ENGINEERS WITHOUT BORDERS SOUTH AFRICA
I recently interviewed Wim van Schalkwyk, an engineer who has danced along to an unconventional song throughout his engineering journey. After working as an industrial engineering graduate for a couple of years, his travelling spirit was unleashed in a short sabbatical touring South East Asia; an experience which forever changed him. On his return to the motherland, he founded a small design and online marketing start up. But the twists and turns in his dance did not stop there and he glided into International Development in Southern and Eastern Africa after which he waltzed into Aurecon.
Aurecon is a global consulting engineering firm who prides itself in making it’s clients ideas a reality and is currently pioneering Afrikan Design Innovation, a human-centered approach to co-designing solutions to challenges. As the Aurecon Design to Innovate Partner, van Schalkwyk hosted two training workshops at the Gauteng campuses of the student chapters, in collaboration with EWB-SA. The student chapters were trained in the application of the human-centered design, engineering and innovation to projects which with social impact.
Van Schalkwyk feels that defining the HCD philosophy as one which simply puts the end user at the centre of the design is to trivialise the philosophy. For him, the HCD philosophy, is one in which the end users are included as co-designers in the design process; a practice which not only enhances design solutions but only empowers and maintains the dignity of the user.
The users, the humans, the people. This is exactly what inspires van Schalkwyk to continue his dance into community development. People who have faced greater hardships than him but who do so with great resilience and happiness.
His advice to aspiring engineers is to, “Travel! Embrace diversity. Intentionally put yourself out of your comfort zone – that is where growth is waiting! Oh, and don’t assume you know - go out there and speak to people.” In short, go forth and embrace your travelling spirit, young engineers. Travel through the rest of the exciting interview below.
1. Describe your engineering journey.
I have an unconventional journey. I started my career as an industrial engineering graduate at SASOL in Sasolburg. After a couple of years, I was privileged to take a short sabbatical to free my travelling spirit by touring South East Asia on a shoestring. This was truly a life changing and humbling experience. Back in South Africa, I founded a small design and online marketing start up – helping companies leverage the increasingly complex digital landscape. Then unexpectedly I transitioned into the world of International Development – working for a DFID-funded regional development programme in Southern and Eastern Africa. After all these bends in the road I landed at my current employer Aurecon – a global consulting engineering company who prides itself in bringing its client’s ideas to life.
2. What prompted your involvement with EWB-SA?
Earlier this year, Paul Ssali, a mechanical engineering graduate from the University of Pretoria (UP), shared with me how he realised after starting at Aurecon that this company takes human-centered design seriously. Since he played a very active role in the EWB-SA student chapter, EWB-UP while studying, he saw the value that Aurecon could bring to show engineering students what human-centered design looks like in industry and approached me with the idea to get involved with EWB-SA.
3. Recently EWB-SA and Aurecon collaborated for a couple of workshops/events, what did these workshops/events entail?
As Aurecon Design to Innovate Partner, I was joined by Paul to host two training workshops at Gauteng campuses. EWB-SA chapters at University of Johannesburg (EWB-UJ), University of Witwatersrand (EWB-Wits), University of Pretoria (EWB-UP) and Tshwane University of Technology (EWB-TUT) got training on how to apply human-centered design, engineering and innovation to social impact projects.
4. Describe what your work at Aurecon entails.
Aurecon is pioneering Afrikan Design Innovation, a deeply human-centered approach to co-designing solutions to complex challenges (read more here). I proudly lead this programme in Afrika – engraining this approach in everything we do as a company. A lot of my work is about transforming fixed mindsets and inspiring new approaches and possibilities for both colleagues and clients.
5. What does HCD mean to you?
It’s very easy to say “put the human / user at the centre of design”. That’s the textbook answer. I believe the HCD philosophy challenges us as designers to go much further. We need to find clever ways to include users as co-designers in the whole process. In practice, that is really hard. But I am encouraged every day to see the empowering effect of giving people a voice in our projects. Over and above the fact that our solutions are better – it empowers and gives dignity to the people that is taken along the design journey.
