ENGINEERS WITHOUT BORDERS SOUTH AFRICA
I recently interviewed Rachel Kakololo, a civil engineer and a member of both Engineers without Borders- Namibia (EWB-NA) and the Namibian Society of Engineers (NASE). Kakololo graduated with a Bachelor in Engineering Degree from The Namibian University of Science and Technology (NUST) and subsequently started working for the Roads Authority. Her first project was the upgrading of the Windhoek-Okahandja road to dual carriageway. The experience has been embedded in her memory and has strengthen her resolve to spend her life in engineering, “I have always aspired to be in the deep-end of engineering, as I believed that is the best way to learn.”
Kakololo spent a great deal of her formative years in the village and when she later moved to the city, she noticed the discrepancy between the standard of living in the rural areas as compared to the cities, “standards of living in our rural areas needs to improve. My drive to put the extensive knowledge taught in engineering in practice was overpowering.” Hence she became part of a technical committee that was tasked with mass land servicing in order to address the issue of land and housing scarcity in the country. With the launch of NASE in 2016 and the creation of EWB-NA as its social responsibility body, Kakololo saw an opportunity, “to involve a wider spectrum of technical professionals in solving community challenges collectively under one umbrella”.
During the launch of NASE, EWB-NA established connections with EWB-SA who warmheartedly endorsed the formation of EWB-NA. The recently concluded Namibian Engineering Week, saw EWB-SA Cofounder, Wiebke Toussaint give an insightful presentation on Community-centered engineering and the economical execution of projects. Kakololo hopes, “to grow these ties and encourage information sharing channels between EWB-NA and EWB-SA.”
Her duties within EWB-NA range from coordinating, liaising with community representatives, local councils and their engineers, which would entail working together on community based projects by volunteering expertise and time of the organisations engineers. EWB-NA’s open door policy enables members and the community to engage EWB-NA on issues affecting them and to find appropriate solutions. She is particularly passionate about the change in mindset, particularly amongst the Namibian youth, “I believe we all have immerse potential that can easily be unleashed under the right guidance.” Thus during the EWB-NA awareness drives, the organisation visits schools to encourage the youth to take up STEM careers. Not surprisingly, EWB-NA’s membership has grown over the years with technical professionals from all over the country ready to serve the community.
Kakololo feels that whilst working with EWB-NA to devise solutions to complex community problems, her “problem solving approaches have advanced... [and her] people skills have drastically improved too.” Kakololo has many projects under her belt and is currently working with Minds in Action and Friends in Education to enforce STEM education in school curriculums and is also aims to volunteer EWB-NA's expertise on Ministry of Education infrastructure development projects. A long term problem that EWB-NA is trying to resolve is the flood and drought mitigation measures for the northern Namibian region.
Kakololo sadly notes that engineering has historically been an inhospitable profession for women and that this has made many women shy away from STEM careers; but she also positively reasons that recent statistics have shown an improvement in the number of women joining the STEM field. Kakololo believes that, “women bring unique traits to the profession; [women] are more observant than [their] male counterparts are; which aids [them] in leadership as [they] can quickly pin point strengths and weaknesses.” Her advise to aspiring engineers is to “never stop learning and develop an innovative mind-set, explore and always be ready to serve and give back to society through skills application.”
Read more about this determined engineer and her journey in the insightful interview below.
1) Describe your engineering journey.
I’ve always been fascinated by science, and the idea that engineers bring ideas to life e.g; where there was once just bush and rubble a beautiful multi-story structure and a road would rise. It is for that very same reason Civil Engineering was an ideal fit for me. In addition, it enables one to contribute to the holistic development of their community and country.
I graduated with a Bachelor in Engineering Degree at The Namibian University of Science and Technology (NUST) in 2014 and subsequently started working for the Roads Authority. I was fortunate enough to land a bursary in my first year that enabled me to work during semester breaks so I had quite a lot of exposure to the industry before graduation hence I had very high expectations.
I have always aspired to be in the deep-end of engineering, as I believed that is the best way to learn. My first project was the upgrading of the Windhoek-Okahandja road to dual carriageway. I learnt a lot on construction/project management, claims resolutions and contracts administration on this respective project. The experience is still embedded in my memory and it strengthen my resolve to spend my life in engineering. Overall, it has been an amazing journey thus far.
2) What prompted your involvement in EWB-Namibia?
