ENGINEERS WITHOUT BORDERS SOUTH AFRICA
Engineers Without Borders South Africa (EWB-SA) held their 7th Annual Leadership Summit from 22-26 January 2018. It was held at Anglo American’s Centre for Experiential Learning (CEL). Anglo American’s CEL kindly sponsored the venue and accommodation. The summit welcomed 28 student delegates from eight university student chapters: University of South Africa (UNISA), University of the Witwatersrand (Wits), University of Johannesburg (UJ), University of Pretoria (UP), University of KwaZulu-Natal (UKZN), University of Stellenbosch (Maties), Tshwane University of Technology (TUT) and University of Cape Town (UCT).
The Summit lasted for 4 days and each day was filled with informative sessions and fun activities. The sessions included inspiring speeches, engaging discussions from various prominent South African leaders, special projects and discussion sessions. The Summit also included practical (experiential learning) sessions from the CEL’s resident experts and the EWB-SA volunteers.
The first day began with a talk by Professor Ian R Jandrell (Wits Dean of Engineering and Built Environment). His talk focused on how young engineers are the best placed individuals to make tangible, significant positive changes in our society. He ended with the inspiring story of Isambard Kingdom Brunel, who failed along the way, but he persevered and that was the key. A key aspect of EWB-SA delegates is also failing forward hence the entire group could relate.
The delegates were given the flexibility to facilitate their own sessions each evening. The first evening involved a Ted-Talk by Chimamanda Adichie’s Danger of a Single Story, which led to lively discussions between the students and marked the beginning of a rather heartfelt and insightful Summit.
The second day focused on personal leadership and change management. The sessions were facilitated by the CEL’s resident experts Dewald Esterhuizen and Jill Harris.
Harris’ session focused on the personal leadership and social aspect of change management. She talked the delegates through the theory of leadership, personality types, traits and how to interact with people when dealing with and applying change. Esterhuizen's session focused on the technical side of change management; process purpose, waste and optimization. The lessons learnt in the sessions were then applied in the CEL’s model factory, where delegates had to observe the process for producing pistons.
The second evening included the Ted Talk Radical Candor by Kim Scott, which focused on the power of giving people honest feedback.
The focus on Wednesday was guest speakers who reflected on their journey’s and what they’ve learnt along the way.
The first speaker was Manglin Pillay, CEO of South African Institution of Civil Engineering, who focused on the modern engineer and ethics. After which, Elaine & Patrizia from WSP, took delegates on a personal discovery adventure to learn more about themselves. Followed by Neo Hutiri, founder and CEO of Technovera and winner of Hack.Jozi, who spoke about his journey through entrepreneurship and engineering.
The highlight of the afternoon, however, was Dr Noko Phala. Dr Phala is the Head of Business Improvement Capability development at Anglo American. While he continues his research with Anglo, his current role is about “thinking about thinking.” How we absorb information, how we retain it and how we use it. He demonstrated how we often aren’t taught how the brain works and so don’t know how to use it correctly.
Wednesday evening’s Ted Talk was by Ricardo Semler’s, Radical Autonomy, practices a radical form of corporate democracy.
Thursday, the fourth and final day was about the future!
James Hu, Head of Learning and Development in Africa at Unilever and EWB-SA Board Member who spoke to us about organisational branding and he also touched on personal branding.
Vanessa Naicker, Head of Business Improvement- Support at Anglo American and EWB-SA Board Member, spoke about metrics, accountability and excellence; enthralling delegates with her experience in the industry after 20 years.
After the talks, the delegates then went out to plan for the year ahead, for their different university chapters. During the Gala dinner, they presented a reflection of the previous year, what they intend to improve and what the next year will look like. What was clear from their reflections, was that EWBers are very much like Isambard Kingdom Brunel. They often fail, but they are resilient and resourceful and results driven.
We have been working with students chapters for seven years and what we have learnt is that it is important to allow the students to fail forward as this really creates a group of young professionals who are resilient , resourceful and results driven. EWB-SA has become a safe place for practicing leadership while trying to reach out to local communities at the same time. We truly are focusing on empowering engineers so that they can step out and empower communities.
