Stories worth sharing.

  • 14 Dec 2016 6:58 PM | Dhruti Dheda (Administrator)

    Engineers Without Borders Namibia (EWB-NA) was launched on the 3rd of November 2016 in Windhoek, Namibia. The event was done alongside the launch of the Namibian Society of Engineers (NASE) since the two organizations are to be managed by the same team. EWB-NA will be financed by NASE to initiate, plan and implement socio-economic projects that target the needs of immediate communities.

    The event was attended by 62 people and graced by Namibia’s Minister of Agriculture, Water and Forestry, John Mutorwa, who spoke in support of local engineers’ decision to form a voluntary organization that will support Namibian communities. Also, speaking at the launch was Prof. Tjama Tjivikua, the Vice Chancellor of the Namibian University of Science and Technology, as well as Charles Mukwaso, EWB-NA Founding Chairperson and Rachel Kakololo, EWB-NA Secretary General.

    EWB-NA’s mandate is to encourage and champion the spirit of volunteerism amongst technical professionals. Engineers, technicians and artisans being highly skilled in infrastructure development, and Namibia having plenty of these professionals, there is a tremendous need to put mechanisms in place that speak to technical professionals to give back to their communities. Engineering being the application of our scientific and mathematical knowledge to meet the needs of mankind, EWB-NA will focus on the community part of that equation – basically, humanitarian engineering.

    Most African communities are faced with serious challenges in sanitation, housing, waste management, transportation and many others. EWB-NA aims to gather every available resource to rally enthusiastic volunteers to use their skills and expertise to help underserved communities across Namibia.

    EWB-NA believes that engineering solutions create opportunities for communities to thrive; our approach to development is therefore based on more than just blueprints and measurements, but also on real relationships with people and actual implementation of community-based projects.

    EWB-NA will embark on laying down the foundation for a vast network that will range from first-year engineering students to practicing engineering professionals who will avail their technical expertise for community-based projects. This will be achieved alongside efforts to encourage cross-cultural, hands-on interactions that are aimed at empowering everyone involved to build a better world.

    EWB-NA will look at the following focus areas:

    • Water supply and sanitation: which is a significant issue in remote areas as they still lack access to safe and clean water for consumption and sanitation.
    • Transport: establishment of viable transport solutions;
    • Energy: ideas on alternative energy;
    • Shelter/housing: alternative methods that will use local and affordable materials in construction;
    • Agriculture and climate change: e.g. finding drought proofing farming methods;
    • Education: making engineering knowledge accessible to all;
    • Natural disaster risk management.

    EWB-NA received an endorsement from EWB-SA, and together we plan to co-host and participate in each other’s events, sharing ideas and knowledge to better understand and serve our communities. The CEO and co-founder of Engineers Without Borders South Africa (EWB-SA) Ms Wiebke Toussaint delivered a video message in support of EWB-NA.

  • 10 Oct 2016 1:05 AM | Dhruti Dheda (Administrator)

    I had the privilege of interviewing Yetunde Dada, a mechanical engineer and IT architect, who also happens to by the Tech Whizz and Innovation Consultant at EWB-SA… she sounds like a magician! Yetunde is intelligent, thoughtful and community-oriented. She believes that life can only be considered a success, if it is a life of purpose and empowering others. She is creative and design (particularly technical design) is coded in her heart. Yetunde displayed all these attributes during her interview, in which she covers her engineering journey, duties at EWB-SA, approach to her career and community, being a woman in the engineering space and also imparts some sagely advise to aspiring engineers. 

    1) Describe your engineering journey.

