ENGINEERS WITHOUT BORDERS SOUTH AFRICA

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  • 28 Mar 2017 12:50 AM | Dhruti Dheda (Administrator)

     The 5th Annual EWB-SA National Leadership Summit was held from the 24 - 26 February 2017. The Summit brought together student delegates from EWB-SA student chapters around the country, for a weekend of discussion, workshops, team building and most definitely fun.

    The weekend kicked off with the Leadership Summit Launch at Tshimologong, the Digital Innovation Precinct in Braamfontein. During the Summit Launch the student chapters were given an opportunity to present their most significant projects before a panel and the Engineers Without Borders - University of KwaZulu Natal (EWB-UKZN) won the Chapter Excellence Award for the best project.

    On the second day of the Summit, EWB-SA was hosted by Sci-Bono Discovery Centre, the largest science discovery centre in southern Africa, where national student chapter leaders were exposed to innovation and design thinking. The main event, the thought provoking panel discussion, “Is Africa built for Innovation?”, was hosted by Nomathemba Magagula, along with panelists Lesego Letlape, Tiyani Tee and Barry Dwolatzky. This was followed by talk about Sustainable Projects by Yoliswa Msweli. 

    The third and final day of the Summit, saw various Summit judges assessing the student chapters plans for the year ahead. The topic of the day’s discussions and activities was Courageous Leadership. The Annual EWB-SA National Leadership Summit rounded off with the celebration of EWB-SA’s fifth birthday. The Summit was graciously sponsored by Sci-Bono Discovery Centre, WSP Parsons Brinckerhoff and Anglo American.

    All in all, the Summit was a huge success that more than achieved its promise to: Inspire. Connect. Empower.

    Written by Dhruti Dheda

  • 27 Mar 2017 10:18 PM | Dhruti Dheda (Administrator)

    In all the hustle and bustle of our current CEO, Wiebke Toussaint handing over the reigns of EWB-SA to the Jason Huang, the future CEO of EWB-SA, I managed to catch up with him for a quick Q&A. Huang, an electrical engineer, a visionary, a director of a non-profit company and a sessional lecturer, has now managed to add the title of CEO to his name.

    Huang, wandered through the beginning of his engineering career, searching for the correct path to follow and as most entertaining stories would have it, the path found him instead! And hence he realised his true calling was to help others using his engineering knowledge and skills.

    He considers his new leadership position to be an intimidating challenge, but also sees it as a rather exciting opportunity to learn and grow with the EWB-SA family.

    Huang manages all his projects with enviable time management skills and believes that personal interest in all his undertakings keeps him going. He is a calm, sorted, determined, ambitious individual who has foresight which extends as far as the horizon. All this and more can be found in a rather informative interview below, at the end of which all you can say is, “Welcome to EWB-SA family, Jason! We’re glad to have you.”

    1) Describe your engineering journey.

    I had a very indecisive engineering journey. I knew electrical engineering was the right choice for me, but I just wasn’t sure exactly which field of interest I wanted to end up in and what I wanted to do career-wise. I stumbled along my studies in an attempt to find this mythical field of interest, until the day I decided to participate in a technology orientated entrepreneurship programme hosted by MIT now known as the MIT Global Startup Labs. The programme promoted development in emerging regions by encouraging entrepreneurs to solve problems using technology. It was during this programme that I realised that I wanted to help others using my engineering knowledge and skills.

    2) What prompted you to join EWB-SA?

    EWB-SA is a great mix of education and community development. Furthermore, I believe engineers are a key resource to the professional mix that is required for us to overcome our country’s many challenges. I believe EWB-SA offers young, up-and-coming engineers the opportunities to see the real-world value of their skills where they are really needed.

    3) You are now the new CEO of EWB-SA, that’s a rather important position to occupy. How does it feel to shoulder such a big responsibility?

    It’s definitely an intimidating challenge to lead an organisation of this size and having so many members depend on you, but I’m ready for the challenge. I’m excited to take on this opportunity to contribute towards EWB-SA and I look forward to learning and growing together with the EWB-SA community.

    4) As the CEO, describe what your work at EWB-SA entails and what can we expect from you as our CEO?

    My work will mostly involve the planning and execution of EWB-SA’s business strategy and interests. I’m here to ensure that EWB-SA is able to continue doing the amazing work that it does, and hopefully help the organisation reach even greater heights. To mention a few examples high up on my list, I plan to: increase access to resources/skills, increase the impact of our projects, ensure EWB-SA’s business sustainability and further add value and benefits to the EWB-SA membership.

    5) How have you been able to utilize your skills as an engineer to assist/ empower communities? Are there any interesting projects that you are working on currently or in the near future?