6. What sparked your interest in community development?
People inspire me.
People living lives more difficult than mine – but often with more resilience and joy.
7. How have you been able to utilize your skills as an engineer to assist/ empower communities?
I chose Industrial Engineering as a career because of its integrative and cross-disciplinary nature. These skills are helping me every day in the projects I do at work – many of which impact, assist and empower communities. We are currently doing work for a mine in the Northern Cape aimed at designing a housing benefit policy to enable workers to build and own their own houses. The project team has fully embraced the human-centered co-design methodology and it is amazing to see the impact that this empathetic approach is having on everyone involved.
8. What do you feel you have acquired/gained (both for your professional and personal development) through your association with EWB-SA?
The recent workshops have been my first exposure to EWB-SA. I was left incredibly inspired after seeing how committed these young students are to use their skills and strengths to have a positive impact in our country. I salute the work that EWB-SA is doing to give these students the various skills they need to be future-ready engineers with impact.
9. What advice would you give to aspiring engineers?
Travel! Embrace diversity. Intentionally put yourself out of your comfort zone – that is where growth is waiting! Oh, and don’t assume you know - go out there and speak to people.
Wim van Schalkwyk interviewed by Dhruti Dheda
Read more about the HCD workshops held in conjunction with Aurecon and EWB-SA: Afrika with a "K": Aurecon and EWB-SA HCD workshops
If we've peaked your interest, read these articles for more insight:
EWB-SA organized an exciting workshop, in conjunction with Umnandi, to spark the minds of aspiring entrepreneurs. Umnandi, visited South Africa again this year and conducted a workshop titled Entrepreneurial Thinking. The workshop was hosted by 5 masters students from Chalmers School of Entrepreneurship in Sweden. The main focus of the workshop was to introduce the skills needed for an entrepreneur to develop good ideas and implement them in society.
The workshop was held over a period of two days on the weekend of 6 and 7 April, and all the Gauteng EWB-SA student chapters attended. On Friday we started off with a few ice breakers just to, well, break the ice and make everyone comfortable with one another. The Chalmers team introduced themselves and divided us into teams. In our teams we started off by evaluating ourselves with regards to our interests, goals, strengths, etc. Once finished we shared that with each other.
Following that was the introduction to the challenge we had to complete as part of the Workshop. The challenge was the famous and exciting Egg Drop challenge. The objective was to build a contraption that will protect an egg being drop from a height of about 5 meters. We had a limited budget as well as limited resources to try and design this product. We had about 30 minutes to design something that was within the specific price range, using only the resources available. Our budget and resource list had to be handed in by the end of the night.
The following morning we started at about nine o’clock and immediately started with the construction of our egg drop device. We only had about 30 minutes to build and come up with a sales pitch to be presented to the attendees. Once this was complete we proceeded to test the models one by one. This was pass fail. If the egg cracked or broke the team would be disqualified. Each team was also evaluated on the best sales pitch, lowest cost and most effective product.
After the excitement of the challenge we went back to the conference room and proceeded with an interactive session where the 5 masters students introduced the Umnandi 5 step model. This was the principles they apply at Chalmers School of Entrepreneurship when coming up with a new idea and converting it into reality. This was a very insightful session where we each took something away that could help us when developing new ideas to solve some of the issues we face in South Africa.
This was a very inspiring event for all the attendees and something definitely not to be missed in the future.
Written by Arno Snijder
“ The lens one uses does matter. Which is why we’ve adopted the name ‘Afrika’ to express Afrika as seen from the ‘inside out’, viewed from the perspective of its own realities and aspirations. This distinguishes it from the more traditional notion of ‘Africa’ as viewed from the ‘outside in’. This is supported by the field of Afrikology, which argues that all languages from our continent spell Africa with a ‘k’ “, according to Aurecon.
One of EWB-SA's leading goals has always been to empower our student chapters through the Human Centered Design (HCD) workshops that EWB-SA student chapters attend on an annual basis. The HCD workshop is meant to educate EWB-SA student chapters and its members on how to design project solutions with a human centric approach.