    My engineering journey starts when I was in grade 11. At that time, I was part of the prestigious Space and Aviation Camp hosted by the University of Pretoria and MIT. One of our activities took us to Aerosud, a company that designed and manufactured parts for Airbus. We were taken on a tour by one of the design engineers and I recall him saying, “As a design engineer you get to question why things are made the way they are. Why do planes have two wings and not four? And can we build a plane with ten wings?” This encounter threw me into a world of considering engineering as a possible career because design was at the heart of it. I went on to study Mechanical Engineering at the University of Pretoria and went on to complete an Honours degree in Technology Management while working in the Aeronautics Service Centre at the CSIR. Since then I have diversified a lot but I still keep problem-solving skills and ability to grasp new concepts quickly at the heart of everything I do.

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

    I have been aware of Engineers Without Borders South Africa for quite a while. I remember emailing Wiebke Toussiant when I was still completing my undergraduate degree because I wanted to start a University of Pretoria chapter. I ran out of time to get one up and running but I’ve followed the progress of EWB-SA since then. I have actually run into Wiebke at a few events, like the Brightest Young Minds Summit and the WomEng networking events, and I’ve wanted to work with her because I knew I would learn from her leadership and management styles. When she put up an announcement that she was looking for a General Manager, I hopped on board.

    3) Describe what your work at EWB-SA entails.

    My role within EWB-SA is different from the one I applied for but it’s even cooler because I get to work on projects within EWB-SA. I work on the tech systems like the website and project portal and I’m helping set up frameworks for really cool things like the Technical Advisory Board (TAB) which is going to take our chapter projects to the next level. I’ve also been involved with setting up the Summit for this year.

    4) What sparked your interest in community development?

    I think I’ve always been like this. My mom often wondered if it was to my detriment that I spent so much time focusing on community projects. However, I believe that we have to do so much more to help others around us. The quote underneath my matric yearbook photo is, “If you do not make a difference you are obsolete.” I want to live a life of purpose. My life should help many change their circumstances.

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

    I assist projects in a design capacity. This consists of facilitating brainstorming sessions and extends to modelling and simulation work on physical products. Some of the projects that I’ve been able to help in this way include designs for a reversible vending machine and a solar dehydrator for food preservation in rural communities.

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

    My coding has improved! A lot! That’s been one of my really cool new skills sets. I still have a lot to learn but I’m going to be quite pro when some of the systems that we have in mind are up and running. I’ve also learnt how to manage client specifications in a better manner. This is with regards to collaborative design.

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

    For some time my day job was EWB-SA, but now I have another day job. I’m in a lucky space because I have to develop similar IT architecture for my new job and that means that I get to work on my projects concurrently. Otherwise, I work in the evenings and on weekends. I have a real passion for pushing my work and I believe that it is important. I also use Trello, a to-do list application, to stay up-to-date with all my activities.

    8) How would you describe your experience as a woman in the engineering space?

    It’s an interesting space to be in because there are still so few women in engineering. It’s a blessing because there are so many opportunities available but it’s also a curse, I do believe that it puts pressure on us to be excellent because we stick out wherever we go. I have enjoyed my journey and the challenges so far because I’ve been able to mold my career into something that I love. I think all people, not just women in engineering, should try and get their passion, job and impact for people to intersect in order to find happiness. Engineering really opens many doors to do that.

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

    You need to stay tuned for the cool stuff that is going to come out of EWB-SA. In a personal capacity I will be launching CRNCH officially. It’s a social project incubator and that’s going to give people an opportunity to pitch and get help for social projects that they have in mind. Ultimately, I want to drive sustainable change and CRNCH is going to help me do that.

    10) What advise would you give to aspiring engineers?

    It’s so easy for engineers to butt into conversations with, “As an engineer…”, before they give comment on something. Rather have people know how incredible you are without the title and let them guess what you do. I'll also say that you should never stop learning. This means that it's okay to be acknowledge that you don’t know everything. Drop the arrogance that's typically associated with being an engineer and open your eyes to possibilities everywhere.

    Yetunde Dada interviewed by Dhruti Dheda

    Photo Credits: Simphiwe Mkhwanazi

  • 02 Oct 2016 10:27 PM | Anonymous

    With national protests for free higher education having flared up across the country again, Engineers Without Borders South Africa sees the need to clarify its stance on the state of higher education in South Africa, especially where it relates to technical professions.

