all Colombians reside in cities, many in densely populated and illegally constructed poor neighbourhoods. Many residents have built their homes on their own steam, with little money or experience and without official approvals. The living spaces are often precarious, construction quality is lacking, and the homes are particularly vulnerable to earthquakes or landslides. According to estimates, roughly 10 million people across the country live in poorly built homes. Swisscontact aims to raise the level of performance of the informal construction market in Colombia by introducing technical solutions and promoting good construction practices, high quality and locally adapted training for construction workers, and raising awareness among homeowners to ensure they demand higher quality construction practices for their homes.
Bogotá, Colombia
Bucaramanga, Colombia
Cali, Colombia
Project duration
2019 - 2021

The project

The project includes a skills development program in the informal construction sector in Colombia. The project was launched in April 2011 with financial support from the Hilti Foundation and between 2011 and 2018, more than 25,000 construction workers and more than 6,000 homeowners received training. An impact study carried out in 2018 concludes that trained construction workers were able to increase their income by 1,332 Swiss francs (CHF) per year and in 60% of cases they have built safer houses than unskilled workers. At the end of 2018, the training courses were so deeply rooted in the national vocational training institution SENA and in the other two main private partners, Homecenter and Cemex, that they were able to implement the courses independently.

In this final phase of the project, 2019-2020, we are supporting established partners, who are already familiar with these training methods so that they can independently train 6,200 construction workers and 80 new trainers across the country. Swisscontact aims to demonstrate the following elements of systemic change to achieve the desired impact:

  • Scalability: Sustained high performance of construction workers trained in courses provided by existing core partners (SENA, Homecenter, Cemex) and by four new private partners.
  • Behaviour: Construction workers overcome their bad practices, owners closely examine their own homes, trainers understand how to collaborate with informal workers, and companies integrate training into their business strategies.

At the same time, we are supporting four new partners so that they can learn more about the training methods and about coordination with SENA and train 2,000 construction workers (800 of whom are also entrepreneurs) in the cities of Bogotá, Cali and Bucaramanga. The goal is for private and public partners to integrate the courses into their clients' strategies by 2020 and then continue to deliver them independently.

Thanks to the training courses, at least 10,000 homeowners know that they must take structural measures to reduce the vulnerability of their homes to in order to face extreme weather events and earthquakes, and also to improve the use of natural light and have a good ventilation.

Watch this video to find out about the alliances with private sector partners, which were key in the creation of innovative training methodologies.


Agreements with different public and private entities in the cities and municipalities of Bogotá, Ibagué, Cali, Pereira, Bucaramanga, Sopo, Alvarado, Yumbo, Dosquebradas and Barrancabermeja.

  • 30,403 construction workers trained and certified by SENA on issues related to housing vulnerability and habitability, and 6,288 workers on business issues.
  • 6,355 homeowners trained in decision-making for the improvement of their homes.
  • 4,057 ironmongers trained in technical construction concepts to advise homeowners and construction workers throughout the country.
  • 58,820 people live in safer, healthier and more sustainable homes.
  • 636,000 residents sensitised through mass media.
  • 19,856 residents directly sensitised by the project.
  • 568 Instructors trained in the project's methodologies (350 SENA instructors and 218 Partner Instructors).

Financing partners

This project is financed by Hilti Foundation, among other donors. As part of the Swisscontact Development Programme, it is co-financed by SDC (Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, Federal Department of Foreign Affairs FDFA).


Colombia, Peru
Training builders – Construya’s programme
In 2011, the Hilti Foundation and Swisscontact launched a qualification programme for the informal construction sector in Colombia. Read the story of Construya by the Hilti Foundation.
Peru, Colombia
Swisscontact shares experience in safe construction
From November 16th to 19th Swisscontact participates in the international event "Europe Housing Forum - Building foundations for the future of affordable housing", sharing its experience with projects in safe construction. 
Guatemala, Bolivia, Colombia
Initial vocational education and training, Labour market insertion, Continuing Vocational Education and Training
Digital tools used in skills development projects in Latin America
In Latin America, Swisscontact has been supporting the development of digital solutions in its skills development projects to facilitate access to training and job opportunities. Youth living in poor rural areas of Guatemala are offered vocational guidance through a web portal. Applications developed in Bolivia support young people and technical professionals in finding suitable training or employment opportunities. In Colombia, the training offer that improves construction practices in informal housing was extended by a virtual platform in 2020.