Engineering for Change Needs You!

New humanitarian initiative

4 February 2011

After several years of defining its humanitarian role by developing a number of diverse projects, IEEE is partnering with ASME (the American Society of Mechanical Engineers) and Engineers Without Borders (EWB-USA) on the Engineering for Change project, to build a community of engineering and technology professionals, designers, scientists, nongovernmental organizations, and community advocates to solve humanitarian problems. The joint E4C initiative is charged with developing technical, locally appropriate, and sustainable solutions to humanitarian challenges.

“IEEE and ASME were simultaneously working on new approaches to humanitarian engineering as another way to engage members,” says Matt Loeb, staff executive for IEEE Corporate Strategy and Communications, the area that is overseeing the initiative. “Together with EWB-USA, our organizations recognized the value of joining forces rather than competing.”

“In discussions with ASME and EWB-USA, we found greater strength in the collaboration of our organizations as partners,” adds Bill Walsh, the 2010 IEEE Humanitarian Committee co-chair. “We complement each other in terms of capabilities and infrastructure, which were always challenges when going it alone. We now present a coordinated effort not only to be better equipped to implement our projects but also to attract funding for our efforts.”

“The scope of these challenges is far greater than any one organization can address independently,” says Noha El-Ghobashy, ASME’s director of technical programming and development and president of E4C. “IEEE, along with EWB-USA, are ideal partners for ASME for addressing multidisciplinary challenges. The depth of IEEE’s commitment to innovation and excellence in engineering, along with its global reach, provides us all with wonderful opportunities to leverage our collective resources to advance this critically important initiative.”

For its part, EWB-USA, a nonprofit humanitarian organization, gets more volunteers to help to carry out its mission of designing and implementing sustainable engineering projects around the world.

A key component of the program is the Engineering for Change website, launched in January. It is a repository of reference information on seven key areas of interest: water, energy, health, agriculture, sanitation, structures for housing, and information systems. In each of the seven categories are case studies, news articles, publications, blogs from nongovernmental agencies, upcoming conferences, tools, and other references. The site is aimed at members of the three organizations, but anyone can use it. A low-bandwidth version is in the works to involve people in places where Internet access is difficult.

The site offers ways for individuals and communities to get involved. By clicking on the E4C Resources tab on the home page, you can offer your assistance on the bulletin board. If your community needs help with a project, you can post information about it there. If you’re looking to lend a helping hand with an ongoing project, check out the Solutions Library.

You can search for projects in your region or area of expertise. And the Workspace section lets registered users discuss new ideas with others, share technical information, and provide feedback on new concepts.

Under the Learning Center tab are engineering design principles as well as a list of publications and on-campus and online training programs with a humanitarian bent.

“This site, and the collaboration it brings together, is much more robust than anything IEEE has ever done in this area,” Walsh says. “Our most important resources are our capabilities as engineers and scientists. I encourage members to register at E4C and create a profile so we can build a repository of those who are expert in an area and match them with the needs of a community.”

E4C is also working with the academic community and college students by pursuing partnerships with MIT, Stanford University, Villanova University, the University of California at Berkeley, and other institutions. The partnerships are expected to include a commitment from the schools to use the E4C site as part of their curricula or to assign a challenge from the site for students to solve. E4C is also trying to arrange partnerships with other professional and technical organizations, as well as NGOs such as the Peace Corps, UNESCO, and UNICEF.

“IEEE has an opportunity to be bold and lead in the humanitarian area—which is what our members, especially our younger members, want,” Walsh says. “I believe that engagement in E4C, as individuals and groups at all levels within IEEE, will prove to be a very successful endeavor for our organization.”

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