To kickstart celebrations for our 20th Anniversary, Engineers Without Borders UK hosted a special event at our offices in Oval, London on Tuesday 23 April. 

Central to the evening’s celebrations was a panel discussion that shed light on the pivotal role of advocates for driving change in and beyond the engineering sector and invited those present to become advocates for globally responsible engineering.

Speaking on the panel were three inspiring changemakers who are advocating for systemic change and positive transformation – environmental engineer and activist, Georgia Elliott-Smith, who successfully challenged the UK government in the High Court over their failure to uphold the Paris Agreement in 2021; climate activist and environmental campaigner, Verel Rodrigues; and Chartered Engineer and Vice President of the Institution of Engineering and Technology, Yewande Akinola.

Together, they explored themes including storytelling, building tribes, and acting with kindness. We’ve captured some of the key insights below.

Panellists Verel Rodrigues, Georgia Elliott-Smith and Yewande Akinola. 
The role of engineers as storytellers

One of the core themes of the discussion centred around the power of storytelling in conveying the urgency of issues like climate change. Engineers are not just designers or builders of bridges and skyscrapers; they can be innovators, telling stories that ignite action and inspire change. 

To achieve this, engineers must apply their creative ingenuity to share stories that highlight the broader societal impact of their work. Yewande Akinola explained:

“[We need to] make those deep connections to the impact of the buildings and the infrastructure that we support […] And that means we need to tell our stories to different audiences. We need to embed ourselves in government, embed ourselves in the art and other sectors, and really own our stories in a way that gives us the audacity to challenge things that we see are not quite right.”
Finding your tribe

Acknowledging the “emotional energy” required to talk about global challenges, in particular when this is met with apathy or disbelief, panellists urged advocates to focus their efforts on cultivating communities of individuals with shared values rather than trying to sway staunch opponents. 

By nurturing collective energy and solidarity within their tribes, advocates can gain and mobilise the support of passionate allies. This is important both strategically, as many voices are greater than one, and in terms of self-preservation and personal well-being.

The importance of kindness, compassion, and empathy

In the face of adversity, particularly in the volatile realm of online discourse, the panel underscored the value of responding with kindness, compassion, and empathy. By fostering constructive dialogue, advocates can transcend ideological divides and create genuine connections with those who may initially oppose their viewpoints. 

“The key principles that I root myself in are kindness, compassion, and love. And so when I get loads of hate from activists or loads of resistance from different people online, I just respond with kindness. […] What we need more is to get people on our side and to make them understand the urgency of the situation.”

Through kindess, advocates can plant seeds of change and nurture a culture of mutual respect, even in the most contentious of debates.

Occupying the driver’s seat

Empowering engineers and advocates to assume leadership roles and actively participate in decision-making processes emerged as a key strategy for driving systemic change. By occupying positions of influence within organisations and sectors, they can steer collective efforts towards shared goals. 

This proactive approach to governance ensures that voices of reason and compassion are heard at the highest levels, guiding policies and practices towards a more sustainable and equitable future.

What this does not mean, noted Georgia Elliott-Smith, is getting stuck “in the trap of forming the company’s sustainability committee. Because that is a trap, that is the heffalump pit, and it’s got spikes in it.”

“If your organisation wants to set up a sustainability committee full of people who’ve already got full time jobs, and you’re not paid extra and you’re not given time off to do this and you’re not given any training in sustainability, but you’re set up as being company experts, there are risks there.”

Georgia Elliott-Smith shares her perspective on why engineers are the “perfect” advocates for change.

Advocating for systemic change

While individual actions are crucial, the conversation expanded to highlight the necessity of advocating for systemic change on a larger scale. This means leveraging political, financial, and institutional avenues to enact comprehensive reforms that address the root causes of societal challenges. 

By championing policy initiatives and reshaping organisational structures, advocates can lay the groundwork for sustainable progress that transcends individual projects or initiatives.

This requires courage and vision. Courage to challenge entrenched systems and the vision to imagine a more equitable and sustainable future. 

In advocating for transformative change, engineers and advocates must possess the audacity to question the status quo and the foresight to envision bold solutions that defy convention. 

It is through unwavering resolve and visionary leadership that advocates can catalyse meaningful progress and inspire others to join the fight for a better world.


This conversation was hosted as part of a 12-month campaign exploring the 12 competencies of globally responsible engineering identified in our Competency Compass. Each month, you can expect thought leadership content, ranging from panel discussions to video interviews to articles, focussed on one of the 12 competencies. Sign up to our newsletter to ensure you don’t miss anything!

Learn more about the speakers featured in this article.

Further reading:

In 2022, educators with the Institution of Structural Engineers explored their role in advocating for change to engineering education. Read the blog post.