EWB-SA 2018: Review and Reflections

30 Nov 2018 12:04 AM | Dhruti Dheda (Administrator)

EWB-SA started the year off on a high note with the 7th Annual EWB-SA Leadership Summit, which is possibly the biggest event of the year for our student chapters.

The Summit which welcomed 28 student delegates from eight university student chapters was held from the 22 to 26 January 2018 at Anglo American’s Centre for Experiential Learning (CEL).

The 4 day Summit, themed ‘It begins with me’ led by Nomathemba Magagula was filled with informative sessions and fun activities. The sessions included inspiring speeches, engaging discussions from various prominent South African leaders, insightful project and discussion sessions. An additional educational component was the practical (experiential learning) sessions from the CEL’s resident experts and the EWB-SA volunteers.

At the Summit Gala Dinner, the chapters presented a reflection of the previous year. It was evident from their reflections, that despite failing, they remained resilient, resourceful and results driven.

EWB-SA has been working with student chapters for seven years and has realised the importance of allowing students to fail forward as it creates a group of young resilient and resourceful professionals.

EWB-SA prides itself on being a safe place for practicing leadership while simultaneously trying to reach out to local communities, hence focusing on empowering engineers so that they can grow empower communities.

This was followed by the SAIChE IChemE EWB-SA Event in February, giving SAIChE IChemE members a chance to find out more about the organisation.

Dr David Ming, co-founder of EWB-SA, introduced EWB-SA and what it aims to address in South African society. The main aim being the facilitation of the transfer of engineering skillsets into far reaching benefits for local communities using a project based approach. During project implementation, Human Centered Design (HCD) and rapid prototyping are commonly used methods to help members and their teams achieve project objectives at a fast pace.

Notable EWB-SA projects mentioned were the Green Day Care Center in Port Elizabeth which used green materials for building blocks; bio-digesters supplying energy to supplement or supply power to homes and the soap making project which taught local women to use extraction techniques to harness the smell of essential oils and aldo partnered with local lodges who could by the final soap products from the local women.

At the end of the evening, SAIChE IChemE was well informed about EWB-SA’s mission, methods, achievements and how they could get involved for future projects. This is hopefully the beginning of future collaborations with SAIChE IChemE.

One of EWB-SA's primary goals is to empower student chapters through the Human Centered Design (HCD) workshops that are attended by student chapters on an annual basis. The HCD workshops function as a means to educate chapters members on how to design project solutions with a human centric approach.

Two HCD workshops for the Gauteng EWB-SA chapters were facilitated through a collaboration between Aurecon and EWB-SA in May this year. This was a fruitful intersection of EWB-SA’s plan to empower student chapters with professional knowledge and Aurecon’s goal of imparting knowledge of human centric solutions to student organizations, particularly engineering students.

Aurecon’s design to innovate partner, Wim van Schalkwyk and mechanical engineer, Paul Ssali presented the HCD workshops with an Afrikan Design Innovation (ADI) theme. ADI acknowledges the continent's people and entrepreneurial promise and places them at the centre of the design process in order to create innovative solutions suited to the people for whom they have been created.

In 2019, EWB-SA hopes to host these workshops nationwide to all student chapters. The HCD workshops mark the beginning of a promising partnership between Aurecon and EWB-SA.

To spark the entrepreneurial side of engineering minds, EWB-SA organized an exciting workshop, in conjunction with Umnandi and conducted a workshop titled Entrepreneurial Thinking.

The workshop, which focused on introducing the skills needed for an entrepreneur to develop ideas and implement them in society, was facilitated by masters students from Chalmers School of Entrepreneurship in Sweden.

The workshop also featured the famous Egg Drop challenge, the objective of which is to build a contraption that will protect an egg being drop from a 5 meter height, with a limited budget and limited resources.

The completion of the challenge was followed by an interactive feedback session where the participants were introduced to Umnandi five step model, which embodied principles applied at Chalmers School of Entrepreneurship which regards to converting new ideas into reality.

This insightful workshop equipped our student chapters with the entrepreneurial arsenal necessary to convert their solutions to South African problems into lucrative sustainable schemes.

Towards the latter part of the year, EWB-SA hosted the Social Impact Challenge 2018 for all ten universities student chapters as part of the mandate to empower engineers to empower communities.

The Challenge gave members the opportunity to apply the human centric approach, that they were exposed through during the HCD workshops hosted earlier in the year, to solving complex issues in society.