    I manage a similar non-profit organisation called Outreach Engineering, which is currently assisting public hospitals with their infrastructural shortfalls. These shortfalls impact the hospital’s business continuity and directly contributes towards a poor level of public healthcare, putting patients at risk. We’re assisting with the upgrade and reconfiguration of their backup power system (generators), and ensuring there is adequate and compliant engineering design, system resilience and capacity. Our work ultimately ensures that the infrastructure is fit for purpose and speaks to the needs of the public healthcare providers in order for them to provide a better quality of service to the general public.

    6) What do you feel you have acquired/gained (both for your professional and personal development) through your association with EWB-SA?

    I feel I’ve joined a community of similarly minded engineers who have common interests and passions. I’m also looking forward to the exposure and being able to contribute to so many great initiatives that EWB-SA’s members drive and get involved in. They say you should surround yourself with people who have similar aspirations and this is absolutely the case.

    7) How do you maintain a balance between the work at your day job and your work at EWB-SA?

    With extreme difficulty, I imagine! I count myself as one of the lucky few who enjoys doing most of the work I’m currently committed to, which includes EWB-SA. I have the privilege of excitement on multiple fronts, and the biggest challenge is probably keeping my focus on one exciting task at a time. It is ultimately a time-management challenge and I tend to divide my day/week up accordingly to make sure I make time to get to everything. The personal interest definitely helps!

    8) What advice would you give to aspiring engineers?

    This is probably a cliché but what has resonated the most with me on my journey thus far is that you can achieve anything you set your mind to. No one said it was going to be easy and most of the time you’ll feel like you’re in over your head, but that’s one of the best ways to learn (almost always in hindsight). It’s never fun during the suffering but the end result is almost always worth it. Also, no one said you had to suffer alone. Teamwork, collaboration, partnership and mutual support are key ingredients to getting things done effectively.

    Jason Huang interviewed by Dhruti Dheda

  • 27 Mar 2017 12:11 AM | Dhruti Dheda (Administrator)

    On the 12th of March 2017 the Johannesburg Technical Advisory Board (TAB) held its first meeting at the Galata Bakery and Coffee Shop in Braamfontein. Five TAB members, the chairperson of EWB-Wits and a committee member from EWB-UJ were present for this event. Unfortunately UNISA was unable to make it.

    The primary goals of the meeting were to establish a relationship between the chapters and the TAB. The first order of business was to run through the chapter year plans in detail. The TAB members critically evaluated the chapters’ plans and offered some helpful advice.

    Following these discussions, the discussion turned to how the TAB can best assist the student chapters to achieve their goals for the year. A major point that was brought up was that student chapters tend to run small, non-engineering type projects due to the fact that the structures within the chapters are not mature enough to handle larger projects.

    It was agreed that if these internal chapter structures are rectified then chapters would be better equipped to run large scale projects on a consistent basis. The rectification of these structures can start from simple practises such as efficient planning and thus the TAB agreed to create a basic template for project planning and implementation by tapping into their experience with project management.

    In terms of the logistics of the relationship, it was agreed that at this moment it may not be wise to have individual TAB members dedicated to a single chapter. Once the year plans are set in stone, then such decisions can be made.

    The relationship between chapters and TAB members is still in its infant stages and thus there is still a lot to work on from all parties. As time goes by, the true value of these professionals to the student chapters will certainly be revealed.

    Written by Tumisang Kalagobe


  • 18 Dec 2016 2:39 PM | Dhruti Dheda (Administrator)

    With the recent launch of Engineers Without Borders – Namibia (EWB-NA), I managed to interview Charles Mukwaso, an upcoming Mechanical Engineer, who also happens to be the founder of EWB-NA and the cofounder of the Namibian Society of Engineers (NASE). Despite this, he still manages to be a dedicated full time student at the University of Stellenbosch, working towards his Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering. Mukwaso rose from humble beginnings, attending school in a remote area in Namibia and went on to achieve his undergraduate Mechanical Engineering degree at a Russian university, one of the most technologically conscious countries in the world. During his childhood he had to participate in many community projects for the general upkeep of the community, he believes that this upbringing taught him two important things which guide his thinking till today: hard work and to care. His engineering journey ranges far and wide and has taken him from Namibia to Russia to South Africa, from the largest Russian industrial complexes to the largest Namibian military complexes and all of this has led him to believe that: “It’s a greatly commendable thing to earn an engineering qualification, but it is an honourable endeavour to volunteer and engineer solutions to the challenges our needy communities face every day. A well-paying engineering job is a fantastic achievement, but what changes the world is community engineering.” Young engineers pay heed to his word of advice for a sound foundation of for your future careers. He also foresees many collaborations between EWB-SA and EWB-NA, which is exciting news for everyone. So watch the space! To read more of this inspiring interview below.

