Stories worth sharing.

  • 28 Feb 2016 8:52 PM | Dhruti Dheda (Administrator)

    A few weeks ago, I found myself sitting in a dimly-lit room with 11 other Africans in Toronto, Canada, we went around the circle describing which leadership qualities we admired most about each other. We had only met a week before, but we were slowly becoming the closest of friends.

    I recently participated in the Kumvana Fellowship, a programme hosted by Engineers Without Borders (EWB) Canada. Kumvana, a word from the Malawian Chichewa dialect, beautifully translates to “unite so we may discuss and understand.” The purpose of the fellowship is to take exceptional African leaders and expose them to Canadian organisations, cultures and ideas, but also for the African leaders themselves to share what we know about Africa with the EWB Canada community.


    The fellowship took place in Canada from the 11th of January to the 10th of February this year, 5 weeks in the freezing cold. It was an experience unlike any other. It allowed me to think deeply about the world and its people, reflect on why there is still such a massive disparity between the haves and have nots and figure out what role I can play in creating change.

    One of the insights I gleaned early on in this fellowship was about the social problems in South Africa in comparison to those in Canada or rather, the social problems in Africa compared to those in North America. After a rather crazy scavenger hunt around Toronto, one of the Ghanaian fellows remarked that he had not expected to see homeless people in Canada. I was not altogether shocked by this having seen homeless people during my travels in the US and Europe. However, I realised that this misconception stemmed from the huge disconnect between what we are told about the developed world and what is actually the case and similarly, what the developed world is told about Africa and what is actually the case. It strongly aligns with a TED talk I watched recently given by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on The Danger of a Single Story. Africans are continuously ‘told’ by the developed world that we live in poverty and need help and more often than not, we start to believe it.  On the other hand, media channels in the developed world reaffirm this notion by continuously spreading news about the ‘despair’ in Africa.

    Many of the social problems in Canada are similar to the problems here, it is only the magnitude of the social problem that differs. At the end of the day being homeless in South Africa and being homeless in Canada is quite comparable. In fact, I am inclined to believe that homelessness is sometimes worse in Canada where temperatures in winter can drop to -40 degrees C.

    My Kumvana experience was full of interesting insights and looked something like this…


    During the conference in Hamilton, the EWB Canada community spoke endlessly about Systems Thinking and Systems Change Leadership, concepts I thought I understood before leaving South Africa, but was only able to fully grasp during the conference.

    Systems Thinking is a perspective and set of methods and tools that make it possible to look at the full extent of a system, rather than at fragments. Using a systems approach, it is clear that longstanding social problems have been created by the systems in which they exist. For example, while giving students in informal settlements, free textbooks or computers may improve access to educational resources, Systems Thinking could help us to figure out why education in rural areas is still such a challenge, how it is connected to other issues and to identify strategic interventions to eradicate this problem.

    This underlying concept was scattered all over the conference and it became evident to me that EWB Canada use the Systems Thinking approach as an intrinsic part of their work in both Canada and sub-Saharan Africa, an approach not normally followed by organisations who do development work. EWB Canada, kudos to you!


    Back in Toronto, we spent the next week with a French organisation called, Le Playground, who guided us through a personal evolution of sorts, and we met Nadia, who taught us about prejudice, privilege and the difference between equity and equality.

    I loved this picture that she shared with us. As young South Africans, we tend to talk about equality more than equity. We get frustrated with equity because we forget the disadvantages of the past, but we need to remember that although it seems fair to give everyone the same opportunity, it is only really fair if we all started from the same base. We still have a long way to go before there is no need for equity in our businesses and institutions and the following picture summarises that concept perfectly.


    Image source:


    All fellows were given the opportunity to live with a Canadian family for two weeks and to meet with interesting people and organisations. I spent my first week with a lovely French family in Montreal. They were warm, inviting and eager to learn about South Africa.

