ENGINEERS WITHOUT BORDERS SOUTH AFRICA
I recently had an opportunity to interview Wiebke Toussaint. Most might know her as the co-founder and previous CEO of EWB-SA, but she is much more than that. What can I call Toussaint, an engineer, a thinker, a creator, an innovator or an adventurista? These terms seem plenty, but are definitely not enough to describe her. She’s an enigma to say the least. Armed with a Mechanical Engineering degree from UCT, a Diplôme de français professionnel Affaires B2 from the Paris Chamber of Commerce, the multilingual (English, Afrikaans, French and German) Toussaint set out to connect people and technology, society and engineering, drawn by the risk, responsibility and complexity of the problems posed by modern society.
Toussaint cofounded EWB-SA in early 2013, whilst she was still a junior engineer at Hatch Goba. Hatch Goba, later nominated her as one of the young African leaders to join the Kumvana Program (leadership development and cultural exchange expertise program). In 2014, she was recognised for her business acumen, by the prestigious Standard Bank Rising Star awards, under the Service: Public and Private sector. She has also worked as a business analyst at an e-commerce company and later as a data scientist in energy research.
Toussaint is driven by her belief that if the new generation of technically skilled people are nurtured correctly, then South Africa and the African continent will flourish; she aptly refers to herself as an African dreamer.
But if you think that Toussaint is all work and no play, then you’re wrong. She is known to be able to balance 8 spoons on her face and continues to practise balancing more spoons, in her attempt to beat the world record. Her three great loves are people, nature and energy.
She strongly feels that “we all have the ability to make time for things that we are passionate about and an eight hour work day actually isn't that much, is not that long. I think there's an hour or two that all of us can give every day to make a difference, to create the future that you want to create, cause that is what gives meaning to life and that is what makes a normal day worth living.”
Clearly she’s a woman who wears many hats and follows her heart. Still, I cannot fully describe her, the closest I can get is that her speciality lies in making things happen, so I guess we better watch the space!
Enjoy the complete interview below in celebration of one of our founding mothers.
1) How did your engineering journey begin?
I started my engineering career at Hatch Goba. I was a first year student of theirs and spent some time working there, first as a piping engineer and later looking at energy efficiency and knowledge management. Since then, I’ve worked as a business analyst in an e-commerce company and am now working as a data scientist at UCT (University of Cape Town).
2) What prompted you to create of EWB-SA?
I co-founded Engineers Without South Africa (EWB-SA), while I was working at Hatch. I felt inspired to start EWB-SA because I believe in the agency of young engineers who want to make a difference in South Africa and no space existed in which we could volunteer our technical skills to make a difference in society. I felt immensely inspired by the number of young people or young engineers that approached me to be involved because they believed in the future of South Africa and wanted to make a difference.
3) What type of work were you involved in during your association EWB-SA?
Over the years my work at EWB-SA has entailed everything, starting from social media to organising events to meeting with student and professional members to building our community, executing projects and engaging sponsors. So whatever the work was, you name it, I did it.
4) What do you feel you have acquired/gained (both for your professional and personal development) through your association with EWB-SA?
What I most enjoyed about working with EWB-SA, was engaging with our community and our members, being part of the journey of young engineers as well as mentoring and I think our Summit [Annual Leadership Summit] to me was always a special event at which I got the opportunity to see the hard work that our students have put into it. EWB-SA has provided me with an awesome opportunity to gain practical business skills and to play and to discover skill sets beyond technical engineering. So I've learnt a lot about engaging with stakeholders, about leading teams, I've learnt a lot about human centred design, about understanding the role of your customer and of your client in the design process which I think are things that aren't typically covered in the engineering curriculum. I've learnt about what it means to build a tribe, about what it means to motivate others.
5) What makes EWB-SA different or rather what makes it stand out compared to other organizations of its type?