The realisation that what we engineers do is essential to everyday life and directly affects our communities in the essence that our work is to create products and structures that are used by people to improve lives. I wanted to give back to our community. During my studies, I was part of a group of engineering students that frequently visited respective orphanages in the informal settlements of Namibia’s capital city, Windhoek. It’s during these visits that we were exposed to the harsh realities that most of our community members were faced with; from sanitation challenges, lack of ablution facilities and safe drinking water as well as adequate shelter to name but a few. When the Namibian Society of Engineers (NASE) launched in 2016 with EWB-NA as its social responsibility body, I saw an opportunity to involve a wider spectrum of technical professionals in solving community challenges collectively under one umbrella.
3) Describe what your work at EWB-Namibia entails.
My duties within EWB-NA range from coordinating, liaising with community representatives, local councils and our engineers – working together on community based projects by volunteering our expertise and time. We have an open door policy that enables members and the community at large to engage us on issues affecting them and to find fitting solutions. We rally Namibian engineers to adopt a spirit of volunteerism and attend to the socio-economic needs of Namibians, particularly those in rural/ informal and remote areas. We believe there is a lot our engineers can do for our communities, so we will harness their capabilities and put them to work for the rural and remote societies of our country as volunteers. EWB-NA’s membership has grown over the years with technical professionals from all over the country ready to serve their respective community.
4) What sparked your interest in community development?
Having spent a great deal of my formative years in the village and moving to the city at the age of eight presented a change in environment that helped me realize just how much of a gap existed in terms of development and access to basic needs such as water, sanitation etc. The standards of living in our rural areas needs to improve. My drive to put extensive knowledge taught in engineering in practice was overpowering. In 2015, I was part of a technical committee that was tasked with the mass land servicing. The committee oversaw progress of services in 3 pilot towns (Windhoek, Walvis bay and Oshakati) in order to address the issue of land and housing scarcity in the country.
5) How have you been able to utilize your skills as an engineer to assist/empower communities?
Having worked on a range of mostly infrastructure development projects in the past three years of my career has enabled me to directly improve the quality of life for my community members. Working with communities to deliver sustainable solutions to complex social, economic and environmental problems such as hygiene and provision of safe drinking waters has been rewarding.
I am particularly passionate about the mindset-change especially amongst our youth. I believe we all have immerse potential that can easily be unleashed under the right guidance. During our EWB-NA awareness drives; we visit respective schools to sensitise and encourage the youth to strive to reach greater heights and take up careers in STEM discipline and subsequently contribute to the development of their respective communities.
6) What do you feel you have acquired/gained (both for your professional and personal development) through your association with EWB-Namibia?
When working to devise solutions to complex community problems, it is vital to have a good understanding of the context of the problems to be solved, over the years; my problem solving approaches have advanced. Safe to say my people skills have drastically improved too.
7) How would you describe your experience as a woman in the engineering/work space?
Sadly, engineering has historically been an inhospitable profession for women, which made many women shy away from careers in STEM in the past. However, statistics have shown a staggering improvement in the number of women joining the profession. Women are afforded the same opportunities at the table. My line of work involves a lot of project and contract management. Usually working around the clock to meet rather tight deadlines, coordinating finances and liaising with communities. Women bring unique traits to the profession; we are more observant than our male counterparts are; which aids us in leadership as we can quickly pin point strengths and weaknesses.
8) How do you maintain a balance between the work at your day job and your work at EWB-Namibia?
The work I do at EWB-NA compliments my job to certain extend in the sense that they are both centred on community development. The best aspect about this is that I am always busy doing work I enjoy. This in turn helps me produce my best work, which in turn keeps production at optimal levels.
9) Do you foresee any future collaborations or projects between EWB-Namibia and EWB-SA?
Most definitely. In 2016, at the launch of the Namibian Society of Engineers (NASE) and its social responsibility arm for social responsibility-EWB-NA; we established connections with EWB-SA who warmheartedly endorsed the establishment of EWB-NA. At the recently concluded Engineering Week, we had an insightful presentation from the Co-Founder of EWB-SA - Ms Wiebke Toussaint. The presentation was titled Community-centered Engineering and presented a great platform to engage the audience on how to find viable solutions and execute community centred projects economically. We hope to grow these ties and encourage information sharing channels between EWB-NA and EWB-SA.
10) Are there any interesting projects that you are working on currently or in the near future?