    My highlights this week:

    1. A roundtable on ‘Female Leadership and Success in the Workplace’ with three distinguished female leaders from the same organisation who strongly believed that no inequality exists between men and women in the workplace.
    2. A refreshing event held by EWB McGill which reminded me of my days on the EWB Wits committee. I noticed that whether we are in Canada or South Africa, only twenty engineering students will pitch to an EWB event, but that the probability of students attending greatly increases with the promise of food.
    3. A visit to a start-up called Sunmetrix, who I believe are changing the solar energy sector with their innovative online tool for estimating how much money users in the contiguous U.S., southern Canada, Mexico or the Caribbean would save over the course of any given month, along with a projection for the entire year.
    4. An inspiring Friday afternoon meeting with Isabelle Deschamps, a professor at Polytechnique Montreal who establishes mechanisms to promote and facilitate the creation, incubation and commercialisation of technological innovations from academia and the surrounding business environment.


    During my second week, I lived with an Iranian couple, a Korean couple and a Ghanaian girl who had moved to Canada to study. It was one of the most multicultural experiences of my entire life and I enjoyed it more than any of the visits I had this week.  

    My highlights in Toronto:

    1. Meeting the CEO of the start-up ReDeTec, who recycle the plastic used in 3D printers. A concept that seemed arbitrary at first, but then made perfect sense once I found out how many people have access to 3D printers in the developed world.
    2. A visit to the MaRS Discovery District, one of the world’s largest urban innovation hubs.
    3. The LEAP centre for social impact, housed at Boston Consulting Group, which is essentially a consulting group for non-profit organisations. I was super impressed by how non-profits were given the same professionalism as any consultant would give their clients.



    The programme was closed out. Feedback was provided. And the fellows were left to think about how we could utilise the brilliant network we had just created.

    I am back in South Africa now. I feel changed by the Kumvana experience. I have been transformed and I cannot go back to who I was before. I am currently sitting next to my to-do list, consumed by the menial admin of my life, desperately holding on to the visions I have for change in Africa. I am restless for change. And I am restless about being a part of this change.

    One of my biggest passions since Kumvana is educating people about Africa’s potential. My soul literally dies every time I see an international campaign about donating to ‘helpless’ Africans. We have such incredible people in Africa, innovating for social change more than any developing country, starting unconventional, successful businesses, while educating themselves and others. And most importantly, the beautiful view all Africans share: we will not prosper unless we prosper together.

    Nikita Vala

  • 30 Dec 2015 8:57 PM | Dhruti Dheda (Administrator)


    Hi EWB’ers! As the year draws to a close, the importance for reflection and all lessons learned becomes an integral part for the preparation for a 2016 with greater achievements! 2015 proved both successful and significant for the EWB-SA initiative, which could not have been achieved without our team on the ground and the support of our sponsors and members. THANK YOU!

    Quick Re-cap on 2015

    EWB-SA has expanded to over 1500 members in 2015, and are still growing! We are excited about those who have signed up and look forward to continuing to empower engineers to empower communities!

    8 student chapters at tertiary institutions exist to date, with our first university of technology chapter – EWB-TUT – being on the cards for 2016! We couldn’t be more thrilled about students grabbing the opportunity to engage with professionals whilst making a difference in South Africa’s rural and local communities. Explore our website to see what our communities have been up to.


    We launched our 1st EWB-SA Empowering Communities through Engineering Excellence Award to recognise and award the hard work that our volunteers put into making their projects happen. A huge congratulation to theKutumela Molefi Project team from EWB-UP for winning the award. We look forward to the competition and entrants next year!  Check out one of the 8 sub-projects of the winning community project here.

    AGM 2015

    We celebrated the closing of this year with our Annual General Meeting, held at the OPEN in the Maboneng Precinct, Johannesburg. The colourful evening brought our student leadership, professional members and guests together to reflect on a year of change. Thank you to everybody who came out and mingled, it was a superb evening.


    The AGM was just the beginning to the bigger and better 4th Annual Leadership Summit. Past and present chapter committees got to learn from each other and explore how to reach their potential as young leaders while continuing to build the significance of EWB-SA’s vision and mission – and enjoy the beautiful Magaliesburg!



