People that Inspire: Paul Ssali

29 Nov 2018 2:39 AM | Dhruti Dheda (Administrator)

I had the privilege of interviewing Paul Ssali, a mechanical engineer and the one of EWB-SA’s new board members.

While growing up, Ssali always wanted to do something challenging and so decided on engineering. After graduating with a mechanical engineering degree from the University of Pretoria, he worked at a startup for a few months after which he joined the Energy Unit at Aurecon.

Ssali feels that he is as much solution to someone’s problem as they are to his problems and that progress can be only made by moving forward together, “I was raised to understand that if you want to go fast you go alone but if you want to go far, you go together, so the desire to work with and help people has grown with me my entire life,” he elaborates. He is driven by the desire of doing something bigger than himself. So when one of his friends approached him about an organisation of engineers doing cool things, some of which involved the completion a project at underprivileged primary school, he immediately bought into the idea and joined EWB-UP and eventually went on to join EWB-SA.

Currently as a new board member of EWB-SA, he heads the Design Thinking Portfolio, “design thinking is redefining the way things are made and how people interface them. I will be in charge of developing a strategic plan and implementing it within the organisation,” he explains. Ssali feels that the future holds some amazing opportunities for all EWB-SA members, “I don’t want to ruin the surprise, so please I urge everyone to get involved. There is a storm of awesomeness coming and I hope everyone gears up and shows up,” he exclaims.

Ssali believes that the communities he has served in the past few years have done a lot to empower him in ways that he couldn’t have ever imagined, “my contributions as an engineer were a small part of the process,” he says. He feels that EWB-SA provided him with the perfect platform to develop and use his skills, “I have been involved in a number of projects within the organisation that allowed me to not only think critically about problems but to apply a humancentric approach to diversify my knowledge,” he elaborates.

With regards, to finding a balance between his day job and his work with EWB-SA, he feels that, “if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life... I do get my days when looming deadlines raise the stress levels, but the experience and the knowledge I’ve gained, far outweighs the challenges that come with it.”

His advice to aspiring young engineers is that, “success is extremely subjective so don’t allow anyone in the world to define that for you.”

Read more about this thoughtful engineer heading EWB-SA's Design Thinking Portfolio in an informative interview below.

1) Describe your engineering journey.

Growing up, I always wanted to do something challenging, so I graduated as a mechanical engineer from the University of Pretoria. I spent the next few months working for a startup. I eventually found myself at Aurecon as a mechanical engineer in the Energy Unit.

2) What prompted you to volunteer at EWB-SA?

One of my friends, the founder of EWB-UP approached me one-year after EWB-UP was formed. He told of an organisation of engineers doing really cool things, they had just completed a project at underprivileged primary school and I was immediately sold. So, I joined the executive committee to join him on the journey in 2014. I fell in love with the organisation and went on to volunteer at the national level as well.

3) As a new board member of EWB-SA and the head of the Design Thinking Portfolio, describe what your work at EWB-SA entails and what we can expect from you.

I am excited to see the challenges and growth that this opportunity will bring. Design thinking is redefining the way things are made and how people interface them. I will be in charge developing a strategic plan and implementing it within the organisation.

4) What sparked your interest in community development?

I am the solution to someone’s problem just as they are to mine. We can only move forward together. Growing up, I was raised to understand that if you want to go fast you go alone but if you want to go far, you go together, so the desire to work with and help people has grown with me my entire life. The idea of doing something bigger than myself still drives me today. They say if your dream is big enough for you to reach on your own, then you’re not dreaming big enough.

5) How have you been able to utilize your skills as an engineer to assist/ empower communities?

Honestly speaking, the communities I’ve served in the past few years have done a lot more to empower me in ways that I couldn’t have ever imagined. My contributions as an engineer were a small part of the process. I came to learn that my career as an engineer is more than building engines or sizing pumps. I discovered that I can use the critical thinking as an engineer to impact people lives.

6) What do you feel you have acquired/gained (both for your professional and personal development) through your association with EWB-SA?

EWB-SA has provided me with a platform to develop and use my skills in so many ways. I have been involved in a number of projects within the organisation that allowed me to not only think critically about problems but apply a humancentric approach to diversify my knowledge. I have been given the opportunity to grow myself as a leader with the guidance and mentorship from well-established industry leaders.

7) How do you maintain a balance between the work at your day job and your work at EWB-SA?

Right from my time as a chapter chairperson, finding a balance between acquiring my degree and my role with EWB-SA was a challenge. I loved my role, but I also needed to get my degree. It is a daily test of my character, but it constantly proved and still proves to me that if you do what you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. My day job is demanding and requires a certain level of commitment, so I make it a point to balance the two. Allocating time to each has allowed me to achieve that. I do get my days when looming deadlines raise the stress levels, but the experience and the knowledge I’ve gained, far outweighs the challenges that come with it.

8) Are there any interesting projects that you are working on currently or in the near future?

We are on a journey to redefine design thinking within the organisations, there are some amazing opportunities for all our members in the near future. I don’t want to ruin the surprise, so please I urge everyone to get involved. There is a storm of awesomeness coming and I hope everyone gears up and shows up

9) What advise would you give to aspiring engineers?

Finding a career that will not only change your life but the lives of all those around you is a gift from God. Living your God given dream is the greatest reward any man or woman should desire. So, if engineering gives you that feeling then get ready and take the leap. Success is Extremely Subjective so don’t allow anyone in the world to define that for you.

Paul Ssali interviewed by Dhruti Dheda



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