    1) Describe your engineering journey.

    It has been an adventure for me. I went to school in one of the remotest areas of Namibia and attended university in one of the most technologically conscious countries in the world: Russia. For the love of mathematics and physics, I ended up in engineering and it’s been mind blowing. In Russia, engineering is part of the Russian culture (it’s literally referred to like that in their literature); in Africa, it’s still a new and therefore an exhilarating elite profession.

    While studying towards a degree in Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering, I interned for Rostelmash Manufacturing Company, one of the largest manufacturing complexes in the Russian Federation and in Europe. Back in Namibia I worked for a military industrial complex that designs and manufactures military hardware. I’ve also worked in the construction industry, designing and building mechanical systems. Of recent, I’ve taught and tutored engineering students. It’s been an exciting journey, a great honour and privilege to learn from and work with the best.

    2) What prompted you to start EWB-Namibia?

    I have always had a passion for community service and I deeply believe in giving back to society as a compulsory thing to do for every human being.

    When I was 12, I led a small but formidable movement to persuade the Namibian government to rebuild one school in the rural areas of our country. Its structure was made from mud and thatch and it was falling apart. I gave a speech before a crowd of community members, learners, the school board, teachers, education inspectors and visiting officials from the Ministry of Education head office in Windhoek. In that speech, I called for the complete reconstruction and electrification of the school so that pupils could learn in a more learner-friendly environment. The following year, the school was rebuilt and the entire community (not only the school) received electricity and planning started for the construction of a 56-km road linking the school to the nearest urban center. That infrastructure stands to this day. That was my school too, by the way.

    While in Russia, I volunteered and enlisted for community service for the entire duration of my studies.

    When I got to Stellenbosch, where I’m currently a fulltime candidate for the Master of Engineering degree in Mechanical Engineering, I learnt about and joined EWB-Maties. The whole idea of Engineers Without Borders, a community-oriented initiative, spoke to my passion for community-focused projects. After participating in the projects that EWB-Maties planned and carried out for the Stellenbosch community and surrounding areas in 2016, I thought of taking the initiative to Namibia. I discussed the idea with EWB-Maties, linked up with Wiebke Toussant, the CEO and Co-Founder of EWB-SA, promoted the idea in Namibia, and with the support from EWB-SA and the Namibian engineering community, including the Namibian government, EWB-NA was launched on the 3rd of November 2016 in Windhoek, with an initial membership of close to 100 engineers.

    3) Describe what your work at EWB-Namibia entails.

    EWB-NA was launched simultaneously with the Namibian Society of Engineers (NASE), one of the non-profit volunteer associations of engineers in Namibia, which I was co-founder of. Together with the founding NASE team, we thought that EWB-NA could be well established as an arm for social responsibility financed through NASE. That way we would offset the many financial challenges that come with non-profit volunteer organizations. We therefore resolved that 30% of NASE’s financial resources will fund EWB-NA.

    As Chairperson of both NASE and EWB-NA, one of my main responsibilities is that of a chief fundraiser. I’m responsible for the overall running of EWB-NA, presiding over the Executive Committee and ensuring that community projects are identified, planned, budgeted for and implemented. Much of our work will start in 2017 and one of the first projects we will be volunteering our expertise towards when we come back from the holidays is land servicing for low-cost housing in Windhoek.

    4) What sparked your interest in community development?

    I believe it was growing up in Namibia at a time when we had just attained independence and didn’t always have everything we wished for. Most of the infrastructure we have today did not exist then. Our communities were decimated by the war and everything had to come through the hard work of everyone, including children, without expecting to be paid for it – simply helping to build a functioning and better community. At school, we had to not only study but also clean the entire school compound, including setting up learning equipment, trenching, laying water pipes, and many other things the school needed. I believe this childhood participation in community development projects taught me two things: to work hard and to care. It is these two things that still guide my approach to life today.

    5) How have you been able to utilize your skills as an engineer to assist/ empower communities?

    I have had the honour to work as an engineer in Namibia, participating in projects and programs that are aimed at developing our country and moving it towards industrialization. As a leader or member of engineering project teams, some of the community-oriented projects towards which I have contributed my skills include construction of clinics, hospitals, schools, waterfronts, community sanitation facilities, manufacturing and production centers and many others. I believe I’ve had the opportunities to help, assist and empower communities, but I think my full potential is yet to be exploited, particularly in voluntary non-remunerated community projects. I have plenty of ideas that can positively impact communities in Africa. My hope is that those ideas will finally see the light of day through EWB-NA. As engineers, we possess unique sets of skills that literally build and improve the human life on Earth. If channelled properly, these skills can undoubtedly change the world for the better.