    EWB-SA sees the severe inequality in South Africa as a stifling force, crippling the socio-economic development of South African communities and disadvantaging the professional and personal development of engineering graduates, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds. We see the causes of persistent inequality in South Africa as being systemic and believe that structural reforms to date have provided insufficient measures for viable transformation in industry, the engineering and construction sectors. EWB-SA is in full support of the wider movement to decolonialise educational syllabi and to drastically improve accessibility of quality, broad-based education. Broad-based education should not be focused solely on university degrees, which by their nature are tailored towards academically strong individuals.

    Industry, the engineering and construction sectors have been accomplice to a drying up of vocational skills training programmes over the past two decades. South Africa’s labour market, entrepreneurial ecosystem and economy are suffering from the consequences of insufficient skilled artisans, technicians and technologists. To date inadequate quality educational opportunities exist for young South Africans to pursue career opportunities with fair graduate pay outside of the academic context. This has turned universities into the stepping stone to prosperity in South Africa. Yet we believe that academia’s primary goal is the pursuit of knowledge, not of wealth creation.

    A university degree is designed to equip graduates with the tools required to craft their own career. It presents an opportunity for students to expand their talents, to learn, to fail and to grow. It should provide exposure to options of pursuing entrepreneurship, a corporate career or academic research. It is important to acknowledge that it does not guarantee success or wealth but rather the skills required to attain knowledge and pursue excellence, which may (or may not) lead to prosperity. It is the process that students undergo at university—of being challenged with difficult and advanced ideas, of debating and ultimately of challenging those ideas—that transforms students into professionals and that is important, not so much the title upon graduation.

    We need jewellers as much as we need metallurgists. We need many skilled bricklayers, as well as civil engineers. We need boiler makers and mechanical engineers. In a healthy social system all of these professions must provide a sustainable livelihood and be respected as career paths. To unfold the potential of South Africa’s youth majority, a spectrum of educational opportunities must be made available, so that diverse talents can be developed. We need South Africa’s youth to be developed and nurtured into global citizens, equipped to take on the challenges of a changing world all the while providing local relevance.

    EWB-SA sees the current state of affairs in South Africa as a national crisis. Whether you personally agree, disagree, or lie somewhere in the middle with the current protests, we can all agree that the past two years have highlighted challenging issues that urgently need to be addressed in our society. These issues have opened up difficult and complex debates. We don’t claim to have the answers, but EWB-SA is certainly trying to do its part in tackling these issues. How can you contribute towards solving these problems and what are you going to do?

    We call on our student chapters to broaden the perspective of the protests beyond the universities to include the whole spectrum of training and educational opportunities. We call on the engineering sector and our graduate community to engage with us on inequality, transformation and graduate development, and on the Engineering Council of South Africa to provide a strategy for youth engagement and promotion within the country’s technical professions. The current protests concern all of us – whether student, graduate, management or retired. We have a responsibility to create a South Africa with opportunities for all.

  • 10 Aug 2016 12:06 AM | Dhruti Dheda (Administrator)

    I had the honor of interviewing Michelle Low, a lecturer, PhD candidate, researcher, engineer and co-founder of EWB-SA. She is also fondly known as the Backstage Queen by those in the EWB-SA family. Low is one of the phenomenal women who are part of the EWB-SA team and is the perfect person to interview for Women's Month.

    She loves to learn and help and can hardly tolerate it when she is not contributing to the greater good. She makes undefinable things happen at EWB-SA, her work can scarcely be placed into a specific category; such is the range of her skills and interests. Her tagline is #BeHappy and her optimism is reflected in all that she does. 