Through the collaboration between Aurecon and EWB-SA, We were able to facilitate two HCD workshops for the Gauteng EWB-SA chapters. The first workshop was held on the 5th of May in Johannesburg for the University of Johannesburg and Witwatersrand University, and the second was held on the 12th of May for the University of Pretoria and TUT.
Aurecon’s design to innovate partner Wim van Schalkwyk and Mechanical Paul Ssali, presented the HCD workshops with an Afrikan Design Innovation theme (ADI). The ADI acknowledges that the continent's people and entrepreneurial promise are like none other globally; and it places them at the centre of the design process in order to create innovative solutions.
Ayanda Shongwe, an EWB-SA member said “ I loved the how the problem solving approached was presented with demonstrations given and especially the interactive approach taken where we got a chance to apply some of the concepts taught as we went along with the course”.
The workshops represent an intersection of EWB-SA’s goal to empower its student chapters with professional knowledge and Aurecon’s plans to impart knowledge of creative, innovative and human centric solutions to engineering students and student organizations.
This is just the beginning of a very fruitful partnership between Aurecon and EWB-SA. The workshops are planned to be hosted nationwide in 2019, across all the EWB-SA chapters.
Written by Paul Ssali and Ayanda Shongwe
Read our interview with Wim van Schalkwyk: People that Inspire: Wim van Schalkwyk
I recently interviewed, Nina Bremer, an young female engineer who has a passion for entrepreneurship. Bremer's engineering journey started at University of Applied Sciences and Arts in Hanover, Germany where she began the engineering study work program. She later continued her education with a master program called Entrepreneurship and Business Design at Chalmers in Sweden. During the course of which she was introduced to Umnandi. Umnandi is a nonprofit which aims to provide young South Africans with practical knowledge, tools and motivation to pursue entrepreneurial projects that benefit their communities. EWB-SA partners with Umnandi to help set up an event for young South Africans in Johannesburg during the Easter break.
Bremer feels “that entrepreneurship is one of the best and sustainable ways to create a future where everyone can be a part of a striving eeconomy… [where] people have the chance to build there own ventures and develop products or services they believe in.“ She was able to gain new skills through her involvement with Umnandi, from team and task management, to fundraising and creating social media content.
Although, she feels like she is in a minority as a female engineer, Bremer believes that being a woman allows her to have a different perspective on matters which gives her an advantage over her male colleagues in an innovative field such as engineering.
Her advice to aspiring engineers is that if they’re interested in something, they should go ahead and share it with others as they’ll be surprised by how many people are keen to learn about it and how they can empower others by doing so.
Read more about this passionate and enterprising young engineer, who through the use of her engineering skills and her entrepreneurial tools aims to empower others and to make a positive impact in any and every way she can.
In the summer of 2013 I started my study work program at the University of Applied Sciences and Arts in Hanover, Germany. In collaboration with the company Continental I studied engineering and worked on several different projects revolving around tire manufacturing. The absolute highlight was a plant stay in Malaysia where I worked with a team of professionals and students to optimize extruder processes. After my graduation I worked full time for a few months in an engineering department where air springs were developed before I continued my education in Sweden with a master program called Entrepreneurship and Business Design at Chalmers.
2. What prompted your involvement with EWB-SA and describe what your work at Umnandi and hence EWB-SA entails?
Through this program I got introduced to Umnandi, a nonprofit founded in late 2016, that 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 who started the same master program one year earlier then me and had the same passion for promoting education and self-empowerment. In my role as one of the group leaders I’m responsible for managing the different activities and action steps that we as a team had to take to finance and organize workshops for young adults who want to learn about entrepreneurship in the upcoming Easter break. We were really fortuned to have EWB-SA as our partner who helped us a lot with setting up the event in Johannesburg.