EWB-SA would like to thank our guest speakers: Professor Ian R Jandrell, Dean of Engineering at Wits; Manglin Pillay, CEO of SAICE; James Hu, Head of Learning and Development at Unilever for Africa; Vanessa Naicker, Head of Business Improvement- Support at Anglo American; and Neo Hutiri, Founder of Technovera; Dewald Esterhuizen and Jill Harris, CEL’s resident experts; Elaine & Patrizia from WSP and Dr Noko Phala, Head of Business Improvement Capability development at Anglo American; as well as our sponsors Anglo American.
Original article: Muhammed Razzak
Edited article: Dhruti Dheda
If your interest has been peaked, read the original article here!
7th Annual EWB-SA Leadership Summit.pdf
SAIChE IChemE EWB-SA evening took place on February 2018 at Worley Parsons, Melrose Arch.
SAIChE IChemE started off the year on a high note by showcasing the exciting organisation that is Engineers without Borders South Africa (EWB-SA), giving our members a chance to find out more about this organisation.
Dr David Ming, the director of EWB-SA, started off the evening talks by introducing the organisation and what it aims to address in South African society. The EWB-SA group aims to facilitate the transfer of engineering skillsets and convert this into far reaching benefits for local communities using a project based approach to implement and install and educate those areas in need of these critical skills.
Hundreds of projects have been started around the country, each with their own set of unique challenges to understand and get around. While getting projects off the ground and running, a key focus of the group is the educational value and the approach to unlocking this. Human Centered Design (HCD) and rapid prototyping are commonly used methods for unlocking potential of members and their teams in order to achieve project objectives at a fast pace. Members get exposure to valuable project management sessions being a part of the group equipping them with the tools to get ahead.
EWB-SA allows its members the chance to go back into their communities and use their knowledge to build and educate those who the projects may involve or affect. While the emphasis is on building infrastructure in these communities, another valuable output from these projects is the research papers written on the outcomes. Another way of contributing is by joining the Technical Advisory Board (TAB) as an engineering professional currently working in industry.
With the changing scenery from one suburb, the challenges that face a large majority of our population and are often overlooked and focus is placed on the problems faced in urban areas. Ming went on to explain that having an understanding of the complexities involved with the everyday lives of South Africans and the nature thereof are at the very heart of getting ahead of these projects.
One of the projects completed by EWB-SA includes the Green Day Care Center in Port Elizabeth featured in ArchDaily for its innovative approach to using green materials for building blocks.
Dr Baraka Celestin Sempuga went into more detail about the various projects being done. Some of the key projects include bio digesters supplying energy to supplement/supply power to homes. Soap making using extraction techniques to extract the smell of essential oils partnering with local lodges who can buy their products made.
While biogas is not new technology there are always challenges to overcome. The main problem being -overcoming the social perceptions related to the use of manure or sewage for an everyday activity such as powering the home and various household related activities.
The story of Joseph who installed bio digesters on his farm that have been running for three or four years was told. He uses this to cook and to watch television. He is also able to use the manure for his farming as the processing of the manure helps to break down and release nutrients into the soils which are a benefit over using fresher manure.
With the emphasis on conversion and gas projects there has been a strong representation of chemical engineers. However there are many opportunities available for all other engineering disciplines to get more involved.
1) Professional engineers can contribute on a technical level by joining one of the technical advisory boards in Gauteng, the Western Cape, and KZN. Members can also help volunteer their time on an organisational level by contributing their time to help run EWB-SA -- we are always looking for people to help with social media, administrate programmes like the HCD course and project management, and host events.
2) The easiest way for university students to get involved is by contacting one of the university chapters closest to them. Otherwise, they can always contact us.
3) Companies interested in working with us can contact our CEO (Jason Huang (email@example.com) and we can see how best we can work together. We're looking to expand our presence and it's not always about money.
Original article: Danielle Bearman from SAIChE IChemE Gauteng Member's group. Contact SAIChE IChemE: firstname.lastname@example.org
Edited by Dhruti Dheda
2017 has been a productive year for EWB-SA. We kicked off the year with the customary leadership summit and introduced some exciting new supporting initiatives such as the technical advisory boards, chapter seed funding and the design challenge.
We salute all the EWB members who played an active role in their chapter activities and projects. Your passion, enthusiasm and commitment to the future of engineering and South Africans remains the vibrant core of EWB-SA. To the chapter committees - keep moving us forward. We know that shouldering the responsibility to lead a chapter requires dedication and vision.
There are many ways to get involved with EWB-SA from joining a technical advisory board, to volunteering on the national operations team, getting technical with the design challenge or glamming up our leadership retreat. Remember, as a graduate you get one year FREE professional EWB-SA membership if you register before 28 February 2018.
