ENGINEERS WITHOUT BORDERS SOUTH AFRICA
I managed to get a quick interview with Vanessa Naicker, a rather elusive trailblazer, who’s extremely difficult to get hold of, so you can imagine my excitement when I eventually did. It was well worth the wait and if you ever wanted to see what happens when ambitious business acumen meets innovative engineering then look no further than Vanessa Naicker.
Naicker describes herself as somewhat of a veteran having successfully been part of the mining industry for more than 19 years, hence gems of experience and wisdom flowed easily from her throughout the interview.
After achieving a Metallurgical Engineering degree from WITS, the fresh graduate began her journey at Sasol, Secunda. There weren’t that many female engineers in South Africa in the early 90’s, let alone black female engineers and moving to Secunda was a real eye opener in terms of harsh realities facing a person of colour living in South Africa at the time. However, the petrochemical industry was booming with growth at the same time and so provided her with many opportunities. She later joined the industrial giant, Anglo American and took her first step into the mining industry, where she was exposed to numerous geographies, mining across commodities and various technical, operational and business opportunities.
Coming from a struggle background, growing up in a poor marginalised community and being a student activist from an early age, has shaped her passion for empowering young people. This led to her involvement in EWB-SA and she firmly believes that the future of South Africa lies in the hands of its youth. Coupling her technical expertise with her commercial acumen was a given when she became a non – executive director of the organisation, where she provides fiduciary support to the EWB-SA CEO and team as well as advisory support on a spectrum of topics.
In her professional capacity, she is working on attracting and retaining young people in the mining industry, an industry that has been relatively slack in mentoring and managing young professionals in recent years.
Naicker describes her experience as a woman in the engineering space as ‘jumping into the deep end and swimming hard' and feels that her versatility and adaptability as a professional could be attributed to this determined, firm attitude.
Her valuable advice to aspiring engineers, “Often engineers feel that they need to be bound by their discipline, but understand that we are living in a messy yet connected world and being good at collaborating and integrating ideas is what is required going forward” and also always be true to yourself.
Naicker is surely a force to be reckoned with as a confident woman who can play in that special space where business and engineering meet and is thus a perfect feature for the upcoming August Women’s Month.
Read the rest of this inspiring and very informative interview below.
1) Describe your engineering journey.
I’ve been in the industry for a long while. I might even have earned the title of veteran I started off my engineering journey by earning a BSc Engineering Metallurgy degree from the University of Witwatersrand (WITS) in the early 90’s and later acquired a Masters in Engineering as well. Keen to get some practical know how early on, I started my working life as a young Metallurgical Engineer with Sasol in 1994. Back in the 90’s there weren’t many female black engineers in the industry, let alone any living in Secunda, and that in itself created some interesting challenges and harsh experiences of the realities of a black person living in South Africa in the 1990’s. That said these early days of engineering in the petrochemical industry were an amazing growth opportunity and having some really great mentors who provided me broad technical exposure shaped my passion for the discipline, grew my technical expertise and built my confidence. But being a Jozi girl I was keen to get back to the big city to be close to family and friends. So 3½ years later when I was offered a rather unique opportunity to lead materials engineering for another industry giant, Anglo American, I made the move. Making the move to the mining industry was scary and enthralling at the same time but the scope of my work exposed me to mining across commodities and geographies across the world. I have remained with the mining industry for the past 19 years taking on various technical, operational and business related roles and gaining expertise across global operations and corporate functions. More recently my work has been in systems engineering, identifying how value flows through processes and working with teams to optimize our processes for performance turnarounds and substantial improvements to bottom line earnings. Whilst I have had only 2 employers in my long career to date, I have over the years taken on a variety of rich and diverse high profile roles which have been at the forefront of change and innovation.
2) What prompted you to volunteer at EWB-SA?
I am passionate about young people and helping them to be the best. I truly believe that the course of South Africa’s future lies in the hands of our young people. I also know that South Africa is a land with many challenges which are opportunities if you connect the heart with the mind. In addition, given that my career has been rather non-conventional has benefited me in that I have expert knowledge in a broad span of engineering topics that includes material science, mechanical failure investigations, asset management, project studies, coal conversion technologies, industrial engineering, etc. Coupled to this I have strong operational and commercial acumen. Coupling my technical know-how to the benefit of our people and making a real difference to the communities we live in is important to me. Thus it was a no brainer when I was approached by EWB-SA to take on the role of non-executive director.
3) Describe what your work at EWB-SA entails.
Together with the other directors on the EWB-SA board, I provide fiduciary support to the EWB-SA CEO and team. We meet a few times a year and I provide advisory support on a range of topics that may involve technical, legal, fund raising, policy, marketing, etc.
4) What sparked your interest in community development?
I have always been deeply involved in community related issues, both in my personal and professional capacity. I grew up in a poor, marginalised community and was a student activist from an early age. Coming from a struggle background has shaped how I interact and engage on community development matters both locally and globally.
5) How have you been able to utilize your skills as an engineer to assist/ empower communities?