3. What sparked your interest in community development?
I think that change needs to start locally and that entrepreneurship is one of the best and sustainable ways to create a future where everyone can be a part of a striving economy. It gives people the chance to build there own ventures and develop products or services that they believe in. I personally always had the desire to leave a positive footprint while walking this earth and Umnandi gives me the perfect platform to share the knowledge I gained in my masters program with all these beautiful young people attending the workshops which is a dream come true for me.
4. What do you feel you have acquired/gained (both for your professional and personal development) through your association with EWB-SA?
While pursuing the Umnandi project in collaboration with EWB-SA, I have learned a lot about myself and the way non-profits are working. It was interesting to see how I could contribute to the team and grow with them and to get a better picture what it means to put together workshops and set up the events. There were also a lot of challenges from creating a strong team to managing tasks and running a fundraiser as well as editing videos and creating social media content where I was able to acquire new skills.
5. How would you describe your experience as a woman in the engineering space?
In university as well as in a working environment I still feel like a minority as a female engineer, but I see this as a strength and opportunity. Engineering is all about thinking outside the box and finding creative and economic solutions to problems - that is why it is very helpful to be able to contribute with a another view and having a slightly different perspective then my male co-workers.
6. How do you maintain a balance between the work at your day job and your work at umnandi?
It was from time to time very difficult to find a healthy balance, but since I’m very passionate about Umnandi and I’m fortuned to work with an amazing supporting team and great partners like EWB-SA it was a lot of fun to put in the extra hours and see our vision come true.
7. EWB-SA and Umnandi are collaborating for an upcoming event, what does this event entail?
The workshops Umnandi will provide in collaboration with EWB-SA will teach fundamental concepts of entrepreneurship and get people into an empowering mindset. We will especially focus on the first part of creating a venture and challenge the participants thinking. There will be different challenges and content about developing ideas for future businesses, evaluating these ideas and how to take them to the next level.
8. What advice would you give to aspiring engineers?
If you have a subject that you are interested in you will be surprised how much knowledge you probably already have about the topic and how many people would be keen to learn about it. It is very rewarding to find a way to share this with others and empower them to do great things in the future.
Nina Bremer interviewed by Dhruti Dheda
Umnandi has partnered up with EWB-SA to bring an entrepreneurial workshop to Johannesburg this coming Easter break. Look out for it!
Engineers Without Borders South Africa (EWB-SA) held their 7th Annual Leadership Summit from 22-26 January 2018. It was held at Anglo American’s Centre for Experiential Learning (CEL). Anglo American’s CEL kindly sponsored the venue and accommodation. The summit welcomed 28 student delegates from eight university student chapters: University of South Africa (UNISA), University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), University of Johannesburg (UJ), University of Pretoria (UP), University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), University of Stellenbosch (Maties), Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) and University of Cape Town (UCT).
The Summit lasted for 4 days and each day was filled with informative sessions and fun activities. The sessions included inspiring speeches, engaging discussions from various prominent South African leaders, special projects and discussion sessions. The Summit also included practical (experiential learning) sessions from the CEL’s resident experts and the EWB-SA volunteers.
The first day began with a talk by Professor Ian R Jandrell (Wits Dean of Engineering and Built Environment). His talk focused on how young engineers are the best placed individuals to make tangible, significant positive changes in our society. He ended with the inspiring story of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who failed along the way, but he persevered and that was the key. A key aspect of EWB-SA delegates is also failing forward hence the entire group could relate.
The delegates were given the flexibility to facilitate their own sessions each evening. The first evening involved a Ted-Talk by Chimamanda Adichie’s Danger of a Single Story, which led to lively discussions between the students and marked the beginning of a rather heartfelt and insightful Summit.
The second day focused on personal leadership and change management. The sessions were facilitated by the CEL’s resident experts Dewald Esterhuizen and Jill Harris.
Harris’ session focused on the personal leadership and social aspect of change management. She talked the delegates through the theory of leadership, personality types, traits and how to interact with people when dealing with and applying change. Esterhuizen's session focused on the technical side of change management; process purpose, waste and optimization. The lessons learnt in the sessions were then applied in the CEL’s model factory, where delegates had to observe the process for producing pistons.