    Low is able to find the work-life balance, that we all strive for, between her academic career at the University of the Witwatersrand, her work at EWB-SA and her personal life. Her maturity, sensitivity, knowledge and skill are reflected throughout the entire interview and her words of advice are not be ignored. 

    1)      Describe your engineering journey.

    I am at the part where I am lecturing at the School of Chemical and Metallurgical engineering, while pursuing my PhD in Chemical Engineering both at the University of the Witwatersrand, Wits. Thus far, my engineering journey has been more on an academic level and imparting what I know to students. I still have much to learn, although it has been enjoyable even though there are challenges.

    2)      What prompted you to start EWB-Wits and subsequently to co-found EWB-SA?

    In 2010, David Ming sought a way in which student engineers could use their skills to serve local communities. I went to the SAWomEng conference that year and had learnt that there was a student chapter at UCT. David then decided to start one at Wits. I assisted from day one because we wanted to make a space where student engineers can apply what they have learnt, and at the same time help uplift developing communities. EWB-SA was a result of wanting to ensure that there would be a common organization for all of the student chapters, such that they would belong to one body, not operate by themselves, and to learn from one another. The energy from Wiebke was contagious, and gave me the drive to see EWB-SA thrive.

    3)      Describe what your work at EWB-SA entails.

    I have been involved since its inception; my role is actually embedded into many places and no distinct place. If you had to put it in a box, I assisted with the administrative backbone of the organization. Currently I am on the Annual National Leadership Summit Team, assisting with organizing the venue and programme.

    4)      What sparked your interest in community development?

    I might be making a hasty generalization, but I believe that everyone has an interest in giving back and in community development. Given the time in your life, opportunities come up and you take them. I saw that David wanted to start EWB-Wits and I believed in its vision to want to help grow the organization into one that could develop communities using engineering skills.

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

    My skills have been more on a problem solving aspect with respect to the administrative issues related to EWB-SA since its inception.

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

    I have acquired a sense of pride, seeing the whole organization grow, and that is a result of working in a team, a team in which I could trust and believe in. There are many nifty little things that I have been exposed to working with different people, from hiring of employees to social media.

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

    Academia is quite flexible; sometimes you do have time to set aside, time in which you are not researching, lecturing or attending to administrative duties. The balance is that one should always see to getting things done, including “me-time”, and determine what is urgent and important, or just urgent but not important. Therefore, you will catch me on weekends doing either academic or EWB-SA work.

    8)      How would you describe your experience as a woman in the engineering space?

    In the engineering space which I have been in, that is in academia (research and lecturing) and in the non-profit space, to this date it has been positive. There is support from both female and male colleagues, it really feels comfortable.

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

    On the administrative side, I am assisting EWB-SA with their annual national summit. Every year it becomes interesting and it keeps on getting bigger and better.

    10)   What advice would you give to aspiring engineers?

    As a student in engineering you will be challenged; challenged to think abstractly, challenged to push your understanding. Once you graduate, the subject matter may change over the years, however, that thinking, that limit pushing perseverance are qualities which you take with you. Don’t let your degree title or your job descriptions define you, you never know what type of career path you will take. However, you will be a problem solver and implementer. Bear in mind that you also need to understand what the problem is and at the same time design it with what is actually needed than what you think is wanted.

    Michelle Low interviewed by Dhruti Dheda

  • 09 Aug 2016 10:02 PM | Dhruti Dheda (Administrator)

    It is always incredible to see young people stepping up to improve themselves so that they can improve their communities. One such event, The Project Leadership Lab, headed by Engineers Without Borders South Africa (EWB-SA), worked with local university chapters across the country to set our chapter project teams on a higher level. The events were geared at teaching skills that were essential to creating successful projects and therefore boosting their impact on communities. 