The 5th day of the recently concluded Engineering week unfolded under the theme “The role of Community Engineering in Nation Building”. Seminars and presentations on this meant to highlight the importance of volunteering our expertise to help better our communities in terms of technical development. The day concluded with handing over of goods to a local orphanage.
EWB-NA is in the long run trying to equip communities to be self-sufficient in maintaining their infrastructures through awareness campaigns.
We are currently working together with Minds in Action and Friends in Education to enforce STEM education in school curriculums and volunteer our expertise to consult on infrastructure development projects under the Ministry of Education.
One of the problems, we are looking to tackle in the long run is the flood and drought mitigation measures for the northern region of Namibia, where we hope to work with the office of the Ministry of Works and Transport in finding means to channel flood water and provide drainage structures.
11) What advice would you give to aspiring engineers?
Engineers are an important part of our progressive human race. My advice to aspiring engineers is to never let anyone undermine their ability. Never stop learning and develop an innovative mind-set, explore and always be ready to serve and give back to society through skills application.
Rachel Romenzo Kakololo interviewed by Dhruti Dheda
As part of our mandate to empower engineers to empower communities, EWB-SA hosts an annual national social impact design challenge for all 10 universities. The challenge affords our members the opportunity to apply a human centric approach to solving complex issues in our society. Earlier this year, we partnered with Aurecon to offer design thinking workshops to our Gauteng chapters.
The workshops taught the chapters how to use tools and frameworks to unpack complex problems.
We also recently partnered with Grassroot to tackle some of the issues faced by the Mzondi informal settlement located between Ivory Park (CoJ) and Tembisa (Ekurhuleni), and Mnadini, a township in the city of Roodeport situated west of Tshepisong.
With the guidance of Grassroot and tools taught to the chapters by Aurecon, we engaged with the communities to better understand their challenges. The information gathered was used to develop a design brief that considered all the challenges that the communities brought forward. It all came together on the 15th of September 2018 at the Aurecon offices in Pretoria, UCT in cape town and UKZN in Durban, when teams of young passionate engineering professionals and students guided by seasoned engineers unpacked the issues to form sustainable solutions for each community.
EWB-SA will be awarding the team with the best solution the opportunity to develop it further with professional mentorship. All the solutions generated in the session will be packaged and given back to the communities. EWB-SA aims to continue providing a platform wherein budding young engineers and seasoned professionals can utilize their skills to improve their understanding of how to solve challenges in their communities.
The Namibian Society of Engineers (NASE) hosted the first ever Namibia Engineering week in Windhoek between 6th August 2018 to the 11th of August 2018. The Namibian Society of Engineers seeks to create a platform for collective ideas and to unify efforts in mitigating current and potential challenges in the industry.
The engineering week was hosted under the Patronage of his Excellency Dr. Sam Nujoma, the Founding President and Founding Father of the Namibian nation, who was very instrumental in encouraging and promoting the study of STEM and ensured the establishment and consolidation of line institutions to that regard in the country.
The professional theme of this year’s Engineering Week was “Innovation & Excellence: Reinventing Our Future”, aimed at bringing together technical professionals, researchers, academic leaders and educators from the fields of science, technology, engineering, mathematics, ITC, construction, mining, energy, education, among others; as well as members of the public, allied professionals, researchers and policy makers.
The event offered an outstanding platform to display the work, strides, achievements and aspirations of engineers, scientists, mathematicians, innovators, researchers and technical professionals in Namibia and beyond, providing the local industry a rare opportunity to network with professionals from both the private and public sectors. International and local industry leaders led seminars and participated in panel discussions.
During the Engineering Week, a full program with products & services, exhibitions, school career fairs and technical and social tours was offered. The floor plan included a layout of up to 40 exhibition booths of organizations and agencies operating in the fields of engineering, science, technology, mathematics, ITC, research, construction, planning and development, mining, energy and new technologies.
Each day of the engineering week was closed off with a panel discussion. Panel discussion topics were centered around current burning issues in Namibia, including but not limited to Engineering designs integrity, Women in Engineering and entrepreneurship as well as community service.
A fundraising Gala dinner which was held in Ongwediva concluded the Engineering week. The Patron, Governors, Mayors and business people residing in the Northern part of Namibia attended the Gala dinner and pledged towards the event.
The support from Engineering companies and general public was heartwarming. NASE hopes to make it an Annual event and hopes to reach out to an even greater audience.
Outmost graduate goes out to the events sponsors.