The second evening included the Ted Talk Radical Candor by Kim Scott, which focused on the power of giving people honest feedback.
The focus on Wednesday was guest speakers who reflected on their journey’s and what they’ve learnt along the way.
The first speaker was Manglin Pillay, CEO of South African Institution of Civil Engineering, who focused on the modern engineer and ethics. After which, Elaine & Patrizia from WSP, took delegates on a personal discovery adventure to learn more about themselves. Followed by Neo Hutiri, founder and CEO of Technovera and winner of Hack.Jozi, who spoke about his journey through entrepreneurship and engineering.
The highlight of the afternoon, however, was Dr Noko Phala. Dr Phala is the Head of Business Improvement Capability development at Anglo American. While he continues his research with Anglo, his current role is about “thinking about thinking.” How we absorb information, how we retain it and how we use it. He demonstrated how we often aren’t taught how the brain works and so don’t know how to use it correctly.
Wednesday evening’s Ted Talk was by Ricardo Semler’s, Radical Autonomy, practices a radical form of corporate democracy.
Thursday, the fourth and final day was about the future!
James Hu, Head of Learning and Development in Africa at Unilever and EWB-SA Board Member who spoke to us about organisational branding and he also touched on personal branding.
Vanessa Naicker, Head of Business Improvement- Support at Anglo American and EWB-SA Board Member, spoke about metrics, accountability and excellence; enthralling delegates with her experience in the industry after 20 years.
After the talks, the delegates then went out to plan for the year ahead, for their different university chapters. During the Gala dinner, they presented a reflection of the previous year, what they intend to improve and what the next year will look like. What was clear from their reflections, was that EWBers are very much like Isambard Kingdom Brunel. They often fail, but they are resilient and resourceful and results driven.
We have been working with students chapters for seven years and what we have learnt is that it is important to allow the students to fail forward as this really creates a group of young professionals who are resilient , resourceful and results driven. EWB-SA has become a safe place for practicing leadership while trying to reach out to local communities at the same time. We truly are focusing on empowering engineers so that they can step out and empower communities.
EWB-SA would like to thank our guest speakers: Professor Ian R Jandrell, Dean of Engineering at Wits; Manglin Pillay, CEO of SAICE; James Hu, Head of Learning and Development at Unilever for Africa; Vanessa Naicker, Head of Business Improvement- Support at Anglo American; and Neo Hutiri, Founder of Technovera; Dewald Esterhuizen and Jill Harris, CEL’s resident experts; Elaine & Patrizia from WSP and Dr Noko Phala, Head of Business Improvement Capability development at Anglo American; as well as our sponsors Anglo American.
Original article: Muhammed Razzak
Edited article: Dhruti Dheda
If your interest has been peaked, read the original article here!
7th Annual EWB-SA Leadership Summit.pdf
SAIChE IChemE EWB-SA evening took place on February 2018 at Worley Parsons, Melrose Arch.
SAIChE IChemE started off the year on a high note by showcasing the exciting organisation that is Engineers without Borders South Africa (EWB-SA), giving our members a chance to find out more about this organisation.
Dr David Ming, the director of EWB-SA, started off the evening talks by introducing the organisation and what it aims to address in South African society. The EWB-SA group aims to facilitate the transfer of engineering skillsets and convert this into far reaching benefits for local communities using a project based approach to implement and install and educate those areas in need of these critical skills.
Hundreds of projects have been started around the country, each with their own set of unique challenges to understand and get around. While getting projects off the ground and running, a key focus of the group is the educational value and the approach to unlocking this. Human Centered Design (HCD) and rapid prototyping are commonly used methods for unlocking potential of members and their teams in order to achieve project objectives at a fast pace. Members get exposure to valuable project management sessions being a part of the group equipping them with the tools to get ahead.
EWB-SA allows its members the chance to go back into their communities and use their knowledge to build and educate those who the projects may involve or affect. While the emphasis is on building infrastructure in these communities, another valuable output from these projects is the research papers written on the outcomes. Another way of contributing is by joining the Technical Advisory Board (TAB) as an engineering professional currently working in industry.
