To celebrate the inaugural World Engineering Day for Sustainable Development, implemented by UNESCO, we are considering the impact of our design challenges on the future of engineering, by hearing from those who have partaken and delivered the design challenges to date.

Embedded within curriculum since 2011, our design challenges have offered over 34,500 students the opportunity to solve real-world problems without the real-world pressures and risks. They provide students with the space to explore globally responsible engineering, taking into consideration their responsibility to use engineering as a catalyst for sustainable human development.

To achieve this, we frame our learning approach on a project-based learning pedagogy; a subset of a broader range of teaching methods known as inductive learning. This approach ensures the design challenges are student led, often starting with an open-ended brief. Research shows that inductive learning methods, such as project-based learning, are closely aligned with how people learn in practice, contributing to a more realistic experience during the design process.

Our flagship, award-winning Engineering for People Design Challenge is within the curriculum in the UK, Ireland, UAE, South Africa and the USA, reaching 8,500 students. Originally developed by Engineers Without Borders Australia, the Engineering for People Design Challenge provides students with the opportunity to explore the ethical, environmental, social and cultural aspects of engineering design. A unique component of this programme is that the top designs receive real world feedback from an expert pool of reviewers, who volunteer their time and expertise.

A participant of the 2018 design challenge, Sam Curley, who designed for a rural community in India, described the experience as the only module where he could see the impact that engineering has in people’s lives. Sam adapted a traditional lamp for his design, using 3D printing technology. His experience inspired his work with local prosthetics charity, Remap, where he assists in the design and manufacturing of custom prosthetics using 3D printing. After graduating this summer, Sam hopes to engineer prosthetics full time, using his training to help the community around him.

This year, the Engineering for People Design Challenge has been created in collaboration, between Engineers Without Borders South Africa, UK and USA. One of this year’s academics, Christos Pietersen from Tshwane University of Technology, South Africa, suggested that the challenge helps connect the dots between theory and action;

“The Engineering for People design challenge enables students from multiple disciplines to join their skills and bridge the gap between what they know and how to use it in the real world to make a difference in the lives of real people with real needs.

These students come out the other end of the challenge never to view the world and the importance of their skills the same again. This challenge could be an economic game changer if more people wake up to it!”

Christos isn’t the only person who is waking up to the economic viability of sustainability within the sector; Mark Carney, Governor of the Bank of England highlighted the evolution that is critical to businesses continued economic growth, stating “Companies that don’t adapt will go bankrupt without question.” This attitude is leading to a rise in investors considering environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues when investing, in addition to internal policy changes.

Laura Leyland, academic at Birmingham City University who runs the Engineering for People Design Challenge was also keen to highlight the importance of being able to adapt to an ever-changing landscape;

“The only thing we really know about the future is that it’s going to be unpredictable. We need to educate engineers who can cope with that unpredictability. They need to be able to work with technical uncertainty and in a changing political context. They need to be able to communicate effectively at the right levels to move things forward in a positive manner to support global development.

The Engineering for People Design Challenge encourages a more diverse cohort of students. That means different conversations, different perspectives and solutions that are better for everyone. It’s only when we’re all working together that the best ideas happen.”

Collaboration plays a key role throughout the work Engineers Without Borders UK delivers, and has been particularly vital during our pilot year of the Efficiency for Access Design Challenge, where we have been supporting the Energy Saving Trust in delivery. This challenge focuses primarily on the necessity of development and investment in the off-grid sector, particularly in  sub-SaharanAfrica. The challenge engages students from Bangladesh, Kenya, Uganda and the UK to not only develop innovative concepts for the sector, but also embed the importance of the UN Sustainable Development Goal 7 within the participants education. Jon Ridley, Director at M-KOPA one of the industry partners involved in the challenge, highlighted the significance of this process, stating;

“The Efficiency for Access Design Challenge is an exciting opportunity for us. We want top talent to join the off-grid industry and bright students to think about the problems we are facing.”

On World Engineering Day for Sustainable Development, it is imperative that we consider the contributing role that engineering can play to serve all people and the planet better than ever before. Our design challenges are just one way in which we are trying to inspire the engineers of tomorrow to consider the social, economic and environmental impact of their engineering, contributing to a sector with more globally responsible engineering.