What is the Design Challenge?

The Engineering for People Design Challenge brings a real-world community into the engineering classroom to help students learn the skills and knowledge needed to design for under-served communities, and to be globally responsible engineers.

The Engineering for People Design Challenge is a global collaboration between three Engineers Without Borders Organisations: EWB-SA, EWB-UK and EWB-USA. It is also a partnership with around 40 universities globally, including many of our South African institutions. It covers over 7000 students in 3 continents.


How does it work?

Each year, we work with one of our community partners to create a Design Brief that describes that community’s strengths and challenges. The Design Brief consists of a PDF document, video interviews, pictures, infographics and some data-sets.

These resources are then used by our university-partners in the first, second and third year of engineering. It is used across disciplines (mechanical, electrical, civil etc.) and is embedded in the curriculum (for marks)

Students are “challenged” by the Design Brief to define and solve a problem faced by this real community.

The top groups from each university, identified by their lecturers, then submit their work to us as EWB, and we have this reviewed by an international panel. The best groups from each university are then invited to a “Grand Finals” event, where prices are given for the best work done in the Design Challenge.

Why the Engineering for People Design Challenge?

The key problem that the Design Challenge helps us address is the shortage of skills and knowledge among South African engineers in relation to designing for and with different communities, particularly under-served ones.

The Design Challenge helps us address this gap in a few ways. Firstly, it enables us to bring a real community into the engineering classroom. Describing real people with real strengths and challenges, allows us to use a “problem-based learning” approach in training engineers to design for different contexts. This student-centric pedagogy has been proven to be more successful than traditional approaches used in engineering teaching.

Secondly, it enables us to target engineering students early in their studies (and therefore careers) when they are most receptive to different ideas and ways of thinking. Since first and second year engineering classes tend to be large (in SA, class sizes can be in the hundreds), lecturers struggle to provide these students with exposure to real world under-served communities. By using technology (e.g. videos and online forums) and the Engineers Without Borders global network, the Design Challenge is able to deliver exposure to real-communities for large scale classes. This “scale” ability truly differentiates this programme from others in the space.

See some screenshots of our online material to the right.

Where is the 2020 Design Challenge situated?

The 2020 Engineering for People Design Challenge is based on a community from Joburg, called the Maker’s Valley. This is an extra-ordinarily diverse community with many strengths and challenges. Based near the Joburg inner city (including parts of Bertrams, Bez Valley and New Doornfontein), it brings an urban setting to the Design Challenge for the first time.


Please visit the Maker’s Valley website here, and their Facebook page here to learn more about this amazing place and its people.

Which universities is the Design Challenge being delivered at?

Across different years and different courses, our university partners are the following:


  • The University of the Witwatersrand
  • University of Johannesburg
  • University of Pretoria
  • Tshwane University of Technology
  • North West University
  • University of Cape Town
  • Cape Peninsula University of Technology
  • Stellenbosch University

Watch this video to learn more about the Engineering for People Design Challenge