    The last Project Leadership Lab took place, one Saturday morning on the 23rd of July, at the University of Pretoria with Engineers Without Borders University of Pretoria (EWB-UP). EWB-UP set up an incredible event to host project teams from EWB-UP and Engineers Without Borders Tshwane University of Technology (EWB-TUT), our latest addition to the EWB-SA family. 36 project members listened to talks about the importance of personal branding by Elaine Porter from WSP | Parsons Brinckerhoff; how to integrate business model canvas thinking and strategic planning into project work by Koketso Rampyapedi, from whY Generation Management Consulting; and, the application of human-centred design thinking in stakeholder management by Yetunde Dada from EWB-SA.

    Sonwabile Sigenu, the Chairperson of EWB-UP, gave us some feedback about what the project team members learnt on the day: “The event was a huge success in that it challenged each of us to continue our personal growth as young leaders and professionals. I got to value the power of a personal brand and how it can be incorporated into many things beyond yourself, like in developing the core purpose of a business or an NGO. We also learnt that human-centred design solutions should not even be debatable in this day. This event made it clear that such solutions are key to sustainability.”

    The Project Leadership Lab fell in line with our mandate of empowering engineers so that they can empower their communities. We’ll be continuing with chapter engagements in future.

    Written by Yetunde Dada

  • 09 Aug 2016 9:22 PM | Dhruti Dheda (Administrator)

    The vision for The Dream Brew was conceived early in 2016. At the time, our goal was to host an event where we could inspire engineers to dream, to challenge engineers to follow their hearts, and to educate them of the work of EWB-SA and open up opportunities for collaboration.  

    Over the next few months, The Dream Brew gained momentum. A small team of Engineers began planning, sourcing venues, contacting speakers, and learning how to host an event of the highest calibre.  Meetings took place in a small pub in Newlands in the evenings, but the real work took place late into the night, week after week.  

    The event took place on 1 August 2016 at Beerhouse, a legendary social hub on Long Street, in Cape Town’s city centre. Doors opened at 18h30, with the pre-sale of tickets almost a complete sell out. By 19h30, the venue was packed with 80 guests, which included engineering professionals and students, scientists, lawyers, programmers, business executives and entrepreneurs. The venue was electric!

    Guest speakers for the night included Adriana Marias (MARS 1), Blake Dyason (Love our Trails), Felix Holm (Maker Stations) and Wiebke Toussaint (CEO and co-founder at EWB-SA). Each shared from their personal journey, captured the guest’s imagination, and perhaps gave permission for each person to explore their own personal journey.

    The Dream Brew was an overwhelming success, and has opened up a host of new opportunities for collaboration and future initiatives for EWB-SA. The feedback which continues being received has been incredible, and we are so overwhelmed with the support. The Dream Brew will be back, and will soon be venturing out into unchartered waters. This is only the beginning!

    * From the EWB-SA team, we would like to most humbly thank Beerhouse, Adriana Marias, Blake Dyason, Felix Holm, Curtis Chong, and the entire EWB-SA team who supported the event. To everyone who attended, we cannot thank you enough for your support. We welcome your feedback,  and look forward to seeing you soon – at the next Dream Brew.

    Written by Sammie Chimusoro and Simon Starck

    Photographs courtesy of Curtis Pow Chong. Follow @curtipowow on Instagram

  • 01 Jun 2016 8:20 PM | Dhruti Dheda (Administrator)

    I had the pleasure of interviewing up and coming engineering star, Masedi Mmonatau. Mmonatau is a former member of EWB-Wits and co-founder of EWB-Bots, she is currently completing the MSc (Master of Science) in chemical engineering at the University of the Witwatersrand. Mmonatau is bright, determined and passionate about all that she does and this is clearly reflected in her response to the interview questions.

    1) Describe your engineering journey?
    Well I don't really have that much of an engineering journey as I have not had full work experience. I did my undergraduate degree in chemical engineer at the University of the Witwatersrand (Wits) and now I am completing my Masters (MSc) in chemical engineering at the same university. My main research focus is in producing activated carbon fibers for recovering platinum group metals from dilute solutions.

    2) What prompted you to start EWB-Bots?