And I think what the true value of EWB-SA is that it really provides a microcosm of a space in which we can in which you can try and which you can fail and learn. So the same way in which I've had the opportunity to learn things which I would never have learnt in normal corporate. I know that each project provides an opportunity for our members to learn real life skills, real engineering skills, leadership skills, teamwork, stakeholder management and Human Centered Design in a way that they wouldn't otherwise. What makes EWB-SA different and special is that as a community is that it's okay to fail. It's not only just okay, we encourage trying, we encourage making mistakes and if you continue to try and make mistakes, eventually you'll get it right. It's a given that some of them will work out and others won't. So we want our students to keep trying, to keep making mistakes. Beyond the skill that I’ve gained, EWB-SA has really been a family to me and I've met the most magnificent, marvellous, inspiring individuals through EWB-SA. So it’s being part of a community and coordinating, navigating and inspiring a community that has really added value to my life.
6) How do you maintain a balance between the work at your day job and your work at EWB-SA?
I think we all have the ability to make time for things that we are passionate about and an 8 hour work day actually isn't that much, is not that long. I think there's an hour or two that all of us can give every day to make a difference, to create the future that you want to create cause that is what gives meaning to life and that is what makes a normal day worth living. So I don't think it's actually that difficult to find ways to volunteer, to give back, to contribute, to be part of the community, part of a vision, part of something we believe in. And I think in doing that we enrich our lives a lot.
7) How would you describe your experience as a woman in the engineering space?
I love being a person in engineering and I love being a woman. I know that being a woman in engineering often isn't that easier or maybe rather it becomes progressively harder the further along your career as you progress. However, I think that engineering is a field in which technical competencies count and it's important that whether you're a woman or a man, that you become good at what you do, that you build skill sets that are necessary and that you speak out for what is right and what you believe in. I think that empathy in design and putting people first is something that has been lacking in how we do engineering and I think that those are skills that women are stereotypically more accustomed too and I think that , that is something that we can really contribute to this sector. So I see being a woman in engineering as a massive asset and something that we shouldn't be shy about. I think there's a lot of value to add when we bring different perspectives to an old setting.
8) Are there any interesting projects that you are working on currently or in the near future?
I'm doing my masters in artificial intelligence at the moment and I'm very excited about the opportunities that that the space holds, especially if we connect our traditional engineering sector with the world of data. I'm enjoying not having a specific project for the time being, since I've stepped down from EWB-SA. I'm pretty sure that in due course, not too long, some new projects will emerge. But for now, I'm enjoying just gaining the skills to reposition myself in what I consider to be the future of engineering.
9) What advise would you give to aspiring engineers?
There is so much to discover in the world and so many ways to get involved and view things beyond the pure technical realm. My advice to all young engineers would be to not get stuck and be bogged down in the technical aspects of life only. Branch out, get involved with something, build your networks, learn beyond maths and science- try to understand the fundamentals deeply, but other than that make sure you branch out. Try to understand the people that you designing for. Give of your time, give of your skills, join a community and be entrepreneurial. Think of opportunities and widen your scope of what you consider opportunities. Don't just think jobs, don't just think employment. As engineers we are in a unique position to be value creators. So keep challenging yourself, asking where can you add optimum value, where can you truly make a difference and follow your passion.
Wiebke Toussaint interviewed by Dhruti Dheda
This April umnandi went to South Africa to conduct its first two workshops in Johannesburg and Cape Town. Umnandi, a nonprofit founded in late 2016, has the mission to provide young South Africans with practical knowledge, tools and motivation to pursue entrepreneurial projects that benefit their communities. The project was initiated by students of Chalmers School of Entrepreneurship, a university in Sweden, and implemented in collaboration with EWB-SA.
Over 70 participants attended the two workshops. The first workshop, held in Johannesburg, specifically targeted South Africans from low-income households. It was held in collaboration with Sci-Bono, which is a contact that was established by EWB-SA. The second workshop, held in Cape Town, was predominately attended by engineering students associated to EWB-SA UCT and Maties.
