Why we need to change minds as well as deliver projects

13th July 2016

A really exciting part of Engineers Without Borders UK’s new five year strategy is the overt strategic objective:

to influence the engineering community to lead by example and make a positive contribution as global citizens

It is a new area of work for the organisation but one that we believe is absolutely vital to our long term success as the leader of a social movement.  It is also what makes Engineers Without Borders UK different from other organisations – we are not simply looking for solutions to symptoms but we are trying to change how engineers and others think and behave.  

Of course, the concept of ‘influence’ is broad and could apply to any number of activities but we see our approach to achieving this objective over the next five years as having two distinct but related parts:

Do we already have influence? Jon Samual (Anglo American), Peter Hansford (UK Government), Naomi Climer (IET) and Doug Harper (Engineers Without Borders UK) share a stage
Do we already have influence? Jon Samuel (Anglo American), Peter Hansford (UK Government), Naomi Climer (IET) and Doug Harper (Engineers Without Borders UK) share a stage

Firstly, we believe we have an implied influence on the people and organisations who engage with our organisation to think in a more globally responsible way.  For example, our global engineer fellowships initiative, which builds the technical capacity of partner organisations by providing them with skilled engineers, also provides a significant opportunity for the UK engineer who is selected as one of our fellows.  When they return home they will bring with them the attitude, skills and experience of living and working in a different culture.  Our hope is that their experience through Engineers Without Borders UK will have influenced them to approach things differently in the future, whatever that future may hold for them.

Secondly, and this is the new part, we want to encourage a much broader audience, engineers or otherwise, to make positive contributions as active global citizens.  It’s important that non-engineers engage with what we do too, not only because the effects of engineering, positive or otherwise, profoundly affect all of society but because globally responsible engineering depends as much on an understanding of society, psychology and culture as it does on technical ability. Of course, we want engineers to have a greater understanding of these topics themselves, and we are working hard to change how engineers are educated to make that happen, but we also want the engineering community to stand up and recognise the unique covenant it has with society and the huge responsibility, and inherent obligation to work with others, that goes with it.

We are already taking steps to translate our strategic objective to influence the engineering community into action.  Earlier this year we ran a series of workshops in collaboration with the University of Leeds to explore the potential of implementing a Declaration of Global Responsibility for Engineers.   These workshops were aimed at senior level decision makers in the engineering sector and we hosted representatives from engineering firms, engineering institutions, the Engineering Council and academia.  In May we became the Presidential Charity of Ben Bradford, the President of the Chartered Association of Building Engineers (CABE), who spoke at length about the importance of global responsibility in his inauguration address.  Later this year we will be working with the CABE Board to potentially implement a global responsibility framework at the association.

The challenges we will face in 2050 unless we change how we live
The challenges we will face in 2050 unless we change how we live

As with our other objectives to inspire and enable, our work to influence the engineering community does not sit in isolation.  All that we do is linked together by our theory of change.  We know that engineering is vital to addressing the global challenges we all face from the effects of climate change, increasing urbanisation, a growing global population and resource depletion.  We know that we can’t carry on as we are and we want to use engineering as the catalyst for the change the world needs.  To do this we need to inspire more people and more diverse people to become engineers, enable them to use their skills in a globally responsible way and influence the engineering community to make a positive contribution to the world.  What happens next?  Watch this space…

If you’re interested in helping Engineers Without Borders UK achieve its objectives, either as an individual or as an organisation, then please contact us.  

Read more about our new five year strategy.

Written by Doug Harper, Chief Executive, Engineers Without Borders UK, July 2016

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