STEM matters: #Engineering4People – global responsibility through engineering via Engineers Without Borders

Author : Mark Gradwell | Editor | EPDT

02 August 2019

EWB logo
EWB logo

I recently attended the Grand Finals of 2019’s Engineering For People Design Challenge, hosted on Friday 14th June at one of my favourite venues, Savoy Place, London home of the IET.

This column was originally featured in the August 2019 issue of EPDT magazine [read the digital issue]. Sign up to receive your own copy each month.

#Engineering4People is one of Engineers Without Borders’ flagship programmes, aiming to produce globally responsible engineers with an understanding of community involvement, ethical practice & sustainability to help address global grand social challenges, including rapid population growth & urban densification, poverty, and food & water scarcity. It is designed to provide first and second year undergraduate engineering students with the opportunity to learn and practice ethical, environmental, social and cultural aspects of engineering design.

An ongoing skills gap, lack of diversity and chronic shortage of people wanting to become  engineers in the UK has very real repercussions for us all. Engineering needs to attract a new generation of talented, diverse and globally responsible engineers to help deliver an innovative and creative world-changing force that can tackle the grand challenges global society faces, including climate change, resource scarcity, overpopulation and rising inequality. Meanwhile, the UK’s schools are full of children who want to do something meaningful with their lives and 83% of millennials say they want to work for organisations that have a positive impact on society. EWB and #Engineering4People are trying to join the dots...

With some parallels with the better known Médecins Sans Frontières (or Doctors Without Borders), Engineers with Borders (EWB) has a vision for the world where people everywhere have equal access to the benefits of engineering. EWB believes that engineering is the solution to many of the global grand challenges society faces, capable of improving people’s lives around the world and enabling sustainable human development – and it is on a mission to lead a movement that inspires, enables and influences global responsibility through engineering, transforming the world around us using STEM as a catalyst for change.

EWB supports these aims and goals through a range of programmes, including: campaigns to shift traditional perceptions of engineering; youth and schools outreach to inspire the next generation of engineers; an initiative to embed global responsibility into the heart of engineering through a Declaration of Global Responsibility for Engineers (based on the World Medical Association’s 1964 Declaration of Helsinki, which outlines the ethical responsibilities of medical research); helping skilled engineers provide pro-bono technical expertise to some of the world’s poorest communities across a range of water and sanitation, clean energy and built environment projects; and changing the STEM mindset through how universities teach students via its Engineering For People Design Challenge.

Mark Gradwell, Editor, EPDT
Mark Gradwell, Editor, EPDT

In the 2018/19 academic year, over 6,500 students from 30 universities worked on a design brief centred around Tamil Nadu in Southern India, home to around 72 million people. The challenge was focused on the rural communities where more than half that number live, with teams challenged to rethink rural life and propose interventions that underpin aspirational lifestyles and address the impacts of poor water and sanitation provision, a lack of waste management, limited transport and digital infrastructure, and unreliable energy provision.

Universities put their top five teams forward to be reviewed by a team of over 200 professional volunteers from 30 countries, and the top teams were selected to attend the Grand Final at Savoy Place. On the day, 37 teams participated in a semi-final round, where teams exhibited their designs using a poster and other materials or prototypes, presenting a 3-minute elevator pitch to a panel of judges, followed by 10 minutes of Q&A. Six teams were then selected by the judges to participate in a final round , where they were given 10 minutes to present their project to all attendees in Savoy Place’s 450-seater Kelvin lecture theatre and take questions from the audience.

The quality of teams and projects was inspirational, with solutions addressing water sanitation, women’s health and community, sustainable energy, and more. The People’s Prize (voted for by attendees, after reviewing the poster exhibition) was won by Heriot-Watt University, with their design for a simple, efficient and economic smokeless fire-pit. Nottingham Trent University won the Runners Up Prize, with its Safespot design for a reclaimed cotton pouch and bamboo cloth to improve the menstrual health of young women. And an all-female team of civil engineers from Leeds Beckett University won the Grand Prize, with their proposal for a women’s community hub, constructed from natural, sustainable and locally sourced materials. 

The creativity, innovation and enthusiasm on show from the talented young engineers gives me fresh hope for the capability of engineering to solve problems, address grand challenges and make the world a better place!

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