    6) What do you feel you have acquired/gained (both for your professional and personal development) through your association with EWB-Namibia?

    EWB-NA is still an infant. It’s impact on both the participating teams and the community will best be assessed for the first time towards the end of next year. On the grassroots level, however, just putting together the first EWB-NA team has given me great insight into organizing and working with people. The collaboration and support from EWB-SA and EWB-Maties also opened my mind to a whole new world of what engineers could accomplish as agents for change.

    7) How do you maintain a balance between the work at your day job and your work at EWB-Namibia?

    Right now, it’s more of a balance between work, studies, NASE and EWB-NA. I’m a full-time student, at the same time a full-time employee. It’s tough and it has taken a lot of sacrifices to get to where we are today. During the last semester of 2016, as it became clear EWB-NA was a go, I had to do a lot of traveling between Stellenbosch and Windhoek to lay the groundwork, mobilize and prepare for the launch in November. At times, it felt crazy, but the team we had assembled was very committed and hard working so we pulled it all off with so much ease. But through it all I have managed to maintain gym visits, a healthy diet and a bit of reading and resting just to generally fend off stress and fatigue. And with this experience, I feel like I have put together the perfect formula for maintaining the balance even better in 2017.

    8) Do you foresee any future collaborations or projects between EWB-Namibia and EWB-SA?

    Wiebke was very instrumental in giving us the guidance we needed to set up EWB-NA. The video from her and EWB-SA endorsing EWB-NA was very well received by Namibian engineers, it went an extra mile to prop up support for the initiative. With that, we established working relations with EWB-SA, and we plan to work together in 2017 and beyond to deploy the expertise of South African and Namibian engineers to the communities in our two countries. We have discussed maintaining working relations through knowledge-based mutual consultations and support for each other’s events and projects. We also plan to work together to stage the first SADC EWB conference or summit in the near future. EWB-NA already has a standing invitation to EWB-SA to one (or more) of the community programs we are planning for the near future.

    The groundwork has been done for our two EWBs collaborate quite a lot; and together, the sky is not the limit at all.

    9) Are there any interesting projects that you are working on currently or in the near future?

    Some of the projects we have set for 2017 and beyond include:

    • Designing proposals for solutions to water shortages and impacts of drought in Namibia,
    • Researching and finding long-lasting solutions to annual flooding in the northern floodplains of Namibia (including mobilizing engineers to assist in evacuations and relocations),
    • Staging career fair events in schools to assist matric-level learners to prepare for university,
    • Assisting communities with the planning and implementation of waste removal programs (this will include seminars to empower communities with the basics of recycling, construction of ventilated pit latrines and water purification in villages),
    • Sustainable farming projects: to assist subsistence farmers to implement and maintain food production,
    • land servicing and low-cost housing,
    • Sustainable energy projects for communities,
    • Establishing chapters in all the 14 regions of Namibia.

    Most of these initiatives will be oriented towards sharing DIY fundamentals, emphasizing finding and implementing solutions to existing and potential challenges. EWB-NA believes that the unique problem solving skills engineers have can change the way our communities approach challenges for the better, and we intend to deliver on that aspect.

    10) What advice would you give to aspiring engineers?

    It’s a greatly commendable thing to earn an engineering qualification, but it is an honourable endeavour to volunteer and engineer solutions to the challenges our needy communities face every day. A well-paying engineering job is a fantastic achievement, but what changes the world is community engineering. Engineers should seek to change our world for the better; our training equips us with what’s needed to do just that. My advice to all aspiring engineers is therefore to seek excellence at what you do, but peg to that a spirit of community consciousness. Be the technical agents of change our world so desperately needs.

    Charles Mukwaso interviewed Dhruti Dheda


  • 14 Dec 2016 6:58 PM | Dhruti Dheda (Administrator)

    Engineers Without Borders Namibia (EWB-NA) was launched on the 3rd of November 2016 in Windhoek, Namibia. The event was done alongside the launch of the Namibian Society of Engineers (NASE) since the two organizations are to be managed by the same team. EWB-NA will be financed by NASE to initiate, plan and implement socio-economic projects that target the needs of immediate communities.

    The event was attended by 62 people and graced by Namibia’s Minister of Agriculture, Water and Forestry, John Mutorwa, who spoke in support of local engineers’ decision to form a voluntary organization that will support Namibian communities. Also, speaking at the launch was Prof. Tjama Tjivikua, the Vice Chancellor of the Namibian University of Science and Technology, as well as Charles Mukwaso, EWB-NA Founding Chairperson and Rachel Kakololo, EWB-NA Secretary General.