With the changing scenery from one suburb, the challenges that face a large majority of our population and are often overlooked and focus is placed on the problems faced in urban areas. Ming went on to explain that having an understanding of the complexities involved with the everyday lives of South Africans and the nature thereof are at the very heart of getting ahead of these projects.
One of the projects completed by EWB-SA includes the Green Day Care Center in Port Elizabeth featured in ArchDaily for its innovative approach to using green materials for building blocks.
Dr Baraka Celestin Sempuga went into more detail about the various projects being done. Some of the key projects include bio digesters supplying energy to supplement/supply power to homes. Soap making using extraction techniques to extract the smell of essential oils partnering with local lodges who can buy their products made.
While biogas is not new technology there are always challenges to overcome. The main problem being -overcoming the social perceptions related to the use of manure or sewage for an everyday activity such as powering the home and various household related activities.
The story of Joseph who installed bio digesters on his farm that have been running for three or four years was told. He uses this to cook and to watch television. He is also able to use the manure for his farming as the processing of the manure helps to break down and release nutrients into the soils which are a benefit over using fresher manure.
With the emphasis on conversion and gas projects there has been a strong representation of chemical engineers. However there are many opportunities available for all other engineering disciplines to get more involved.
1) Professional engineers can contribute on a technical level by joining one of the technical advisory boards in Gauteng, the Western Cape, and KZN. Members can also help volunteer their time on an organisational level by contributing their time to help run EWB-SA -- we are always looking for people to help with social media, administrate programmes like the HCD course and project management, and host events.
2) The easiest way for university students to get involved is by contacting one of the university chapters closest to them. Otherwise, they can always contact us.
3) Companies interested in working with us can contact our CEO (Jason Huang (firstname.lastname@example.org) and we can see how best we can work together. We're looking to expand our presence and it's not always about money.
Original article: Danielle Bearman from SAIChE IChemE Gauteng Member's group. Contact SAIChE IChemE: email@example.com
Edited by Dhruti Dheda
2017 has been a productive year for EWB-SA. We kicked off the year with the customary leadership summit and introduced some exciting new supporting initiatives such as the technical advisory boards, chapter seed funding and the design challenge.
We salute all the EWB members who played an active role in their chapter activities and projects. Your passion, enthusiasm and commitment to the future of engineering and South Africans remains the vibrant core of EWB-SA. To the chapter committees - keep moving us forward. We know that shouldering the responsibility to lead a chapter requires dedication and vision.
There are many ways to get involved with EWB-SA from joining a technical advisory board, to volunteering on the national operations team, getting technical with the design challenge or glamming up our leadership retreat. Remember, as a graduate you get one year FREE professional EWB-SA membership if you register before 28 February 2018.
We hope to see you all again next year. As always, we have lots of ideas and surprises brewing for 2018! Remember to renew your membership and keep an eye out for our exciting events.
Written by Jason Huang
Internet of Things for Social Good Design Challenge: The results are out!
On the 23rd of November, the national winners of the EWB-SA Internet of Things for Social Good Design Challenge were announced. A team consisting of engineering students from Wits and UJ walked away as the winners of the national challenge after their innovative solutions stole the judge’s hearts. The winning team ambitiously chose to tackle the cost reduction, in-situ data storage & transmission, sensor ergonomics & placement, and the sensor integration challenges.
Congratulations to The Prototypes - our winning team for 2017! The Johannesburg-based team consisting of Eunice Bohulu (team leader), Racheal Kanyinji, Rocky Ramaube and Khutso Selepe will be receiving R 5000 to implement the project next year, 15 sensor kits to help them get started, and 60 hours of mentorship from IBM, who have so graciously agreed to collaborate with us on this initiative. Thank you, IBM.
Upon winning, a very ecstatic Eunice said, “Thank you so much for this, we thoroughly enjoyed the design challenge, and found it truly inspirational, so it brings us a lot of happiness to see that you enjoyed our ideas as well.”
