At EWB-SA, our slogan is to empower engineers to empower communities. We provide a platform for members to engage with other volunteers, community members, professionals and organisations, with the idea of developing South Africa for the better. We build physical structures, relationships — most importantly we develop ourselves — and we demonstrate to others the impact that contemporary, socially aware, professionals can play in modern society.
Amongst the urgency of everyday life, amid our own projects and communities, I sometimes overlook that we live in a rather special place in the world, and we are part of a larger picture. As EWB-SA members, not only do we work in SA for local stakeholders, our local projects often underlie universal applications. The insights and solutions that we build are often applicable elsewhere, in different contexts, adapted and used by different stakeholders. Our work requires us to be globally responsible professionals.
This realisation dawned on me, whilst sitting on a bus in downtown Denver, Colorado, in the middle of March, on my way to attend two events as a representative of EWB-SA:
- 1. The EWB-International (EWB-I) global forum (17 March 2016)
- 2. The EWB-USA international conference (17 – 19 March 2016)
EWB-I and EWB-USA hosted their second EWB Global Forum, at the Sheraton Downtown Denver Hotel, for EWB member associations to attend with the intention of sharing insights and best practices from around the world. This event was supported by the Alcoa Foundation. In addition to EWB-SA, EWB member s from the following nations attended the Global Forum:EWB-Australia
All members gave presentations to the forum about their respective associations and the work that they do. Not only was it interesting to learn about what other EWB associations do and how each member operates in their own special way, a highlight for me was to see how similar we all are, irrespective of differences in geographic location, age, political and financial constraints.
The end of the Global forum signaled the beginning of EWB-USA’s 2016 international conference, which kicked off with a screening of the movie Poverty Inc . Panel discussions proceeded after the screening, promoting a rather lively debate about the global aid system, the effectiveness of development work, and the unique role of EWB in modern society.
This year, the EWB-USA international conference ran over two and a half days, from Thursday evening to Saturday, with approximately 250 EWB members converging on the conference venue in downtown Denver. Invited speakers from various EWB-USA student and professional chapters, NGOs, NPOs and the United States State Department were in attendance, which made for diverse viewpoints and debate throughout the weekend. This year’s conference was themed around the UN’s 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs), with discussions related to water access, sanitation, energy, poverty and healthcare, and effective communication being popular topics of the conference. An interesting observation of the weekend was how discussions around development work evolved as the weekend progressed — what typically started out as engineering-centred discussions, soon evolved into higher-level community and volunteer-centred topics.
In summary, both the EWB-I Global Forum and the EWB-USA conference were well executed events, and a joy to attend. It was a wonderful opportunity to not only learn about what other EWBs initiatives are being undertaken around the world, but also as a way to inform the rest of the world of the work that we do as EWB-SA. The greatest value of this engagement was meeting interesting people and developing good relationships with like-minded colleagues around the globe.
Sometimes, we take for granted that the work that we do is, in some ways, localised for a particular set of stakeholders that we intend to reach. But having the time to step away and talk to others reminds me of the true benefit that we offer to society. In a relatively short space of time, we have come far as an organisation. On reflection, I’m reminded by EWB-SA’s slogan. Through our work, not only can we empower our own engineers and communities, we can also empower others globally — because of our location, we are in a special place to lead by example of what it means to do development work in Africa by African professionals. And the solutions that we engineer, and the perspectives that we share, can often have a far reaching impact that is well beyond our borders.
- David Ming