    EWB-NA’s mandate is to encourage and champion the spirit of volunteerism amongst technical professionals. Engineers, technicians and artisans being highly skilled in infrastructure development, and Namibia having plenty of these professionals, there is a tremendous need to put mechanisms in place that speak to technical professionals to give back to their communities. Engineering being the application of our scientific and mathematical knowledge to meet the needs of mankind, EWB-NA will focus on the community part of that equation – basically, humanitarian engineering.

    Most African communities are faced with serious challenges in sanitation, housing, waste management, transportation and many others. EWB-NA aims to gather every available resource to rally enthusiastic volunteers to use their skills and expertise to help underserved communities across Namibia.

    EWB-NA believes that engineering solutions create opportunities for communities to thrive; our approach to development is therefore based on more than just blueprints and measurements, but also on real relationships with people and actual implementation of community-based projects.

    EWB-NA will embark on laying down the foundation for a vast network that will range from first-year engineering students to practicing engineering professionals who will avail their technical expertise for community-based projects. This will be achieved alongside efforts to encourage cross-cultural, hands-on interactions that are aimed at empowering everyone involved to build a better world.

    EWB-NA will look at the following focus areas:

    • Water supply and sanitation: which is a significant issue in remote areas as they still lack access to safe and clean water for consumption and sanitation.
    • Transport: establishment of viable transport solutions;
    • Energy: ideas on alternative energy;
    • Shelter/housing: alternative methods that will use local and affordable materials in construction;
    • Agriculture and climate change: e.g. finding drought proofing farming methods;
    • Education: making engineering knowledge accessible to all;
    • Natural disaster risk management.

    EWB-NA received an endorsement from EWB-SA, and together we plan to co-host and participate in each other’s events, sharing ideas and knowledge to better understand and serve our communities. The CEO and co-founder of Engineers Without Borders South Africa (EWB-SA) Ms Wiebke Toussaint delivered a video message in support of EWB-NA.


  • 10 Oct 2016 1:05 AM | Dhruti Dheda (Administrator)

    I had the privilege of interviewing Yetunde Dada, a mechanical engineer and IT architect, who also happens to by the Tech Whizz and Innovation Consultant at EWB-SA… she sounds like a magician! Yetunde is intelligent, thoughtful and community-oriented. She believes that life can only be considered a success, if it is a life of purpose and empowering others. She is creative and design (particularly technical design) is coded in her heart. Yetunde displayed all these attributes during her interview, in which she covers her engineering journey, duties at EWB-SA, approach to her career and community, being a woman in the engineering space and also imparts some sagely advise to aspiring engineers. 

    1) Describe your engineering journey.

    My engineering journey starts when I was in grade 11. At that time, I was part of the prestigious Space and Aviation Camp hosted by the University of Pretoria and MIT. One of our activities took us to Aerosud, a company that designed and manufactured parts for Airbus. We were taken on a tour by one of the design engineers and I recall him saying, “As a design engineer you get to question why things are made the way they are. Why do planes have two wings and not four? And can we build a plane with ten wings?” This encounter threw me into a world of considering engineering as a possible career because design was at the heart of it. I went on to study Mechanical Engineering at the University of Pretoria and went on to complete an Honours degree in Technology Management while working in the Aeronautics Service Centre at the CSIR. Since then I have diversified a lot but I still keep problem-solving skills and ability to grasp new concepts quickly at the heart of everything I do.

    2) What prompted you to volunteer at EWB-SA?

    I have been aware of Engineers Without Borders South Africa for quite a while. I remember emailing Wiebke Toussiant when I was still completing my undergraduate degree because I wanted to start a University of Pretoria chapter. I ran out of time to get one up and running but I’ve followed the progress of EWB-SA since then. I have actually run into Wiebke at a few events, like the Brightest Young Minds Summit and the WomEng networking events, and I’ve wanted to work with her because I knew I would learn from her leadership and management styles. When she put up an announcement that she was looking for a General Manager, I hopped on board.

    3) Describe what your work at EWB-SA entails.

    My role within EWB-SA is different from the one I applied for but it’s even cooler because I get to work on projects within EWB-SA. I work on the tech systems like the website and project portal and I’m helping set up frameworks for really cool things like the Technical Advisory Board (TAB) which is going to take our chapter projects to the next level. I’ve also been involved with setting up the Summit for this year.

    4) What sparked your interest in community development?

