Over the last several years, there has been a surge in interest by IEEE members in finding ways to use their skills to give back. As a result of this, several IEEE volunteer-led initiatives have been formed to give members an opportunity to do just that, such as the IEEE Special Interest Group on Humanitarian Technology.
The IEEE Board of Directors also formed the Humanitarian Activities Committee (HAC) to support such efforts and find new ways to help members have an impact on humanitarian and global development problems. The IEEE is also actively looking to partner with relevant external organizations to extend IEEE’s reach and provide more opportunities for members. Last fall, Engineers Without Borders USA approached HAC to discuss ways to collaborate.
Since EWB-USA was established in 2002, tens of thousands of engineers have volunteered with the organization, improving developing communities by providing them with clean water, sanitation, and infrastructure. Of late, more of EWB’s projects require electrical engineering know-how to, for example, install solar panels and microgrids as well as develop emergency response systems. There’s a shortage of skilled volunteers, which is why the organization has turned to IEEE for help. HAC will be featuring select opportunities for engagement in upcoming newsletters.
The Institute interviewed civil engineer Cathy Leslie, EWB’s executive director, who is based in Denver. IEEE and EWB helped found Engineering For Change, which seeks to develop technical, locally appropriate, and sustainable solutions to humanitarian challenges. Here’s what Leslie had to say about the opportunities available and what volunteers can take away from their experiences.
What kind of projects can electrical engineers expect to work on?
Our organization responds to the needs of a community, and many of those involve energy-related projects. Recently engineers worked on designing, constructing, and implementing a solar microgrid for a refugee camp in Nepal. The five volunteers worked a total of 790 hours over five weeks. They built a 2,000-watt solar array and a 220-volt LED streetlight system that provides seven hours of illumination each night.
In Guatemala, volunteers assessed the feasibility of building a hydroelectric system, which they estimated would reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 8,200 tons in 20 years. The city of Joyabaj is moving forward with the system, which it expects will reduce electricity rates for its residents due to the cost savings the system will provide.
Why should electrical engineers volunteer with your organization?
When we became engineers, I think there’s a responsibility we agreed to take on—which is to protect the public’s health, safety, and welfare. We have an obligation to communities and individuals that don’t have access to technology to improve their quality of life, and to find ways to provide them with access to clean water, reliable electricity, and improved infrastructure.
The engineers who have volunteered with us have the satisfaction of knowing they have improved someone’s life and made a meaningful difference. We help more than 500,000 people a year.
How can IEEE members get involved?
There are several ways. They can join EWB on our website. There they can also find volunteer opportunities or tell us what skills they have, and we’ll match them with a project. People can also get involved through local EWB chapters found on our site.
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