    From the Africities Summit, where we co-hosted a session on Africa’s Infrastructure Build Programme with the Infrastructure Dialogues, to our participation in the Sustainability in the Resources Industry Summit, African Utility Week, and the Symposium for Engineering Education, 2015 has been a busy year with new ground covered by both EWB-SA and our student chapters.


    Our 2015 successes could not have been possible without the EWB-SA team and our sponsors and donors: WSP Parsen-Brinkerhoff, MottMacDonald, #cocreateSA and the Alcoa Foundation. We are grateful for your ongoing support.

    We will fly to new heights with EWB-SA in 2016. See you there!

    From the EWB-SA team

  • 26 Nov 2015 2:25 PM | Wiebke Toussaint (Administrator)

    Find us at Africities-Africités on Monday, where we’ll be hosting a joint session with the Infrastructure Dialogues framed around:

    “Africa’s Infrastructure Build Programme – making a better life for Africa’s city residents.”

     We are excited to be part of the conversation around shaping the future of Africa with the people: Africa’s Local Government contribution to the Africa Vision 2063. Luba Luyaba will be presenting a youth perspective on how to shape the future of cities. This is a big step forward towards raising the voice of young engineers in conversations that matter.

  • 09 Nov 2015 9:00 PM | Dhruti Dheda (Administrator)

    Cape Townians – this one’s for you! South Africa’s first engineering hackathon is happening from 20 – 22 November at 75 Harringon Street. Sign up essential as space is limited to 12 participants only.
    Get involved and help us empower communities!

    NUNU Hack 1 Poster

  • 21 Sep 2015 9:02 PM | Dhruti Dheda (Administrator)

    Empowering Communities through Engineering Excellence Award

    All chapter volunteers, listen up! Here’s your chance to win R5000. Tell us how your 2015 project empowers a community through engineering excellence and stand a chance to celebrate your year’s hard work with a cash prize for you and your team!

    Application Requirements:

    • Applications must be in the form of a video or an e-poster or both.
    • The video must not be shorter than 1 minute or longer than 3 minutes.
    • The e-poster should not be text-heavy. Try to add photographs or quotes from the team and the community.

    Try to answer all these questions in your video or e-poster:

    1. What problem did you aim to solve?
    2. Describe how you arrived at your solution.
    3. How will your solution impact and empower the community?
    4. How have you worked as a team during this project?
    5. What did you do to build a relationship with the community you worked in?
    6. How have you transferred engineering knowledge?

    Remember, it is not the biggest budget, the most work, the greatest glam that counts, but who has built a relationship with the community, identified their needs, co-created a solution and will leave a sustainable impact.

    We are looking forward to your entries. Winners will be announced at the opening event of EWB-SA’s Student Leadership Summit on the 27th of November.

  • 03 Aug 2015 9:05 PM | Dhruti Dheda (Administrator)


    Article contributed by Jennifer Robertson from Mott MacDonald

    From the 29th June to 17th July 2015 a team of four University of Cape Town students from EWB-SA were hosted at the Mott MacDonald Cape Town office. The students are part of a team that is designing a skate park in Langa. Mott MacDonald provided office space, equipment and mentoring to the students.

    The project is currently in the feasibility stage and students spent most of their time developing a proposal, doing stakeholder engagement and deciding on material for the skate park. One of the major breakthroughs in the project was identifying a suitable site for the Skate Park.

    The Mott MacDonald partnership with EWB has helped the students by giving them a space to get together and focus on the project. We also helped them meet up with people in the City of Cape Town Parks Department. In addition the three weeks gave them an insight into the various Civil Engineering disciplines and what office life was like. Feedback from the students and EWB was very positive who were very grateful for the time and energy that various staff members gave them.

    Mott MacDonald is hoping to continue our involvement in the skate park project with EWB so there will be more news to follow.

    Thanks to the Cape Town staff who all made an effort to make the students feel welcome.

  • 01 Jul 2015 9:11 PM | Dhruti Dheda (Administrator)


    Another successful Wiki Night went down on 21 July, bringing together engineering pros and students from different corners of Gauteng to ponder questions that matter. Thanks to WSP I Parsons Brinckerhoff in Africa for hosting us in their i-Design space.