We hope to see you all again next year. As always, we have lots of ideas and surprises brewing for 2018! Remember to renew your membership and keep an eye out for our exciting events.
Written by Jason Huang
Internet of Things for Social Good Design Challenge: The results are out!
On the 23rd of November, the national winners of the EWB-SA Internet of Things for Social Good Design Challenge were announced. A team consisting of engineering students from Wits and UJ walked away as the winners of the national challenge after their innovative solutions stole the judge’s hearts. The winning team ambitiously chose to tackle the cost reduction, in-situ data storage & transmission, sensor ergonomics & placement, and the sensor integration challenges.
Congratulations to The Prototypes - our winning team for 2017! The Johannesburg-based team consisting of Eunice Bohulu (team leader), Racheal Kanyinji, Rocky Ramaube and Khutso Selepe will be receiving R 5000 to implement the project next year, 15 sensor kits to help them get started, and 60 hours of mentorship from IBM, who have so graciously agreed to collaborate with us on this initiative. Thank you, IBM.
Upon winning, a very ecstatic Eunice said, “Thank you so much for this, we thoroughly enjoyed the design challenge, and found it truly inspirational, so it brings us a lot of happiness to see that you enjoyed our ideas as well.”
EWB-SA will be working on a plan to implement the sensors in informal settlements across South Africa. Watch this space for more information and to see how you can get involved.
Written by Nikita Vala
I recently had the privilege of interviewing David Ming. Ming or rather the ‘Engineering Maestro', is a senior lecturer of Chemical Engineering at the University of Witwatersrand (Wits), the Cofounder and Director of EWB-SA and the author of the recently launched textbook ‘Attainable Region Theory', a masterpiece which stands at the forefront of research in its respective field.
After achieving a BSc. Chemical Engineering from Wits, he worked at a water treatment company and simultaneously pursued an engineering masters degree. He later travelled abroad and started writing a textbook related to his PhD work. Upon returning, he realised that he could have a bigger impact on society if he forsook the traditional engineering track into industry.
Ming soon discovered many charity projects in operation but hardly any community development projects, and hence went on to create a space where he could employ his skills to help empower communities, leading to the creation of EWB-Wits and ultimately the formation of EWB-SA.
Despite his position at EWB-SA, he always first and foremost considers himself to be a volunteer and wholeheartedly devotes himself to any EWB-SA activity he participates in. He considers having an education and a professional skill set a rare privilege in South Africa and believes it would be almost unethical of him not to employ them to address community issues. He manages all this whilst still working as a lecturer.
Ming finds that the engineering profession in all branches keeps changing, but the thinking and problem solving ability remains constant throughout and that’s the true beauty of studying engineering. In 2014, Ming was chosen as the Mail & Guardian Top 200 Young South Africans, for his contributions in Education.
Ming's advice to aspiring engineers is the same advice that he received from his supervisor, “There is a lot you know. There is also a lot that you don’t know. Try to understand what you know from what you don’t.”
Ming drops quite a few knowledge bombs throughout the interview, exploding the intellectual space below, where you can find the rest of the interview.
1. Describe your engineering journey.
I originally applied to study a BCom at Wits, and at the last moment applied for chemical engineering. I ended up doing one year of a general BSc in my first year at university, because by the time I applied for engineering, it was too late. I then did a postgrad after completing my undergrad engineering degree. At the same time, I started work as a process engineer for a water treatment company. Most of my time was spent driving out to Mpumalanga on Monday morning and driving back late Friday evening. After a couple of years of working, I received an opportunity to spend some time overseas and write a textbook. When I returned, I wanted to do something different and got a job as a lecturer/researcher.
2. What prompted you to start EWB-Wits and subsequently to co-found EWB-SA?
I felt I had learnt so much from my degree after graduating, but there wasn’t a place outside of traditional employment where I could apply my skills. I had an interest in wanting to participate in existing community development projects, but when I started looking around for what was available, I soon realised that nothing really existed that suited this view. There were organisations that simply handed out supplies like food and clothing, whereas others offered some kind of community upliftment programme, but they all felt more like charity than impactful contributions. I looked on the EWB-International website to see if there were any opportunities in Johannesburg, but there was only one newly created chapter at UCT. That’s when I decided to start EWB-Wits.