In addition to being on the Board of EWB-SA I also hold a directorship on the Anglo American-sefa fund, which is a partnership fund between the Industrial Development Corporation of South Africa and Anglo American, providing high level strategic, governance and technical leadership for small scale mining companies. This has me interacting with various community entrepreneurs to advance their business interests.
6) What do you feel you have acquired/gained (both for your professional and personal development) through your association with EWB-SA?
I am always humbled and excited with each engagement I have with EWB-SA. Being in the same space with young people who are so enthused and actively involved in changing lives and making a difference to our world urges me to contribute even more.
7) How do you maintain a balance between the work at your day job and your work at EWB-SA?
This is currently proving to be really hard. I have a very demanding career that sees me travel lots. This does come in the way of family and broader outside the workplace commitments. Time management is thus really important to achieve any balance between all of my commitments so I run a very detailed and forward looking schedule to allow me to stay connected and contributing.
8) How would you describe your experience as a woman in the engineering space?
This is often a hot topic. Like many women in the industry I have had my highs and lows. That said I have never shied away from putting up my hand for a challenge, and persisting till I get a break. I have enjoyed jumping into the deep end and swimming hard. Perhaps this is because I’m a woman and often have had to work much harder just to prove to my fellow colleagues that I not only can do the job very well but I can excel at it. Over the years I have had the comment that I’m more versatile and adaptable than most professionals, whether this is because of being a female or a personal trait I’m not sure.
9) Are there any interesting projects that you are working on currently or in the near future?
In more recent years the mining industry has not been great at managing, mentoring and providing career paths for young professionals. I want to re-energise this, particularly in light of the fact that the world of work is changing and more and more people are not looking for long tenure in organisations but rather challenging and relevant work that is socially conscious. Attracting and retaining young people into the mining industry is an area I’m keen to contribute to in the near term.
10) What advise would you give to aspiring engineers?
Know that your early career years shapes the direction you take later on so seek some good mentors who will help you to navigate challenging times and open doors to new opportunities. Often engineers feel that they need to be bound by their discipline, but understand that we are living in a messy yet connected world and being good at collaborating and integrating ideas is what is required going forward. As such stay connected by building and nurturing your networks and make sure they are broad enough so that you can leverage diversity of thought. The world is your oyster. Be true to yourself.
Vanessa Naicker interviewed by Dhruti Dheda
The African Utility Week took place earlier this year from May 16 to 18 at the Cape Town International Convention Centre. The African Utility Week is Africa’s leading trade expo for the power and water sector providing business opportunities for solution providers, utilities and large power/water users. And EWB-SA was proud to be a part of it.
EWB-SA member and event coordinator Anthony Fry, who initiated the interactive series on water from mid-March this year along with EWB-UCT, presented at the African Utility Week. The water series had aimed to use the current Western Cape drought as a catalyst for new learning platforms, projects and research surrounding water in South Africa. He showcased some of the sanitation solutions that emerged from the water series at the Innovation Hub session, where emphasis was placed on education and skills development.
Ralph Muvhiiwa is the chairperson for Engineers Without Borders at the University of South Africa (EWB-UNISA). Muvhiiwa was nominated for the Young Energy Leader Award at the African Utility Week. This award recognises a person under the age of 35 from a public or private company who has made an outstanding contribution to the energy/water sectors. He was nominated for the EWB-SA activities that he does at Unisa, specifically the production of biogas from cow dung. He also presented this topic at the event where he talked about the biodigester in Muildersdrift and how this technology can help fight against energy poverty.
Ralph Muvhiiwa met up with Anthony Fry at the event and they both had a meeting with the team from Impulse Water to try identify potential synergies between them and EWB-SA. They carry out many projects, mainly water projects and they would be willing to ask for students to work on these projects when the need arise.
During the first half of 2017, EWB-UCT ran the pilot phase of the Technical Advisory Board. The TAB was introduced to link student chapters with needed guidance from experienced professionals. Their advice should add project sustainability and help project groups achieve their objectives within the academic year.
So far, EWB-UCT has hosted two TAB meetings, with the very first held on the 10th of May 2017. EWB-UCT Project Leaders, project coordinator and chairperson met the TAB in a cosy classroom on UCT upper campus.
The meeting environment was informal and open, project teams presented their project ideas to the TAB. In turn, members of the TAB gave constructive criticism on these ideas and strategies that would be employed to realise them, suggestions and praise. Project leaders walked away with much needed direction and new impetus to drive projects forward and impact communities in a positive way.
In addition to the benefit to project, members of the EWB-UCT committee have also received beneficial advice from the TAB.
The second TAB meeting took place on the 14th of June. Each project team was grouped with a TAB mentor for a more in depth and project specific discussion.
The EWB-UCT committee and projects team in deeply grateful for the guidance provided by the TAB and hopes to improve our future engagements.
Written by Masana Mhinga (EWB-UCT Project Coordinator)
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.”
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.
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.
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
Empowering Engineers to Empower Communities
2016 | EWB-SA is a registered non-profit company | NPC 2013/014531/08