As Engineers Without Borders South Africa we are committed to gender, cultural and racial diversity and represent over 2000 young engineers in five provinces in the country. Moreover, we value stimulating conversations and presenting diverse perspectives to complex challenges that our society faces.
Like many who have raised their voices, we are outraged by the recent issue of the South African Institute for Civil Engineering's (SAICE) magazine, featuring a deeply demeaning and misinformed opinion piece by SAICE's CEO, Manglin Pillay. The piece in no way reflects the difficult journeys that many of our female members navigate in hostile environments to pursue a career that they are passionate about.
We have invited Mr Pillay to address our chapter leaders in the past - not because we endorse his views, but because diversity of perspective is vital to foster critical thought and dialogue. Mr Pillay's limited perspective, which precludes 50% of the world's population from having the potential to successfully pursue technical careers, belittles not only the necessity of exactly this diversity, but also the fundamental tenets of human rights and equality.
To our student chapters, if the engineering industry of tomorrow is to be different to today, you have a role to play. We challenge you to help us create a 'Diversity Code of Conduct' as commitment to the respect we owe each other and the communities we work with. We call on all engineers to reimagine the engineering sector as a place where all genders, races and cultures can live their passion, unfold their potential and work with compassion.
EWB-SA is engaging with other bodies in the engineering sector to push for decisive action and change with regards to discrimination and harassment.
Engineers Without Borders South Africa
South Africa is facing a distressing skills shortage. At the brink of the fourth industrial revolution, numerous studies and reports show that South Africa does not have sufficient highly skilled individuals to support its growing, increasingly sophisticated economy. There are simply not enough adequately trained engineers, technicians or artisans. This trend is mirrored by other developing countries.
This skills shortage can be resultant of several reasons, including:
•The lack of appropriately qualified high school graduates for Engineering and the Built Environment. Too few high school learners matriculate with university exemption or meet the admission requirements for Engineering and the Built environment , whilst those that do rarely have the expected level of mathematics and physical science knowledge to support their engineering knowledge.
•The decline in the amount of academic staff or mentors at tertiary institutions. This results in a shortage of knowledgeable people to train future engineers, technicians, artisians and technologists.
•The low throughput of students in engineering, technologist and technician degrees. Less than half of the registered students graduate; this causes a loss of the funds (bursaries, grants, scholarships) that were invested to support non- graduating students.
This skills shortage has already, in part, led to lower productivity, low competitiveness, slow adoption of technology and high production costs in South Africa. In the second and third quarters of 2017, 31 000 jobs were lost. This loss is mainly attributed to a decline in manufacturing, mining, electricity, trade, community and business services, as companies chose to use more capital in productive processes and to make use of existent excess capacity.
The development and retention of technical skills is necessary if South Africa wishes to keep pace with its growing population and their increasing infrastructure needs. However, with the present skills shortage, there will not be enough adequately qualified people available to fill the necessary vacancies.
The problem with equipping students in technical degrees with appropriate skills runs deeper. Naturally, the vast field of Engineering and the Built environment has profound social impacts. It is thus necessary for these students to contextualise the human condition and the social implications of their work. They need to learn how to view the impact of their designs thoroughly and objectively. This requires a multi-disciplinary approach to the challenges facing society. It is rare for a fresh graduate to possess the background necessary to support such an approach.
As advancements in the fields of energy, transportation, medicine, robotics and artificial intelligence rapidly occur and the world becomes more automated, there will be fewer jobs available to all people (including people with technical backgrounds). Therefore it would seem reasonable for educational systems to focus on training technical professionals to do what computers cannot do. This means that technical education will have to become more diverse to include more life skills and more social, humanities orientated subjects to prepare them for a constantly changing career. Along with a technical education, students should be trained in terms of communication skills, global knowledge, entrepreneurial know-how and the ability to work in teams.
Many believe that the only way to inculcate this diverse skill set in students is by assigning them real world problems. In these problems the focus is placed on projects rather than lectures.
Engineers without Borders (South Africa) aims to achieve that through our student chapters and the undertaken projects. These projects can double up as vacation work for engineering students. The purpose of these projects are to solve real world problems faced by particular communities. During the project students liaise with professionals and sponsors to gain the skills necessary to complete the project, from the planning stage till the implementation stage. Students are involved in every aspect of the project and are trained at every level of the project. The EWB-SA Technical Advisory Board (TAB), a group of professionals who volunteer their skills and experience, regularly meet with project heads from the student chapters to discuss project conception and implementation. Student chapters and their members also partake in the Human Centered Design (HCD) course, which focuses on placing the human experience and condition at the center of the design process. This helps engineering students to contextualise the designs/projects in terms of their social impacts.