When I started working, only EWB-UCT and EWB-Wits existed, and they were regarded as two separate entities that shared a common name. Wiebke Toussaint, who was past chairperson of EWB-UCT, had just moved up to Johannesburg and worked in the same office park as me. We met and decided to start EWB-SA as a way to unify our shared view of what the engineering profession could be in South Africa.
3. Describe what your work at EWB-SA entails.
I am currently the chairperson of EWB-SA. My job is to support the CEO, and, along with the EWB-SA board, oversee and guide the direction of EWB-SA as an organisation. What this means in practice is I try and interfere as little as possible with the day-today operations of EWB-SA, and to give assistance and vision for where EWB-SA should be headed in the future.
But just like everyone else, I’m first and foremost a volunteer of EWB-SA. If I sign up to participate in a certain activity, programme or event, I do whatever I can in my skillset to contribute to EWB-SA, and so work can be very different from one activity to another. At the moment, I am currently helping with organising the annual leadership summit.
4. What sparked your interest in community development?
The World Bank scores South Africa as one of the most unequal societies in the world. If you are fortunate enough to have a matric certificate, then you are probably already within the top 10% of the country. Knowing this, having an education and skillset in South Africa is then quite a rare privilege, and so it’s almost unethical for me as a professional to not have an interest in addressing these issues.
5. How have you been able to utilize your skills as an engineer to assist/ empower communities?
When EWB-Wits started, we had a number of projects that were closely related to my specific field of study where I felt I could directly apply my technical knowledge, such as building biodiesel plants and biogas digesters. Although, over time, I have used a lot more of my general engineering thinking and problem solving skills. Ultimately the engineering profession, in all branches, keeps changing. But the thinking and problem solving ability is always constant, and that is what is truly valuable about studying engineering.
6. What do you feel you have acquired/gained (both for your professional and personal development) through your association with EWB-SA?
I initially thought I was going to apply what I already knew to help others, in a sort of one-way transaction of knowledge for greater good, although I soon realised that I actually knew very little.
The nature of EWB-SA activities means that you’re always put into new situations, and are faced with challenges and restrictions. At times, you need to manage judgement, or identify an opportunity where you can put up your hand. Projects often fail, and when it happens, you must have the strength of character to pick yourself up, reassess, and continue on. For all these reasons, I have learnt a lot about leadership and failure, which I certainly would not have gained from just following a conventional engineering path.
I also continue to meet a lot of interesting people and friends.
7. What makes EWB-SA different or rather what makes it stand out compared to other organisations of its type?
We have a large community of young engineers, spread over a wide demographic around South Africa. Most organisations group their members into a specific discipline, skillset or interest, whereas EWB-SA has tried to do the opposite of that and challenge what the definition of an engineer is in society. We have a strong interest in leadership development and personal growth, which is reflected in our motto of “empowering engineers to empower communities”. And because of this diversity, even amongst other EWB organisations, we have a unique approach to social development and the use of technology in society.
I think a lot of our members aren’t defined just by their engineering knowledge, but they are interesting people who happen to have studied engineering.
8. How do you maintain a balance between the work at your day job and your work at EWB-SA?
If you have existing day commitments, then I don’t think you ever find a balance because there are only a finite number of hours in a day. But doing work that interests you doesn’t make it feel so much like work.
Because of this, I try as best as possible to only do work that interest me and or that I want to get better at. I large part of my growth within EWB-SA has been to understand my own strengths and interests, and when I need to ask someone else for help or when someone else would be better at the job than me.
9. Are there any interesting projects that you are working on currently or in the near future?
Nothing concrete at the moment, but there are a lot of interesting potential partnerships in the works.
10. What advice would you give to aspiring engineers?
My supervisor said these words to me that I always try to remember: There is a lot you know. There is also a lot that you don’t know. Try to understand what you know from what you don’t.
David Ming interviewed by Dhruti Dheda
Engineers Without Borders- International (EWB-I) hosted its second Global Forum under the theme “Formation of engineers - a global issue” in London in August this year. Wiebke Toussaint, who represents Engineers Without Borders- South Africa (EWB-SA) on the EWB-I executive committee, participated in the forum. Discussion topics ranged from supporting local EWB networks through capacity building to chapter management, gender and diversity, knowledge sharing and an exploration of opportunities for improved international collaboration. The two days provided a great point of connection between different EWB Member Associations and presented an opportunity for EWB-SA to connect and contribute to the global conversation. The need to reposition the priorities of the engineering sector to provide an environment that places people before technology and designs with heart, head and hands was strongly emphasised by EWB member associations from Chile to Hong Kong. EWB-SA looks forward to continued participation in shaping this global dialogue.