EWB-SA will be working on a plan to implement the sensors in informal settlements across South Africa. Watch this space for more information and to see how you can get involved.
Written by Nikita Vala
I recently had the privilege of interviewing David Ming. Ming or rather the ‘Engineering Maestro', is a senior lecturer of Chemical Engineering at the University of Witwatersrand (Wits), the Cofounder and Director of EWB-SA and the author of the recently launched textbook ‘Attainable Region Theory', a masterpiece which stands at the forefront of research in its respective field.
After achieving a BSc. Chemical Engineering from Wits, he worked at a water treatment company and simultaneously pursued an engineering masters degree. He later travelled abroad and started writing a textbook related to his PhD work. Upon returning, he realised that he could have a bigger impact on society if he forsook the traditional engineering track into industry.
Ming soon discovered many charity projects in operation but hardly any community development projects, and hence went on to create a space where he could employ his skills to help empower communities, leading to the creation of EWB-Wits and ultimately the formation of EWB-SA.
Despite his position at EWB-SA, he always first and foremost considers himself to be a volunteer and wholeheartedly devotes himself to any EWB-SA activity he participates in. He considers having an education and a professional skill set a rare privilege in South Africa and believes it would be almost unethical of him not to employ them to address community issues. He manages all this whilst still working as a lecturer.
Ming finds that the engineering profession in all branches keeps changing, but the thinking and problem solving ability remains constant throughout and that’s the true beauty of studying engineering. In 2014, Ming was chosen as the Mail & Guardian Top 200 Young South Africans, for his contributions in Education.
Ming's advice to aspiring engineers is the same advice that he received from his supervisor, “There is a lot you know. There is also a lot that you don’t know. Try to understand what you know from what you don’t.”
Ming drops quite a few knowledge bombs throughout the interview, exploding the intellectual space below, where you can find the rest of the interview.
I originally applied to study a BCom at Wits, and at the last moment applied for chemical engineering. I ended up doing one year of a general BSc in my first year at university, because by the time I applied for engineering, it was too late. I then did a postgrad after completing my undergrad engineering degree. At the same time, I started work as a process engineer for a water treatment company. Most of my time was spent driving out to Mpumalanga on Monday morning and driving back late Friday evening. After a couple of years of working, I received an opportunity to spend some time overseas and write a textbook. When I returned, I wanted to do something different and got a job as a lecturer/researcher.
2. What prompted you to start EWB-Wits and subsequently to co-found EWB-SA?
I felt I had learnt so much from my degree after graduating, but there wasn’t a place outside of traditional employment where I could apply my skills. I had an interest in wanting to participate in existing community development projects, but when I started looking around for what was available, I soon realised that nothing really existed that suited this view. There were organisations that simply handed out supplies like food and clothing, whereas others offered some kind of community upliftment programme, but they all felt more like charity than impactful contributions. I looked on the EWB-International website to see if there were any opportunities in Johannesburg, but there was only one newly created chapter at UCT. That’s when I decided to start EWB-Wits.
When I started working, only EWB-UCT and EWB-Wits existed, and they were regarded as two separate entities that shared a common name. Wiebke Toussaint, who was past chairperson of EWB-UCT, had just moved up to Johannesburg and worked in the same office park as me. We met and decided to start EWB-SA as a way to unify our shared view of what the engineering profession could be in South Africa.
3. Describe what your work at EWB-SA entails.
I am currently the chairperson of EWB-SA. My job is to support the CEO, and, along with the EWB-SA board, oversee and guide the direction of EWB-SA as an organisation. What this means in practice is I try and interfere as little as possible with the day-today operations of EWB-SA, and to give assistance and vision for where EWB-SA should be headed in the future.
But just like everyone else, I’m first and foremost a volunteer of EWB-SA. If I sign up to participate in a certain activity, programme or event, I do whatever I can in my skillset to contribute to EWB-SA, and so work can be very different from one activity to another. At the moment, I am currently helping with organising the annual leadership summit.