    The idea of EWB has always been something that I was attracted to ever since I heard about it at Wits. It is interesting and exciting to know that we can aid in community development as engineers. EWB is a platform which bridges community development, engineering practices (practical work) with student engagement. I liked the idea that it allows the youth to be involved in uplifting, caring and rebuilding their environment. EWB promotes value adding hands on solutions that involve both aspiring and working engineers in bettering the environment and community we live in, and eventually the world at large. I saw it as an opportunity which I wished could grow back at home. Like they say, charity begins at home.

    3) What sparked your interest in community development?

    I have always had a passion for community development, it just didn't make sense not to help if you could help. One of my favourite quotes is "a candle loses no light by lighting another" (by James Keller)

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

    I feel like there is still lots to do as an engineer, and at the current moment I do not see that major defining task/s that I can say "my skill in this and that has helped to assist and empower a community". I believe that at the current moment I am learning more about the communities I would like to work in and also learning to work with engineers from different skills set to see how we can best assist the community and find sustainable solutions to their problems.What I have learnt thus far through assisting communities is that, the people of a community are not that interested in our technical know how, but it is important that your skills as an engineer relate directly to the needs of the community. Through being involved in EWB projects, I believe my communication and teamwork skills have played a very crucial part in helping communities.

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

    At the current moment no, I am more focused on building/growing a strong EWB-Bots chapter and a student chapter EWB-BIUST (Botswana International University of Science and Technology).
    6) What advise would you give aspiring engineers?
    To be patient with themselves and with others. "Rome wasn't built in a day." "Think big, start small and build deep." Continuously think about what you are passionate about, what you want to achieve and what you will need to achieve it.

    Masedi Mmonatau interviewed by Dhruti Dheda

  • 27 May 2016 11:30 PM | Dhruti Dheda (Administrator)

    The EWB-SA Mining for Shared Value work group hosted a screening of “The Shore Break” documentary at the trendy Worley Parsons Melrose Arch boardroom on the 26th of May 2016. The event was hosted in association with the Young Professionals Council of the South African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy.  The rather breezy evening presented a perfect setting for the documentary which depicted the complexities surrounding a proposed titanium mine and smelter in a coastal community.

    The leading characters in the documentary are the two Pondo cousins who have opposing visions of the future of their land.  Nonhle wants to preserve the land and ensure sustainable development. She is supported by a local social worker and some of the community elders who strongly believe that the land belongs to their ancestors. Qunya is a very vocal supporter of the mining project and he believes that mining and the construction of a highway will help boost the economy of the community.

    As the screening occurred it became apparent that there is no clear line between who is right and who is wrong. Some of the moments had dry humour associated with them but this opened a platform for solid discussions to take place during the break. 

    The panel discussion hosted by Nikita Vala was centralised around a few questions that arose from the film. The most critical of these being

    1) What constitutes 'sufficient' community consultation and engagement and how do you know that you have achieved it?  

    2) What is the role of engineers in ensuring ethical conduct in the mining and minerals processing sector?

     Panelists Tshepho Mmola (Head of SAIMM YPC) , Xolisile  (Former Leader of MSV) and Murendeni(Founder of MSV)

    A unanimous conclusion that was brought forward was that community participation needs a more vigorous involvement of the engineers, lawyers and social workers that work in and around the mining space. These professionals need more platforms such as the screening to engage with each other about these matters. Through these platforms, solutions and processes can be generated and put forward to relevant stake holders.  This will ensure that a visible impact is made by the young and engaged professionals within the mining space.

    - Nomathemba Thabethe 

  • 27 May 2016 11:03 PM | Dhruti Dheda (Administrator)

    Figure 1 Presenting EWB-SA and our current work at the EWB-I Global Forum

    At EWB-SA, our slogan is to empower engineers to empower communities. We provide a platform for members to engage with other volunteers, community members, professionals and organisations, with the idea of developing South Africa for the better. We build physical structures, relationships — most importantly we develop ourselves — and we demonstrate to others the impact that contemporary, socially aware, professionals can play in modern society.