    I think I’ve always been like this. My mom often wondered if it was to my detriment that I spent so much time focusing on community projects. However, I believe that we have to do so much more to help others around us. The quote underneath my matric yearbook photo is, “If you do not make a difference you are obsolete.” I want to live a life of purpose. My life should help many change their circumstances.

    5) How have you been able to utilize your skills as an engineer to assist/ empower communities?

    I assist projects in a design capacity. This consists of facilitating brainstorming sessions and extends to modelling and simulation work on physical products. Some of the projects that I’ve been able to help in this way include designs for a reversible vending machine and a solar dehydrator for food preservation in rural communities.

    6) What do you feel you have acquired/gained (both for your professional and personal development) through your association with EWB-SA?

    My coding has improved! A lot! That’s been one of my really cool new skills sets. I still have a lot to learn but I’m going to be quite pro when some of the systems that we have in mind are up and running. I’ve also learnt how to manage client specifications in a better manner. This is with regards to collaborative design.

    7) How do you maintain a balance between the work at your day job and your work at EWB-SA?

    For some time my day job was EWB-SA, but now I have another day job. I’m in a lucky space because I have to develop similar IT architecture for my new job and that means that I get to work on my projects concurrently. Otherwise, I work in the evenings and on weekends. I have a real passion for pushing my work and I believe that it is important. I also use Trello, a to-do list application, to stay up-to-date with all my activities.

    8) How would you describe your experience as a woman in the engineering space?

    It’s an interesting space to be in because there are still so few women in engineering. It’s a blessing because there are so many opportunities available but it’s also a curse, I do believe that it puts pressure on us to be excellent because we stick out wherever we go. I have enjoyed my journey and the challenges so far because I’ve been able to mold my career into something that I love. I think all people, not just women in engineering, should try and get their passion, job and impact for people to intersect in order to find happiness. Engineering really opens many doors to do that.

    9) Are there any interesting projects that you are working on currently or in the near future?

    You need to stay tuned for the cool stuff that is going to come out of EWB-SA. In a personal capacity I will be launching CRNCH officially. It’s a social project incubator and that’s going to give people an opportunity to pitch and get help for social projects that they have in mind. Ultimately, I want to drive sustainable change and CRNCH is going to help me do that.

    10) What advise would you give to aspiring engineers?

    It’s so easy for engineers to butt into conversations with, “As an engineer…”, before they give comment on something. Rather have people know how incredible you are without the title and let them guess what you do. I'll also say that you should never stop learning. This means that it's okay to be acknowledge that you don’t know everything. Drop the arrogance that's typically associated with being an engineer and open your eyes to possibilities everywhere.

    Yetunde Dada interviewed by Dhruti Dheda

    Photo Credits: Simphiwe Mkhwanazi

  • 02 Oct 2016 10:27 PM | Wiebke Toussaint (Administrator)

    With national protests for free higher education having flared up across the country again, Engineers Without Borders South Africa sees the need to clarify its stance on the state of higher education in South Africa, especially where it relates to technical professions.

    EWB-SA sees the severe inequality in South Africa as a stifling force, crippling the socio-economic development of South African communities and disadvantaging the professional and personal development of engineering graduates, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds. We see the causes of persistent inequality in South Africa as being systemic and believe that structural reforms to date have provided insufficient measures for viable transformation in industry, the engineering and construction sectors. EWB-SA is in full support of the wider movement to decolonialise educational syllabi and to drastically improve accessibility of quality, broad-based education. Broad-based education should not be focused solely on university degrees, which by their nature are tailored towards academically strong individuals.

    Industry, the engineering and construction sectors have been accomplice to a drying up of vocational skills training programmes over the past two decades. South Africa’s labour market, entrepreneurial ecosystem and economy are suffering from the consequences of insufficient skilled artisans, technicians and technologists. To date inadequate quality educational opportunities exist for young South Africans to pursue career opportunities with fair graduate pay outside of the academic context. This has turned universities into the stepping stone to prosperity in South Africa. Yet we believe that academia’s primary goal is the pursuit of knowledge, not of wealth creation.

    A university degree is designed to equip graduates with the tools required to craft their own career. It presents an opportunity for students to expand their talents, to learn, to fail and to grow. It should provide exposure to options of pursuing entrepreneurship, a corporate career or academic research. It is important to acknowledge that it does not guarantee success or wealth but rather the skills required to attain knowledge and pursue excellence, which may (or may not) lead to prosperity. It is the process that students undergo at university—of being challenged with difficult and advanced ideas, of debating and ultimately of challenging those ideas—that transforms students into professionals and that is important, not so much the title upon graduation.