    Here a summary why we hosted a session on this topic:

    We believe that engineers hold great potential to create things of value. Who better than us to thus lead the entrepreneurial revolution in Africa? EWB-SA wants to help create an idea generation and business creation space in which opportunities are shared, ideas multiplied, creativity unleashed and where value trumps. To do this, we need your input to hear what you want and how we can get there together. It all starts with a first step. So let’s get walking.

    Watch this space for continuing conversations around entrepreneurship and intrapreneurship in engineering.

    Read more about Wiki Nights here.

  • 15 Jun 2015 9:13 PM | Dhruti Dheda (Administrator)

    EECE Award announcement 1

    At the heart or EWB-SA lies ourcommunity of passionate and driven engineers. We are proud of the commitment and hours of planning, designing and execution that you put into over 20 community development projects across South Africa every year. That’s why we have decided to up the challenge to encourage you to plan better, engage more effectively and deliver solutions that have an impact. Today we are launching the Empowering Communities through Engineering Excellence Award to emphasise EWB-SA’s commitment to fostering engineering thinking that benefits society. The Award is a R5 000,00 cash prize that will be awarded to the team members of the EWB-SA Chapter project that best embodies the design principles set out in our Project LifeCycle Process (select link to Guidelines and Templates).

    Remember your Project Roots – the reason WHY you embarked on an EWB project – and #BeYourLegend

  • 25 May 2015 9:15 PM | Dhruti Dheda (Administrator)

    The Alcoa Foundation announced this month that EWB-SA was selected alongside 12 other Engineers Without Borders International affiliates to receive grant funding as part of the Creation of a Global Engineer Program. The program is designed to create and replicate the best practices of  “learning through service programs” that develop skills in leadership, project management, communication, systems thinking and community and personal engagement.

    EWB-SA will utilise the funding to develop their Project Roots community of practice. Project Roots takes EWB-SA members back to the fundamentals of planning and executing successful development projects. The grant funding will subsidise the development of an online library of project resources and forum through which members can communicate and collaborate on projects nationally.  This will serve as a virtual extension to the current Mentorship programme, Project Life Cycle workshops and Human Centred Design Courses within the ‘Transferring Engineering Knowledge’ focus area.

    Running a successful development project requires introspection and collaboration says Matt Docherty, EWB-SA’s Head of Projects. It’s a journey in which you go from exploring what motivates you, to what motivates your team, to what motivates your community and sponsors. For EWB-SA our greatest achievement lies in enabling student engineers achieve this realisation and to carry it with them into the workplace. The objective of Project Roots is to facilitate this process by ensuring that projects run smoothly and that learnings are remembered and shared.

    “For EWB-SA receiving the grant from the Alcoa Foundation presents a tremendous opportunity to start documenting the collective experience of the EWB-SA community. Over the past 5 years EWB-SA members have planned and implemented over 30 engineering-related community development projects across South Africa. To deepen our understanding of the work we do we need to improve our knowledge sharing and training practices. Project Roots will be the first open online platform in South Africa that shares best approaches, learnings and failures of engineering practices in a local development context.” – Wiebke Toussaint, Chief Initiator of EWB-SA.

    If you are interested to work with EWB-SA on developing Project Roots as the online go-to place for Global Engineering resources in Africa and share how you would like to contribute.

  • 29 Apr 2015 9:16 PM | Dhruti Dheda (Administrator)

    Facebook flyer

    The air we breathe, the water we drink, the power that lights our homes and drives our gadgets – without the driving force of engineers across our continent life would be unimaginably different. To connect the minds behind the scenes, Africa’s leading water and power expo is coming to Cape Town from 12 – 14 May 2015.

    EWB-SA is partnering with African Utilities Week to enable our Western Cape student membership to participate in pertinent industry discussions and increase their awareness around utilities in Africa. We see access to power and water as fundamental cornerstones to development in Africa. As engineers this is the space where we can make a difference.

    Think Utility and be part of the conversation around water and power in Africa. AUW2015 is just 2 weeks away. Register now for your free expo pass .


Empowering Engineers to Empower Communities

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