    Amongst the urgency of everyday life, amid our own projects and communities, I sometimes overlook that we live in a rather special place in the world, and we are part of a larger picture. As EWB-SA members, not only do we work in SA for local stakeholders, our local projects often underlie universal applications. The insights and solutions that we build are often applicable elsewhere, in different contexts, adapted and used by different stakeholders. Our work requires us to be globally responsible professionals.

    This realisation dawned on me, whilst sitting on a bus in downtown Denver, Colorado, in the middle of March, on my way to attend two events as a representative of EWB-SA:

    • 1.       The EWB-International (EWB-I) global forum (17 March 2016)
    • 2.       The EWB-USA international conference (17 – 19 March 2016)

    EWB-I and EWB-USA hosted their second EWB Global Forum, at the Sheraton Downtown Denver Hotel, for EWB member associations to attend with the intention of sharing insights and best practices from around the world. This event was supported by the Alcoa Foundation. In addition to EWB-SA, EWB member s from the following nations attended the Global Forum:EWB-Australia

    • EWB-Australia
    • EWB-Brazil
    • EWB-Canada
    • ISF-France
    • EWB-India
    • EWB-Kosovo
    • EWB-Lebanon
    • EWB-Mexico
    • EWB-Rwanda
    • EWB-UK
    • EWB-USA

    Figure 2 A class picture of the delegates present at the Global Forum.

    All members gave presentations to the forum about their respective associations and the work that they do. Not only was it interesting to learn about what other EWB associations do and how each member operates in their own special way, a highlight for me was to see how similar we all are, irrespective of differences in geographic location, age, political and financial constraints.

    Figure 3 Jeremy Billon (ISF-France) talking after the EWB-I Global Forum.The end of the Global forum signaled the beginning of EWB-USA’s 2016 international conference, which kicked off with a screening of the movie Poverty Inc . Panel discussions proceeded after the screening, promoting a rather lively debate about the global aid system, the effectiveness of development work, and the unique role of EWB in modern society.

    Figure 4 A snowy day in downtown Denver.This year, the EWB-USA international conference ran over two and a half days, from Thursday evening to Saturday, with approximately 250 EWB members converging on the conference venue in downtown Denver. Invited speakers from various EWB-USA student and professional chapters, NGOs, NPOs and the United States State Department were in attendance, which made for diverse viewpoints and debate throughout the weekend. This year’s conference was themed around the UN’s 17 sustainable development goals (SDGs), with discussions related to water access, sanitation, energy, poverty and healthcare, and effective communication being popular topics of the conference. An interesting observation of the weekend was how discussions around development work evolved as the weekend progressed — what typically started out as engineering-centred discussions, soon evolved into higher-level community and volunteer-centred topics.

    Figure 5 The 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).In summary, both the EWB-I Global Forum and the EWB-USA conference were well executed events, and a joy to attend. It was a wonderful opportunity to not only learn about what other EWBs initiatives are being undertaken around the world, but also as a way to inform the rest of the world of the work that we do as EWB-SA. The greatest value of this engagement was meeting interesting people and developing good relationships with like-minded colleagues around the globe.

    Sometimes, we take for granted that the work that we do is, in some ways, localised for a particular set of stakeholders that we intend to reach. But having the time to step away and talk to others reminds me of the true benefit that we offer to society. In a relatively short space of time, we have come far as an organisation. On reflection, I’m reminded by EWB-SA’s slogan. Through our work, not only can we empower our own engineers and communities, we can also empower others globally — because of our location, we are in a special place to lead by example of what it means to do development work in Africa by African professionals. And the solutions that we engineer, and the perspectives that we share, can often have a far reaching impact that is well beyond our borders.

    - David Ming

  • 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


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