    We need jewellers as much as we need metallurgists. We need many skilled bricklayers, as well as civil engineers. We need boiler makers and mechanical engineers. In a healthy social system all of these professions must provide a sustainable livelihood and be respected as career paths. To unfold the potential of South Africa’s youth majority, a spectrum of educational opportunities must be made available, so that diverse talents can be developed. We need South Africa’s youth to be developed and nurtured into global citizens, equipped to take on the challenges of a changing world all the while providing local relevance.

    EWB-SA sees the current state of affairs in South Africa as a national crisis. Whether you personally agree, disagree, or lie somewhere in the middle with the current protests, we can all agree that the past two years have highlighted challenging issues that urgently need to be addressed in our society. These issues have opened up difficult and complex debates. We don’t claim to have the answers, but EWB-SA is certainly trying to do its part in tackling these issues. How can you contribute towards solving these problems and what are you going to do?

    We call on our student chapters to broaden the perspective of the protests beyond the universities to include the whole spectrum of training and educational opportunities. We call on the engineering sector and our graduate community to engage with us on inequality, transformation and graduate development, and on the Engineering Council of South Africa to provide a strategy for youth engagement and promotion within the country’s technical professions. The current protests concern all of us – whether student, graduate, management or retired. We have a responsibility to create a South Africa with opportunities for all.

  • 10 Aug 2016 12:06 AM | Dhruti Dheda (Administrator)

    I had the honor of interviewing Michelle Low, a lecturer, PhD candidate, researcher, engineer and co-founder of EWB-SA. She is also fondly known as the Backstage Queen by those in the EWB-SA family. Low is one of the phenomenal women who are part of the EWB-SA team and is the perfect person to interview for Women's Month.

    She loves to learn and help and can hardly tolerate it when she is not contributing to the greater good. She makes undefinable things happen at EWB-SA, her work can scarcely be placed into a specific category; such is the range of her skills and interests. Her tagline is #BeHappy and her optimism is reflected in all that she does. 

    Low is able to find the work-life balance, that we all strive for, between her academic career at the University of the Witwatersrand, her work at EWB-SA and her personal life. Her maturity, sensitivity, knowledge and skill are reflected throughout the entire interview and her words of advice are not be ignored. 


    1)      Describe your engineering journey.

    I am at the part where I am lecturing at the School of Chemical and Metallurgical engineering, while pursuing my PhD in Chemical Engineering both at the University of the Witwatersrand, Wits. Thus far, my engineering journey has been more on an academic level and imparting what I know to students. I still have much to learn, although it has been enjoyable even though there are challenges.

    2)      What prompted you to start EWB-Wits and subsequently to co-found EWB-SA?

    In 2010, David Ming sought a way in which student engineers could use their skills to serve local communities. I went to the SAWomEng conference that year and had learnt that there was a student chapter at UCT. David then decided to start one at Wits. I assisted from day one because we wanted to make a space where student engineers can apply what they have learnt, and at the same time help uplift developing communities. EWB-SA was a result of wanting to ensure that there would be a common organization for all of the student chapters, such that they would belong to one body, not operate by themselves, and to learn from one another. The energy from Wiebke was contagious, and gave me the drive to see EWB-SA thrive.

    3)      Describe what your work at EWB-SA entails.

    I have been involved since its inception; my role is actually embedded into many places and no distinct place. If you had to put it in a box, I assisted with the administrative backbone of the organization. Currently I am on the Annual National Leadership Summit Team, assisting with organizing the venue and programme.

    4)      What sparked your interest in community development?

    I might be making a hasty generalization, but I believe that everyone has an interest in giving back and in community development. Given the time in your life, opportunities come up and you take them. I saw that David wanted to start EWB-Wits and I believed in its vision to want to help grow the organization into one that could develop communities using engineering skills.

    5)      How have you been able to utilize your skills as an engineer to assist/ empower communities?

    My skills have been more on a problem solving aspect with respect to the administrative issues related to EWB-SA since its inception.

    6)      What do you feel you have acquired/gained (both for your professional and personal development) through your association with EWB-SA?  

    I have acquired a sense of pride, seeing the whole organization grow, and that is a result of working in a team, a team in which I could trust and believe in. There are many nifty little things that I have been exposed to working with different people, from hiring of employees to social media.

    7)      How do you maintain a balance between the work at your day job and your work at EWB-SA?

    Academia is quite flexible; sometimes you do have time to set aside, time in which you are not researching, lecturing or attending to administrative duties. The balance is that one should always see to getting things done, including “me-time”, and determine what is urgent and important, or just urgent but not important. Therefore, you will catch me on weekends doing either academic or EWB-SA work.

    8)      How would you describe your experience as a woman in the engineering space?