4. What sparked your interest in community development?
The World Bank scores South Africa as one of the most unequal societies in the world. If you are fortunate enough to have a matric certificate, then you are probably already within the top 10% of the country. Knowing this, having an education and skillset in South Africa is then quite a rare privilege, and so it’s almost unethical for me as a professional to not have an interest in addressing these issues.
5. How have you been able to utilize your skills as an engineer to assist/ empower communities?
When EWB-Wits started, we had a number of projects that were closely related to my specific field of study where I felt I could directly apply my technical knowledge, such as building biodiesel plants and biogas digesters. Although, over time, I have used a lot more of my general engineering thinking and problem solving skills. Ultimately the engineering profession, in all branches, keeps changing. But the thinking and problem solving ability is always constant, and that is what is truly valuable about studying engineering.
6. What do you feel you have acquired/gained (both for your professional and personal development) through your association with EWB-SA?
I initially thought I was going to apply what I already knew to help others, in a sort of one-way transaction of knowledge for greater good, although I soon realised that I actually knew very little.
The nature of EWB-SA activities means that you’re always put into new situations, and are faced with challenges and restrictions. At times, you need to manage judgement, or identify an opportunity where you can put up your hand. Projects often fail, and when it happens, you must have the strength of character to pick yourself up, reassess, and continue on. For all these reasons, I have learnt a lot about leadership and failure, which I certainly would not have gained from just following a conventional engineering path.
I also continue to meet a lot of interesting people and friends.
7. What makes EWB-SA different or rather what makes it stand out compared to other organisations of its type?
We have a large community of young engineers, spread over a wide demographic around South Africa. Most organisations group their members into a specific discipline, skillset or interest, whereas EWB-SA has tried to do the opposite of that and challenge what the definition of an engineer is in society. We have a strong interest in leadership development and personal growth, which is reflected in our motto of “empowering engineers to empower communities”. And because of this diversity, even amongst other EWB organisations, we have a unique approach to social development and the use of technology in society.
I think a lot of our members aren’t defined just by their engineering knowledge, but they are interesting people who happen to have studied engineering.
8. How do you maintain a balance between the work at your day job and your work at EWB-SA?
If you have existing day commitments, then I don’t think you ever find a balance because there are only a finite number of hours in a day. But doing work that interests you doesn’t make it feel so much like work.
Because of this, I try as best as possible to only do work that interest me and or that I want to get better at. I large part of my growth within EWB-SA has been to understand my own strengths and interests, and when I need to ask someone else for help or when someone else would be better at the job than me.
9. Are there any interesting projects that you are working on currently or in the near future?
Nothing concrete at the moment, but there are a lot of interesting potential partnerships in the works.
10. What advice would you give to aspiring engineers?
My supervisor said these words to me that I always try to remember: There is a lot you know. There is also a lot that you don’t know. Try to understand what you know from what you don’t.
David Ming interviewed by Dhruti Dheda
Engineers Without Borders- International (EWB-I) hosted its second Global Forum under the theme “Formation of engineers - a global issue” in London in August this year. Wiebke Toussaint, who represents Engineers Without Borders- South Africa (EWB-SA) on the EWB-I executive committee, participated in the forum. Discussion topics ranged from supporting local EWB networks through capacity building to chapter management, gender and diversity, knowledge sharing and an exploration of opportunities for improved international collaboration. The two days provided a great point of connection between different EWB Member Associations and presented an opportunity for EWB-SA to connect and contribute to the global conversation. The need to reposition the priorities of the engineering sector to provide an environment that places people before technology and designs with heart, head and hands was strongly emphasised by EWB member associations from Chile to Hong Kong. EWB-SA looks forward to continued participation in shaping this global dialogue.
For further insight, please refer to the document below:
Global Forum 2017 Report .pdf
Written by Wiebke Toussaint
Empowering Engineers to Empower Communities
2016 | EWB-SA is a registered non-profit company | NPC 2013/014531/08