For further insight, please refer to the document below:
Global Forum 2017 Report .pdf
Written by Wiebke Toussaint
I recently had the opportunity to interview, Murendeni Matshinyatsimbi, member of the EWB-SA board of directors. Matshinyatsimbi’s engineering journey started as early as high school, when he attended a technical school in Thohoyandou, Limpopo. He later attained an Electrical Engineering from the University of Cape Town. He also has certificates in International Trade Law and Mining Law from the University of the Witwatersrand.
Matshinyatsimbi, can be described as a social developer, educational analyst and a critical observer. His role as EWB-SA board member is to support the CEO and ensure that the organization remains focused on its commitments. His interest in community development began when he reached the realization that, “a man is not an island, we exist in communities. I enjoy serving people.”
Matshinyatsimbi works as as an electrical engineer at Hatch Goba. He was nominated as one of the young African leaders by Hatch Goba to be part of the prestigious Kumvana Program (leadership development and cultural exchange expertise program). He believes that engineers are more than just technical people and that engineers need to equip themselves with other skill sets to help improve the way in which they solve problems, he refers to this as Holistic engineering.
He has also liaised with the Johannesburg Road Agency on behalf of EWB-SA for previous projects and is in discussion with them on ways in which they can collaborate to solve traffic light challenges in Johannesburg. When asked about how he manages his time between his work at EWB-SA and his other commitments, he simply says, “doing anything one enjoys, one cannot really separate the tasks. I try to merge the two wherever I can.”
Find the rest of this informative, inspiring and succinct interview below.
1) Describe your engineering journey.
I don’t even know where to start in response to this question because of the broad engineering definition. Allow me to start from high school. I went to a technical school in Thohoyandou at Limpopo. After matriculation, I furthered my studies in Electrical Engineering at University of Cape Town. After completing my undergraduate degree, I joined an engineering consulting company, working predominately in mining. I was exposed to engineering design at an early stage of my career and that was complemented with site experience for the same project. I’ve worked on multiple projects, both locally and international. It has been an interesting journey, I’ve learned a lot and continue to learn and develop in the field of engineering.
2) What prompted you to volunteer at EWBSA?
It was a simple vision Wiebke (Toussaint) shared with me. I could see myself fitting in and contributing to make that vision a reality.
3) Describe what your work at EWB-SA entails.
I am currently a non-executive board member at EWBSA. My role is to support the CEO and ensure the organisation stay focus on its commitments.
4) What sparked your interest in community development?
It’s a simple realization that a man is not an island, we exist in communities. I enjoy serving people.
5) How have you been able to utilize your skills as an engineer to assist/ empower communities?
I’ve used engineering education and public engagement to share my experience in the industry. This year we engaged with the Johannesburg Road Agency (JRA) to link them to our two chapters in Johannesburg, i.e. University of Johannesburg and University of Witwatersrand. The idea was to create opportunities for our members to apply their skills in real life challenges.
Look carefully around you and you’ll see opportunities for you to serve.
6) What do you feel you have acquired/gained (both for your professional and personal development) through your association with EWB-SA?
EWBSA allows one to ask difficult questions our communities face on daily basis. We don’t have all the answers but we have a platform we can safely try and fail. I’ve gained experience to engage communities in a sustainable way and learn from people alike.
7) How do you maintain a balance between the work at your day job and your work at EWB-SA?
Doing anything one enjoys, one cannot really separate the tasks. I try to merge the two wherever I can.
8) Are there any interesting projects that you are working on currently or in the near future?
I’ve learned a lot from the JRA experience. I am still exploring ways we can engage further to help solve the traffic lights challenges in Johannesburg.
9) What advise would you give to aspiring engineers?
In the mining industry, there isn’t much innovation but a lot of optimization opportunities. You can only optimize something you’re familiar with. Get your hands dirty as early as possible and keep asking lots of stupid questions.
Murendeni Matshinyatsimbi interviewed by Dhruti Dheda
In South Africa, 5.3 million people live in informal dwellings. Despite this significant number, there are currently no data sets that can help us understand the lived experiences of South African citizens in informal settlements. Subsequently entrepreneurs, communities and organisations who are trying to design impactful solutions in the informal dwelling space are making their decisions based on assumptions. Levering citizen science to gather a national data set on key indicators of liveability will aid EWB-SA and others to conceptualise design solutions that have the potential to tangibly improve health, well-being and living comfort in informal settlements.
