Elsa Zaldívar

2008 Laureate, Applied Technology
Paraguay, Born 1960


Project Goal

Combine loofah and plastic waste to make low-cost housing

Location: Paraguay

Believing in the power of small changes, Elsa Zaldívar helped poor women make a living by growing loofah sponges. She then took on housing and deforestation issues using loofah waste.

Elsa Zaldívar has spent more than 20 years improving the lives of rural women in Paraguay. “Finding solutions to eliminate poverty, generating wealth and improving people’s quality of life in a sustainable way are what inspires me and brings me happiness in my professional life,” says Zaldívar. Born in 1960, her mother was an entertainer, while her father was a political leader fiercely opposed to Paraguay’s military dictatorship. She was chosen as a Laureate of the 2008 Rolex Awards for her innovative project – mixing leftover pieces of a vegetable sponge, loofah, with other vegetable matter and recycled plastic to form strong, lightweight panels that can easily be assembled into simple structures, including houses. Like all of Zaldívar’s ingenious ideas, the loofah panels solve several problems at once – eliminating waste, providing income and shelter, and taking pressure off Paraguay’s dwindling forests, the traditional source of material for housing. She is now establishing new alliances between rural organizations and government to improve the lives of the poor.

In Their Own Words

Other 2008 Laureates