EWB-SA 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.

Under the guidance provided by Grassroot and equipped with tools from the HCD workshops, students were able to engage communities to better understand their challenges. Using the information gathered, the students developed a design brief that addressed the challenges. On the 15th of September 2018, student chapters across the country, supervised by seasoned engineers unpacked problems to form sustainable solutions for each community. All the solutions generated in the session will be packaged and given back to the communities.

EWB-SA plans to award the winning team, the team with the best solution the opportunity to develop it further with professional mentorship and to encourage the use of this platform as a means to bring the skills of aspiring engineers and seasoned professionals together to enhance the understanding of solving community challenges.

This year the EWB-SA family extended to include a new student chapter and new members in key positions. At the beginning of 2018, EWB-SA welcomed Engineers without Borders- Sol Plaatje University (EWB-SPU).

EWB-SPU joined Geekulcha Student Society in their initiative of OpenCampus and hosted two technology events; one focused on Artificial Intelligence and explored its benefits and limitations and the other focused on Machine Learning and Big Data.

They also hosted a vacation work in Prieska, Northern Cape with the theme being the Northern Cape Green Pipeline: Innovation, Economy and Technology. They had over 100 participants who showed dedication and hard work throughout the week and identified problems in their communities, found solutions to them and moulded their ideas into digital solutions such as mobile applications, websites and electronics.

They are also planning to start a STEM initiative 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.

EWB-SA also welcomed Bronwynne Oosthuizen as the EWB-SA Community Manager. As the community manager, Oosthuizen will manage all relationships and communications for EWB-SA and is responsible for developing and introducing new systems to improve the internal workings of the organization.

Two of our members took up positions as new board EWB-SA members. Nomathemba Magagula joins the EWB-SA board as the head of the Youth Leadership Portfolio, where the main focus of her work will be improving the Annual National Leadership Retreat & Entrepreneurship in Engineering course. Paul Ssali will join the EWB-SA board as the head of the Design Thinking Portfolio where he will be in charge developing a strategic plan and implementation of Design Thinking within the organisation.

EWB-SA is committed to gender, cultural and racial diversity and represents over 2000 young engineers in five provinces across the country. As an organisation, EWB-SA encourages stimulating conversations and diverse perspectives to complex challenges.

An issue of the South African Institute for Civil Engineering's (SAICE) magazine, earlier this year, featured a rather demeaning and misinformed opinion piece by SAICE's CEO, Manglin Pillay. A piece which discredits the difficult journeys that many women have to navigate in hostile environments to pursue a career in technical fields and precluded 50% of the world's population from having the potential to successfully pursue technical careers, belittling not only the necessity of exactly this diversity, but also the fundamental tenets of human rights and equality.

Student chapters with young budding engineers have a big role to play if the engineering industry of tomorrow is to be different to today. EWB-SA has challenged student chapters to contribute to the creation a 'Diversity Code of Conduct' as commitment to the respect that not only individuals owe each other but also the communities that they serve. EWB-SA has been engaged with other bodies in the engineering sector since in order to push for decisive action and change with regards to discrimination and harassment.

EWB-SA aims to address the South African skill shortage crisis. 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. This trend is mirrored by other developing countries.

This skills shortage can be attributed to several factors, including: the lack of appropriately qualified high school graduates for Engineering and the Built Environment; the decline in the amount of academic staff or mentors at tertiary institutions and the low throughput of students in engineering, technologist and technician degrees.This skills shortage has already, in part, led to lower productivity, low competitiveness, slow adoption of technology and high production costs in South Africa.

The problem with equipping students in technical degrees with appropriate skills runs deeper. The vast field of Engineering and the Built environment has profound social impacts. It is necessary for students to contextualise the human condition and the social implications of their work. It is rare for a fresh graduate to possess the background necessary to support such an approach. Thus 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.

EWB-SA aims to achieve this through student chapters and the undertaken projects by chapters and their members. 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 as previously mentioned, 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; such as the Kutumela Molefi Primary Farm School project. The aim of the project was to rehabilitate the school at all levels. Progress on the project is ongoing and continuous. Another is 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.

Any of the projects carried out by the student chapters can be viewed on the official EWB-SA website on the relevant student chapter webpage with the chapter contact details along with any advice, equipment, funding or to volunteer options are available.

- Dhruti Dheda, Editor


Empowering Engineers to Empower Communities

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