Currently, two of our student chapters are running vacation work projects. EWB-UP carried out the Kutumela Molefi Primary Farm School project. The aim of the project was to rehabilitate the school at all levels. The site visit with all volunteers occurred on Saturday 23 June 2018. This was followed by the engineering survey from 2-13 July 2018. Progress on the project is ongoing and continuous.
EWB-Unisa is heading a project in the KwaZakhele Township. Current major developments within the precinct of the pilot project include: the ongoing 200 Million Njoli Square and a R9.4 million road construction project for IPTS Bus route underway. The pilot will be running for 6-12 months from June 2018. There is still ample time for interested persons to get involved.
Any of the projects carried out by our student chapters can be viewed on the official EWB-SA website. On the relevant Web page of the student chapter along with the chapter contact details any advice, equipment, funding or to volunteer options are available.
Written by Dhruti Dheda on behalf of EWB-SA
I recently interviewed Bronwynne Oosthuizen, the passionate and exciting new community manager of EWB-SA. As the community manager, Oosthuizen will manage all the relationships and communications for EWB-SA as well as develop and introduce new systems to improve its internal workings. Whilst attending the University of the Pretoria, Oosthuizen cofounded EWB-UP and also functioned as the treasurer of the student chapter for the duration of her studies.
Her interest in community development began at a young age while growing up when she was exposed to the gross inequalities in South Africa and the country’s immense need for development, not only in terms of infrastructure but socially as well. Oosthuizen has always been looking for ways to support her community and to address these issues. She feels that EWB-SA has given her the most appropriate platform to do so, by allowing her to play a part not only in building a better future for young engineers but for all South Africans. Her diverse career path which ranges from an engineering student to a teacher, from a salesperson to an entrepreneur has afforded her a unique combination of skills which allows her to see any problem from multiple perspectives.
With regards to balancing her responsibilities between her day job and her work at EWB-SA, she says that you should, “do what you love and the rest will fall into place. Life usually only feels like a balancing act when there is something weighing you down.” She has many projects in the pipeline and hopes to share some of these with the rest of the EWB-SA family soon.
When it comes to facing any form of discrimination in the workplace, she feels that although, “ it is not guaranteed that confrontation will result in an immediate change… I do feel it is important to never allow anyone to define your worth based on gender, race or anything else.” Her advice to aspiring engineers is that they should, “Talk to everyone [they] can and learn their stories. Inspiration and motivation come from unexpected places...Don’t ever give up. IF YOU FALL YOU CRAWL!”
So join me in welcoming our inspiring, creative and somewhat zany (as can be seen from the accompanied photograph) new community manager through the interview below.
1) Describe your professional journey.
I have always wanted to become an engineer and was lucky enough to get a study grant for my first couple of years studying Mechanical Engineering. Unfortunately my study grant did not cover my full degree and with the hectic battle to study full time and work full time to cover my studies I had to eventually concede to the financial strain and delay completing my degree. I have however remained in technical fields with a focus on development and digital marketing.
2) What prompted you to volunteer at EWB-SA?
I have always wanted to do more and make a bigger impact in the community. At the University of Pretoria I was a co-founder of EWB-UP and acted as the treasurer during my studies. After university I was looking for a platform to develop and heal the world around me. EWB-SA was gracious enough to welcome me back into the EWB-SA family and I am exceedingly grateful for the opportunity to rub shoulders with these inspirational people and play a part in building a better future for South Africans as well as our young engineers.
3) As the new Community Manager of EWB-SA, describe what your work at EWB-SA entails.
As the Community Manager I manage all relationships and communications for EWB-SA. I am responsible for developing and introducing new systems to improve the internal workings of the organization and ensure that everyone within EWB-SA has sufficient tools to promote growth for EWB-SA and our associated chapters.
In all of my experiences growing up, it has always been apparent to me that there are gross inequalities and an immense need for development in South Africa not only in infrastructure but socially as well. During my high school and varsity years I have always sought out ways in which I might be able to support my community and address the existing issues.
5) How have you been able to utilize your skills to assist/ empower communities?
