ENGINEERS WITHOUT BORDERS SOUTH AFRICA
A movement in the making
From its humble beginnings as a student chapter initiated by two engineering students in a single university, EWB-SA has grown into a national movement with chapters in universities all over the country. Close to 100 projects have been conceived since the first student chapter was established at UCT in 2008, and the organisation continues to live up to its mandate of empowering engineers to empower communities.
The Engineers Without Borders movement saw its inception at the University of Cape Town. In 2008, two UCT engineering students, Denis Wong and Brennan Hodkinson, conceptualised the first official EWB chapter in South Africa. However the two year journey, from 2008 to 2010, from conception to establishment was not an easy one. It was a journey that involved careful planning, regular meetings with university officials and frequent visits with potential sponsors. Wong and Hodkinson were aided in their endeavours by an enthusiastic UCT engineering professor, Duncan Fraser. The initial intention was to set up a national chapter, such as the current EWB-SA, however despite numerous efforts this ambition had to be put on hold for the time being and a more modest and reasonable beginning was settled for. Hence it was decided that the EWB movement in South Africa was to begin as a student chapter. Wong and Hodkinson, began to gather the support of a small group of students within the university's engineering faulty as they focused on launching EWB-UCT as a university society. So it came to be that, in 2010, Wong and Hodkinson, officially founded EWB-UCT, which was headed by Hodkinson.
Things were not just improving for EWB-UCT but for the entire EWB movement as a whole. The second chapter was established in 2010 at the University of the Witwatersrand, EWB-Wits. David Ming called Duncan Fraser to find out if there was a student chapter in Johannesburg and found out there was only one in UCT. Thereafter, EWB-Wits was founded by David Ming and Michelle Low. With the help of Lara dos Santos, they gave presentations to the various engineering Schools within the engineering faculty about the ideology surrounding EWB-SA in order to gather support, and in that same year, they implemented their first project in Vredefort. In 2011, EWB-Wits was recognised as a registered society on Witwatersrand Campus.
Early in 2012 Wiebke Toussaint (previously chairperson of the first official EWB-UCT committee) met with Ming and Low to talk about forming EWB-SA. It was in this year that EWB-SA had their first annual leadership summit for the two existing student chapters, EWB-UCT and EWB-Wits, which brought about important governance ideas that would prove essential for the growth of EWB-SA’s future. Since then, on an annual basis EWB-SA has been hosting the annual leadership summit for the committees of each university chapter in order to equip them for the subsequent year and to build community.
In 2013 EWB-SA was legally registered as a non-profit company. The formation of EWB-SA did not go unnoticed as campuses all over the country connected with the organisation to start chapters of their own. From 2013-2015, seven more chapters were established to form the backbone of EWB-SA's vibrant community.
As early as February 2013, EWB-NMMU was initiated by the Advanced Mechatronic and Technology Centre (AMTC) at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University and was initially chaired by Claudia Powell. After an inspired meeting and encouragement from EWB-Wits, four enthusiastic engineering students from the University of Pretoria decided to take on the challenge of starting up their own chapter at UP and hence in 2013, EWB-UP was established by Lourens du Plessis. The formation of EWB-UP is proof of how one student chapter can encourage the initiation of another, a tangible example of the growth and influence of the EWB movement in South Africa.
Engineers Without Borders UNISA was formed in July 2013, 18th July on Mandela Day, by Ralph Muvhiiwa. The UNISA chapter is a hub to connect correspondence students of UNISA outside Gauteng to already established EWB chapters in South Africa. The EWB movement had now grown to include correspondence university student members and not only campus-going students, thus increasing in membership diversity. An initiation committee founded the Stellenbosch University student chapter, EWB-Maties in 2013. Matthew Docherty, then EWB-UCT chair, presented to the university after which Ming and Low interviewed the first committee in and Christo Rademan was chosen as the initial chair. Another example of the influence of existing student chapters on the growth of the EWB-SA.
2014 saw the formation of two other student chapters. Engineers Without Borders- University of Johannesburg (EWB-UJ), was established by Roshne Rayners and Mpiana Erick Biselela; in January 2014. Later that year, EWB-UKZN was established by Devash Rajcoomar and Philani Biyela at the University of KwaZulu Natal. In 2015 the ninth student chapter came into being at the Tshwane University of Technology, EWB-TUT initiated by Katlego Ketlhoafetse and headed by Nkululeko Tunzi.
Many people have contributed to building EWB-SA and its chapters, generously donating time, ideas, effort and energy. Judging from the consistent effort, scaling impact and endless enthusiasm of the EWB-SA community, the organisation will make a lasting impression on South African communities, as well as the country's engineering sector.