    In the engineering space which I have been in, that is in academia (research and lecturing) and in the non-profit space, to this date it has been positive. There is support from both female and male colleagues, it really feels comfortable.

    9)      Are there any interesting projects that you are working on currently or in the near future?

    On the administrative side, I am assisting EWB-SA with their annual national summit. Every year it becomes interesting and it keeps on getting bigger and better.

    10)   What advice would you give to aspiring engineers?

    As a student in engineering you will be challenged; challenged to think abstractly, challenged to push your understanding. Once you graduate, the subject matter may change over the years, however, that thinking, that limit pushing perseverance are qualities which you take with you. Don’t let your degree title or your job descriptions define you, you never know what type of career path you will take. However, you will be a problem solver and implementer. Bear in mind that you also need to understand what the problem is and at the same time design it with what is actually needed than what you think is wanted.

    Michelle Low interviewed by Dhruti Dheda

  • 09 Aug 2016 10:02 PM | Dhruti Dheda (Administrator)

    It is always incredible to see young people stepping up to improve themselves so that they can improve their communities. One such event, The Project Leadership Lab, headed by Engineers Without Borders South Africa (EWB-SA), worked with local university chapters across the country to set our chapter project teams on a higher level. The events were geared at teaching skills that were essential to creating successful projects and therefore boosting their impact on communities. 


    The last Project Leadership Lab took place, one Saturday morning on the 23rd of July, at the University of Pretoria with Engineers Without Borders University of Pretoria (EWB-UP). EWB-UP set up an incredible event to host project teams from EWB-UP and Engineers Without Borders Tshwane University of Technology (EWB-TUT), our latest addition to the EWB-SA family. 36 project members listened to talks about the importance of personal branding by Elaine Porter from WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff; how to integrate business model canvas thinking and strategic planning into project work by Koketso Rampyapedi, from whY Generation Management Consulting; and, the application of human-centred design thinking in stakeholder management by Yetunde Dada from EWB-SA.

    Sonwabile Sigenu, the Chairperson of EWB-UP, gave us some feedback about what the project team members learnt on the day: “The event was a huge success in that it challenged each of us to continue our personal growth as young leaders and professionals. I got to value the power of a personal brand and how it can be incorporated into many things beyond yourself, like in developing the core purpose of a business or an NGO. We also learnt that human-centred design solutions should not even be debatable in this day. This event made it clear that such solutions are key to sustainability.”

    The Project Leadership Lab fell in line with our mandate of empowering engineers so that they can empower their communities. We’ll be continuing with chapter engagements in future.

    Written by Yetunde Dada



  • 09 Aug 2016 9:22 PM | Dhruti Dheda (Administrator)

    The vision for The Dream Brew was conceived early in 2016. At the time, our goal was to host an event where we could inspire engineers to dream, to challenge engineers to follow their hearts, and to educate them of the work of EWB-SA and open up opportunities for collaboration.  

    Over the next few months, The Dream Brew gained momentum. A small team of Engineers began planning, sourcing venues, contacting speakers, and learning how to host an event of the highest calibre.  Meetings took place in a small pub in Newlands in the evenings, but the real work took place late into the night, week after week.  

    The event took place on 1 August 2016 at Beerhouse, a legendary social hub on Long Street, in Cape Town’s city centre. Doors opened at 18h30, with the pre-sale of tickets almost a complete sell out. By 19h30, the venue was packed with 80 guests, which included engineering professionals and students, scientists, lawyers, programmers, business executives and entrepreneurs. The venue was electric!

    Guest speakers for the night included Adriana Marias (MARS 1), Blake Dyason (Love our Trails), Felix Holm (Maker Stations) and Wiebke Toussaint (CEO and co-founder at EWB-SA). Each shared from their personal journey, captured the guest’s imagination, and perhaps gave permission for each person to explore their own personal journey.

    The Dream Brew was an overwhelming success, and has opened up a host of new opportunities for collaboration and future initiatives for EWB-SA. The feedback which continues being received has been incredible, and we are so overwhelmed with the support. The Dream Brew will be back, and will soon be venturing out into unchartered waters. This is only the beginning!

    * From the EWB-SA team, we would like to most humbly thank Beerhouse, Adriana Marias, Blake Dyason, Felix Holm, Curtis Chong, and the entire EWB-SA team who supported the event. To everyone who attended, we cannot thank you enough for your support. We welcome your feedback,  and look forward to seeing you soon – at the next Dream Brew.

    Written by Sammie Chimusoro and Simon Starck

    Photographs courtesy of Curtis Pow Chong. Follow @curtipowow on Instagram


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