Studying engineering does give you a predisposition to a process of problem solving however I have been lucky enough to have worked in a variety of capacities from a cashier, to a sales person, to a teacher, to an entrepreneur. I do feel that this odd combination of skills allows me to see any issue from many perspectives and that allows me to talk to anyone about almost anything. Although I might not be qualified to give sound technical advice I can speak to more empathetic motivations. As I have found with a lot of my students, most people just want to be seen, heard and shown how inspirational they themselves can be for their community.
6) What do you feel you have acquired/gained (both for your professional and personal development) through your association with EWB-SA?
I feel the best thing anyone can gain out of EWB-SA or any of our chapters is the opportunity to meet people who share a similar mission in life to leave this world far better than when you arrived. EWB-SA provides an amazing opportunity for everyone to talk to all kinds of people from all different walks of life and appreciate your differences and diversity.
7) How do you maintain a balance between the work at your day job and your work at EWB-SA?
Do what you love and the rest will fall into place. Life usually only feels like a balancing act when there is something weighing you down. If there is one piece of advice I can give it would be to never compromise your happiness or wellbeing for money.
8) How would you describe your experience as a woman in the engineering/work space?
In both engineering and all other fields I have found it extremely challenging. I had my first taste of misogyny as a studying engineer and continued to encounter sexism in every industry since joining the work force. Engineering has been marked as being male dominated but I would not say that any woman would be able circumvent sexism just by avoiding technical fields.
It is however imperative that woman in all industries confront this issue even though it is often extremely uncomfortable to do so. In any instance of discrimination it is not guaranteed that confrontation will result in an immediate change, however, I do feel it is important to never allow anyone to define your worth based on gender, race or anything else.
9) Are there any interesting projects that you are working on currently or in the near future?
I have a lot of things in the pipeline and hopefully will be able to share these with everyone soon.
10) What advice would you give to aspiring engineers?
Talk to everyone you can and learn their stories. Inspiration and motivation come from unexpected places.
Always be willing to change your mind. If you can’t admit when someone has a better idea you, than you can’t become better.
Don’t ever give up. IF YOU FALL YOU CRAWL!
Bronwynne Oosthuizen interviewed by Dhruti Dheda
Engineers Without Borders- Sol Plaatje University (EWB-SPU) was started at the beginning of the 2018 academic year by Keneilwe Sereo, who is the chairperson of the chapter, Denzil Jacobs, the secretary, Jenivia Fykels as the Vice Chairperson, Levona Leeuw being the Community Manager, Terri-Ann as the Treasurer and Vernon Kok as Program Manager. Sol Plaatje University only has Data Engineering, which is commonly known as Data Science because it is still a newly established university and so members of the student chapter only come from this course.
We started without much knowledge of what the chapter would require from us or what EWB-SA expected from us as a chapter, and there was no communication between EWB-SPU and EWB-SA then so we joined Geekulcha Student Society on their initiative of OpenCampus where we host tech events to ignite digital revolution amongst students, learners even professionals attended our events. We hosted two as EWB-SPU, one was Artificial Intelligence where we explored what this is and how society can use it to their benefit, amongst limitations and dangers of the field as well. The second one was Machine Learning and Big Data, which was basically how Artificial Intelligence is made possible, we explored the use of ML and Big Data in the current organisations and how they use data to leverage competition that is constantly growing due to the importance of data in the modern world. The events had a good attendance, it was actually over the expected, so they were very successful. We were sponsored by Geekulcha, mLab and the Department of Economic Development and Tourism, they made it all possible.
Recently we went to host a VacWork in Prieska, Northern Cape from the 9th-13th July 2018. The theme was Northern Cape Green Pipeline: Innovation, Economy and Technology. Alongside NcDev, GKSS and DeDAT, EWB-SPU were mentors at the vacwork. We had over 100 participants ranging from 10-30 years old individuals who showed dedication and hard work throughout the week. We helped them identify problems in their communities, find solutions to them and mould their ideas into digital solutions such as mobile applications, websites and electronics.
For the upcoming semester we are planning to start a STEM initiative (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) amongst school learners mostly from unprivileged backgrounds. The aim is to instil within them the willingness to learn more about these fields as most young people do not enter them due to lack of information so they don’t know what they are all about. We would like to get out of this initiative, a group of scholars who are interested in the industry and projects built by them as we are planning to incorporate the design challenge within the initiative because knowing and understanding a field isn’t enough, but using the knowledge and skills acquired and building something usable, innovative and sustainable is reaching the greater goal.
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
Empowering Engineers to Empower Communities
2018 | EWB-SA is a registered non-profit company | NPC 2013/014531/08