The bottom line is, you cannot change what you cannot measure.
With this ethos in mind, EWB-SA set out to host their first ever Design Challenge. Students were invited to enter the Design Challenge hosted in their city and design a sensor network that could later be deployed across South Africa. They were then tasked with solving one or more of ten innovation challenges all focused on a practical, sustainable, scalable way to collect data for a period of one year.
From 18th to 20th August, EWB-SA in partnership with Geekulcha and Tshimologong IoT Lab, hosted the IoT for Social Good (IoT4SG) Design Challenge in Johannesburg. Three teams, The Ones, Big Connectors and The Prototypes all submitted conceptual designs and became finalists in the national challenge. The teams, consisting of both EWB-Wits and EWB-UJ students, were then given an additional four weeks to work on improving their prototypes.
From the 9th to the 11th of September, the Design Challenge was held in collaboration with the NCDevHack in Kimberley. Students were able to enter one of four categories, Accelerating Economic Growth, Digitalising Tourism, Open Data for Education or Internet of Things for Social Good. Only one team entered the IoT4SG challenge; coming up with an innovative way to get buy-in and help from local communities in deploying the sensor network. They ended up winning the hackathon, becoming finalists in the national challenge. They are currently working on the next iteration of their design.
The most recent challenge took place on the 16th and 17th of September in Pretoria in partnership with the Innovation Hub. This time four teams entered the challenge, a combination of EWB-UP and EWB-TUT students. All four were entered into the national challenge, once again impressing the judges with their creative problem solving skills.
As soon as all eight teams complete their final submissions, the challenge will be judged at a national level and EWB-SA will lead the next phase of the project where the sensors are built and then deployed across the informal sector in South Africa.
The ISF International Days started after the Training of Engineers in April 2017. It consisted of the participants from ISF-Argentina, Rede de Engenharia Popular Osvaldo Sevá (REPOS), EWB-SA , ISF-Italia and hosted by ISF-France, namely Jérémy Billon. David Ming and Michelle Low represented EWB-SA.
WORKSHOP 1 : KNOWLEDGE OF EACH OTHER, SIMILARITIES AND DIFFERENCES
We heard an introduction to each organization and what main activities each were involved in. For example ISF-France is more focused on its volunteers and their training understanding global and national issues, raising awareness, tools for actions. ISF-Argentina is influencing the content of engineer training by, amongst others, creating courses, influencing teachers and mobilizing students. There was a common thread of main difficulties discussed as well as ambitions. An example of a difficulty is to give continuity to volunteer commitment throughout the different stages of life. The ambitions list included the need to strengthen the support and training to our members as well as develop solid partnerships and networks in order to strengthen our impact and ideas.
WORKSHOP 2 : COLLABORATION AND CAPACITY TO COLLABORATE
The day started off with two presentations by ISF-France local groups and closed off with session on how each member country to collaborate closer in the future.
ISF SystExt (Engineers Without Borders – Extractive Industries) presented at the opening of the workshop. They are a French NGO that unites geology, mining and environmental engineers working at the national and international scale. We found it amazing that this NGO influences mining policy in France and their opinions carry a lot of weight in French government around mining. You can read more about them via: http://www.isf-systext.fr/. We hope that EWB-SA’s own mining interest group, Mining for Shared Value (MSV), will be able to be just as impactful in the future.
A local student chapter ISF Paris Sud, namely Centrale Supélec (French Engineering School) presented on what they do on campus. What we liked about their chapter are the student activities on campus. Such as: raising awareness on energy (a spinning activity which involved converting exercise to energy), movie week and how to cook meatless meals. Read more about them via http://isfparissud.free.fr/
Before we worked out ways in which to collaborate we had delicious French café lunch. Jérémy used interesting tools to facilitate discussion and collaborations in order to find common ground, mostly was document sharing.
Thanks to everyone from ISF-France and the other organizations for making the week a thought provoking time. We hope to continue the momentum and use the ideas and collaboration to improve.
Written by David Ming and Michelle Low
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
Empowering Engineers to Empower Communities
2018 | EWB-SA is a registered non-profit company | NPC 2013/014531/08