The workshops started off with the infamous “Egg Drop Challenge”, which required creativity, teamwork and hands-on construction skills. The participants were divided into competing teams. Each team received an egg, a budget and the chance to buy various materials like straws, paper and plastic cups, where each item had different price tags. The goal: Develop a solution to protect the egg from a five meter drop. In keeping with the entrepreneurial spirit groups were also challenged to keep their solutions cost efficient, quick and creative from a design perspective.
A key aspect of the workshop involved introducing and working through the umnandi 5 step model. This model was developed to help participants take an idea from conception to an initial planning phase. It forced the teams to apply newly learned tools, think outside the box and take various business-related topics into account. “Who should be my first customer?”, “Which stakeholders are important to consider?”, “How can I test my product, gather customer feedback and improve?”. By exploring these and other questions, interesting insights emerged and the ideas were refined, altered or merged.
“Focus!” was a recurring theme during the workshop. In every step of the process, and particularly in the beginning, focus! Focus on a small group of customers. Focus on a few core features of your product or service. Discard aspects that do not contribute to this focus, minimize the overhead and stay lean. Once you see that you are on a good way, you can start expanding.
The workshops were full of energy and engagement. The participants identified key societal problems and issues in South Africa. Various creative processes resulted in thought-provoking discussions and revealed interesting ways to approach these issues.
Moreover, plenty of interesting business ideas were found and refined to a stage, where a first test-implementation would be the next step. It is now on the students to follow up and get their ideas out in the world.
Although for now the umnandi team is back in Sweden, we are looking forward to future workshops with new themes, more learning, and plenty of fun!
Thank you to our partners and supporters Chalmers School of Entrepreneurship (CSE), Engineers Without Borders South Africa (EWB-SA), Sci-Bono, SAAB and countless individuals for various contributions throughout our journey!
Follow us on social media and get in touch! www.umnandi.com @umnandientrepr
Written by Simon Geldner and Sammie Chimusoro
The ISF-France (Ingénieurs sans frontiers, English: Engineers Without Borders) FormIC (Former l’ingénieur citoyen known as Training the citizen engineer) International event was hosted by Eduardo Palmieri and Colette Génevaux. This conference aimed to share the experiences and knowledge and views on the training of the engineers, confronting national and international levels. Additionally the outcome was to find courses of action for a future collaboration between participants on the subject of the training of engineers. The countries that took part were ISF-Argentina, ISF-Rome, EWB-UK, EWB- Switzerland (IngOG+), ISF-Israel and Brazil.
This two day conference opened with two interactive presentations:
1. Engineering ethics by Christelle Didier, and
2. Teaching Social Approach to Engineers by Natalia Zlachevsky.
Christelle is a lecturer of Educational Sciences and her research is focussed on engineering and science ethics, as well as social responsibility in engineering education. Her presentation gave thought provoking questions such as: Is technology neutral, How do engineers balance engineers and humanism, and what code of ethics do engineers follow and what are their social responsibilities? We found this thought provoking, and would like to suggest an ethical theme be introduced into the next EWB-SA leadership Summit.
Natalia, is a social anthropologist, a founding member of ISF-Argentina and a professor. Her presentation outlined that engineers are part of society, and that the current education in engineering degree courses are insufficient. She talked about teaching social approaches to engineers and that a new pedagogy is needed, whereby social sciences, sustainable development and a humanistic approach should be included in order to decolonize knowledge. This was interesting as decolonization is also a topic in South Africa as it is in Argentina. She also spoke about positioning and that we cannot be neutral when it comes to human rights, sustainability and gender. It introduced aspects of, how would one unify gender in the field when working on projects, when the community is used to seeing males in charge but the female is in charge of the projects.
Both talks stimulated conversations with the participants, and groups were formed to consolidate questions to ask the speakers. This was helpful as this allowed for an interactive and constructive Q&A session.
