IEEE SIGHT Supports Nearly 100 Humanitarian Technology Groups

The program helps solve problems at the local level

17 January 2017

The IEEE Foundation relies on donations to support its programs, but giving money isn’t the only way members can help IEEE carry out its mission of advancing technology to benefit humanity.

They also can contribute their time by working on Engineering Projects in Community Service in IEEE. EPICS in IEEE brings together IEEE members and student members with high school students who collaborate with organizations on engineering-related projects in their community. Or members could get involved with IEEE Smart Village, which helps entrepreneurs start solar power companies to bring electricity to remote, off-grid communities.

What about IEEE members who want to start a project in their community but lack the funds and resources to do so? Or perhaps they’d like to join an IEEE team already at work in their area but don’t know where to look.

That’s where the IEEE Special Interest Group on Humanitarian Technology (SIGHT)—comes in. The program, an initiative of the IEEE Humanitarian Activities Committee, helps connect members who want to volunteer and educates them through free training and webinars on how to develop humanitarian projects. SIGHT will provide up to US $20,000 for a project once a proposal has been approved by its steering committee. Launched in 2012, SIGHT has helped form 99 groups in 36 countries.

GETTING STARTED

To form an IEEE SIGHT group, members must design or contribute to a project that focuses on developing or deploying technology that’s needed by a community. They also can work on technology policy.

Most SIGHT units develop a project from the ground up, but they sometimes contribute their technical expertise to an initiative begun by others. However, each project must be sustainable.

To start a group, at least six IEEE members need to sign its petition, which asks for such information as the project’s mission and the activities expected to take place. Once approved by IEEE, however, anyone—not just IEEE members—can get involved.

“Some of the best projects are those in which the group’s members come from different backgrounds,” says Jackie Halliday, IEEE SIGHT’s program specialist.

Each group must submit a report annually that outlines what the group has accomplished during the year and describes what its volunteers have learned through their efforts.

SIGHT volunteers are encouraged to take advantage of the free webinars and other materials, which address such topics as how to collaborate with a community, understanding and assessing a project’s social impact, and how to ensure that a project is sustainable.

How much time each volunteer spends on a SIGHT project is really up to the individual, Halliday says. Project leaders usually devote at least a few months planning and then implementing the plan. Or volunteers simply might participate in a one-day workshop.

TURNING IDEAS INTO ACTION

SIGHT projects vary, but they tend to focus on areas such as agriculture, assistive technology, clean water, electricity, health care, and sanitation, Halliday says.

A SIGHT crew in Dhaka, Bangladesh, is working with Beevatech, a rickshaw manufacturer, to develop solar-powered vehicles. Many of today’s rickshaws, which are three-wheel carts that fit up to two passengers, are battery-powered. The group is working to design solar-powered battery-charging stations to ease the strain on the country’s overloaded grid.

To find a volunteering opportunity in your area, use the SIGHT map, which has the names and locations of IEEE sections sponsoring the groups. From there, you can visit that SIGHT website for information about what the group working on and how to get involved. If no contact information exists, send a message to sight@ieee.org.

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