My first contact with Engineers Without Borders UK was in 2005, meeting with undergraduates from Cambridge to discuss how the ICE could support a student initiative to secure international development experience for undergraduates. Over the next decade, I watched the fledgling charity develop from a wholly voluntary enterprise to one with employees. I was delighted to be invited to support initiatives at various points in that time, and especially so when asked in late 2016 by Peter Hansford, the then chair, if I would consider standing as a trustee.

In those days, the trustees met in-person on a Saturday morning to match students to placement opportunities. This was where we spent most of our effort. And yet, the drumbeat of the climate emergency was becoming louder and more urgent. Organisations were increasingly recognising the need for action. Today, no serious corporate entity is credible without a commitment to Net Zero and meaningful action to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).  

my engagement with a charity that didn’t want to ignore the facts was both refreshing and motivating.

Despite this, the conservative establishment has been painfully slow to acknowledge the long term societal implications of the climate emergency.  From a personal perspective, as I moved to head up a professional engineering institution, my engagement with a charity that didn’t want to ignore the facts was both refreshing and motivating. It gave me the confidence to challenge existing thinking in a constructive manner, and to encourage others to take on a leadership role.  

The charity was also in the midst of a journey of continuous improvement to professionalise itself in every way. We launched a new strategy, ‘Engineering Change’, in 2016 and instigated governance changes to enable the journey ahead.  

The strategy set out our mission as:

‘To lead a movement that inspires, enables and influences global responsibility through engineering’.

I was intrigued to understand how we could define ‘globally responsible engineering’. In my previous day job, as Chief Executive of the Engineering Council, I had been responsible for maintaining and developing the UK Standards for Professional Engineering Competence (UK SPEC). These included a commitment to professional ethics, but there was very little available information to guide engineers on what this meant in practice. How could they make a real difference?

Jon judging the final pitches at the Engineering for People Design Challenge Grand Finals in 2022.

Our traditional outreach programme had been a great success. It had provided valuable firsthand experience of international development to a limited number of engineers. But it wasn’t making a dent in tackling the grand challenges facing people and planet. And so, as trustees we took the difficult decision to pause the delivery of ‘local good for the few’ in favour of ‘global impact for the many’.  

With the development of the Global Responsibility Competency Compass and Reimagined Degree Map, I feel we have taken a significant step towards providing individual engineers with the navigation tools that will allow them not only to understand what is important, but perhaps more significantly, to commit to making a difference to the way they support society now and for generations to come.

Jon Prichard, Chair of the Board of Trustees 2017-2023