Thereafter, three thematic table discussions were formed where moderators were encouraging table discussions over the next two days specifically on:
1. Engineering’s Training Governance: This table was about how can engineering training can be more inclusive of social and political issues amongst technological factors.
2. Participative Methodologies: David sat at this table for the two days. They discussed top-down logic is either implemented by management companies, or within projects (where the communities are considers recipients and not participants). Thus how should decision processes in engineering be done?
3. Role of Engineering in Society: This is where Michelle took part in for the two days. Engineers have a responsibilities, and how should they approach developmental projects as well as in their workplace.
The following day, final conclusions were shared from the table discussions. From theme one, a key take-away point was to have this international partnership as well as for EWB-SA to host the next conference in two years! Theme two concluded that in order to be participatory, one would need to influence levels and take into account culture of participation. A draft manifesto was drawn up by theme three:
Figure 1 Thematic Table Discussion Thoughts at the end of day two, which includes theme three’s draft manifesto.
The day ended off with each organisation speaking about who they are. Here are some highlights
It was a great opportunity to get to network with the different organizations. To meet the founders of ISF-Argentina, organizers of this event and the other chairpersons. It was good to exchange ideas, as well as to learn from how each of them approach events, tasks and fundraising. We also found it insightful to see how each country had a different way in which the engineering degree is presented to students in order to train them. On a side note, we must not forget to mention the picnic, where fantastic French snack goodies were shared amongst the participants by the River Seine at the boat houses. Thank you ISF-France FormIC committee for hosting this conference!
To learn more about the ISF-France FormIC, download their manifesto from:
In the next newsletter, we will talk about the last two days spent with ISF-France, that is the International Days of Exchanges Record which happened on the 5th and 6th April 2017.
Photo Credits: Nati
Written by David Ming and Michelle Low
Since mid-March, Engineers Without Borders South Africa (EWB-SA) & EWB – UCT (University of Cape Town) have been running an interactive series on water. The series aimed to use the current Western Cape drought as a catalyst for new learning platforms, projects and research surrounding water in South Africa.
The first event was an educational panel discussion inviting people to reimagine the future of sanitation in South Africa. To increase the event’s reach we collaborated with the Young Water Professionals, CESA YPF, SAICE YMP. The experienced multidisciplinary panel included the Social Justice Coalition activist Axolile Notywala ; CEO of bioconversion company Biocycle Marc Lewis ; Aurecon civil engineer Lulama Ngobeni and Stellenbosch University Sustainability Institute academic director Professor Mark Swilling. Their diverse experiences wove us a complex way forward. We had an impressive mid-week turnout from students and professionals.
The second event included the screening of DamNation. The film investigates dam removals in North America and it lead to an in depth discussion regarding dams and alternative water sources in South Africa; facilitated by Future Water UCT.
These discussions informed a workshop run with EWB-UCT students. Aided by innovative bioprocess engineer Bernelle Verster, the workshop was reflective and emphasised the need to focus on our own everyday interactions with water. UCT came out as a natural place for us to start with :
- A water awareness campaign involving a public urination capture station
- A competition demystify UCT’s water infrastructure
Last week we presented some of our findings at African Utility Week. The emphasis placed on education and skills development at this event validated our humble contribution to a more resilient society in a drier future.
We will also continue to create interactive educational platforms, with another movie screening planned and relevant site visits on the cards. Organising the series thus far has been flexible and spontaneous; moving forward we will focus on setting up more formal communication networks to help keep interested people involved.
Written by Anthony Fry
For more information contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
For more insight read: http://m.engineeringnews.co.za/article/discussions-to-spark-innovative-solutions-2017-04-28/rep_id:4433/searchString:sanitation%20discussion
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
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
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
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.
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:
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
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Empowering Engineers to Empower Communities
2016 | EWB-SA is a registered non-profit company | NPC 2013/014531/08