Engineers Without Borders x Change Conference 2020

Engineers Without Boarders

By: Mandy Coleman

Delegates from UW’s Engineers Without Borders (EWB) Chapter attended the annual EWB xChange conference in Toronto during reading week. 

The conference consisted of keynote speakers, workshops, and opportunities to share ideas between chapter members from across Canada. Students were challenged to look at international development from a new lens. The following are some of the key takeaways from the conference.  

Africans need to write their own story. 

The history of Africa is very complex due to the large diversity between the countries in terms of the landscape, people, and languages. However, they all have one thing in common and that is the impact of colonialism. In the 17th Century, Europeans began to partition Africa for its natural resources and widespread economic opportunities. 

This led to an era of horrific slave trade where over 4 million humans were traded and sold. Centuries have since passed and yet many countries continue to feel the effects today. 

Colonialism still exists within modern contexts, where developed countries have implemented systems which are designed to ensure African nations continue to be reliant on them. 

Additionally, the media portrays Africa in a manner that describes them as poor, desperate, and incapable humans. In reality, these countries are filled with innovative, motivated, and influential people. EWB works to address the most crucial causes of poverty and inequality by giving African leaders the resources they need to reach their full potential. In doing so, its programs ensure that the future of Africa will finally be controlled by Africans once again. 

Equal treatment is not the solution, 

equitable treatment is.

 Treating people equally is the idea that everyone gets the same thing, whereas equity is treating people with fairness according to their respective needs. 

The idea is that resources should be allocated to bring everyone onto the same playing field, but by treating everyone the same, one can introduce inequality. These issues are frequently seen in international development projects, where resources are allocated without first completing a needs assessment for the community. 

This results in projects being implemented to provide a solution for one problem without addressing the root causes and underlying issues associated with that problem. EWB’s work to understand the root causes of global issues by continually asking why. 

There is no such thing as failure, only feedback.

The reality is that everyone faces failures throughout their lifetime, and it is how they deal with failure that determines their success. By shifting the focus away from failure itself, there are many lessons that can be learnt and used to ensure improvements for the future.  EWB recognizes that there were many instances of failure in the realm of international development which were not being addressed or improved upon. This led to EWB becoming the first organization to publicly display their failures through their Annual Failure Report. 

They felt that by broadcasting their failures and learnt lessons, development practitioners around the world could learn from their mistakes, causing the entire industry to be better off. Innovative ideas are not born overnight.  The process of innovation involves failing, collaborating, and iterating until a solution is found. 

The organization provides seed funding to social enterprises in Sub-Saharan Africa to foster sustainable development through grassroots organizations. This model ensures that development is completed in a manner that is respectful of the local customs and challenges the historical “white saviour” approach. 

If you are interested in becoming a change maker, consider joining the UW Chapter of EWB. Planning meetings are held every Thursday from 6:00-7:00 p.m. in E5-2007. 


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