Archive | January 2013

Who is Dorothy?

Belinda_and_Colleen DSC02074 Moussa's_wedding_078

If you’ve been around EWB circles long enough, chances are you would’ve met Dorothy. All of EWB’s work is to serve her. But who is Dorothy? Is she a person? Well the answer is yes and no…

Parker Mitchell, a former Co-CEO of EWB, met a woman named Dorothy who worked with CARE Zambia. She had watched her sister fall sick to HIV/AIDS before anyone in Zambia knew what the disease was. When her sister succumbed to the disease, Dorothy had to look after her four children she had left behind. Dorothy herself already had three kids of her own. She intended to send all her kids to school, but now with seven kids to care for, schooling for them all seemed impossible. In spite of her responsibilities as a mother to her children and caregiver to family falling ill, Dorothy persevered to advance HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention and led CARE Zambia.

Since that encounter, Dorothy has become a representative of the stakeholder to whom EWBers are accountable. All the decisions made at EWB consider if that is something Dorothy would want us to do. In fact, in recent years, the notion of “Doing it for Dorothy” has been challenged as it’s probably more appropriate to do it with Dorothy. Dorothy is brought to the table as a stakeholder with a voice.

Over the years, there are many faces of Dorothy. Here are some thoughts on Dorothy from some EWBers:

Dorothy is not one person to me, but many faces and stories that represent the hopes and struggles, the successes and daily challenges that are experienced by some of the individuals I meet….[Yana’s] opportunities are limited, not by virtue of her intelligence, but by her context. She is one of the kindest people I’ve ever met.

–Colleen Duncan, long-term overseas volunteer, 2010

Who is Dorothy to me? Irene, who lived in Kpedze along the Togo border. She was a mother, head of Mille Novisi, a women’s cooperative. She processed kernel oil for about $1.67/day, worked the fields, raised her children, and took her crops to market to sell–all in the course of one day. Or Mr. Andrews, a palm wine producer, a beekeeper, and a natural born entrepreneur. They were incredibly proud of their work and progress, and their commitment to building a better life for themselves and their children was evident in every hour they were awake. I was always humbled by the drive and ambition of people who were able to carve out a livelihood despite lacking access to many of the resources I had been gifted simply by having been born in Canada.

–Ka-Hay Law, long-term overseas volunteer, 2007

With one word, even the most intellectualized conversation about theory, strategy, policy, or process is instantly brought back to what really matters. Just one mention of Dorothy cuts through all the crap and brings everyone back to the ground.

–Thulasy Balasubramaniam, long-term overseas volunteer, 2009

Yes, at the end of the day, we need to remember who Dorothy is and work to put her priorities first.


Few Thoughts on Extreme Poverty

This is a daunting task: Sum up in a blog post on how chronic or extreme poverty came to be. Through my research, I can only conclude that many factors contribute to poverty and there is no one single magic bullet to address the complex issue. Firstly I should clarify that the poverty I’m dealing with here is poverty in a rural setting in developing countries, primarily in Africa, because that’s the focus of EWB. As well, this poverty is systemic as it has been passed on from generation to generation.

The article at the link below outlines a fairly comprehensive list of factors that contributes to poverty: The natural resources of a country and its geographic location influence how the resources are traded with the rest of the world. The country’s population and its demographic makeup very much shapes the national economic production. How the country is perceived on the world stage affects its ability to conduct trade or receive foreign aid. Warfare and conflict undoubtedly destabilizes the country, so economic growth is almost always impossible. A country’s infrastructure ensures the smooth operation of society, yet many impoverished countries lack robust infrastructure and good governance. Human and capital migration out of the country due to the lack of infrastructure and governance would deplete the country of wealth.

All these reasons seem to make poverty an impossible challenge to overcome. We have been influenced by the media’s portrayal of Africa: scenes of desert dust storms encroaching on farms and villages, lines of children with bloated bellies and flies in their eyes waiting for food relief. The repeated images of extreme famine and drought communicate to us an incomplete image of Africa, one that is always in need. Africa is a continent of diverse climates and histories. Economic conditions in various countries are diverse. Here is a TEDx video to debunk some of these myths:

What are some other reasons extreme poverty in Africa exists? I’m sure I couldn’t list all the reasons!

Post Conference Checkup

It’s been two weeks since the start of National Conference 2013 in Calgary. For those of you who attended conference, hopefully the buzz and energy has not yet dissipated. There was a lot to process. I don’t know about you, but the question “What now? Et maintenant?” at the closing keynote has been haunting me (in a good way) for the past couple weeks. How do we put our dream for 2036 in action? Are there any concrete steps we can take to get further along to realizing the dream? What does this mean for the Vancouver City Network?

The good folks of the conference organizing team left us some tools to reflect on the dreams we created individually and together. They can be found at these links:

What now for the Vancouver City Network? What steps will you take?

Empathy in Engineering


There is an interesting article found on myEWB about a study done at Linköping University in Sweden. Researchers directed a questionnaire to 200 hundred students in six different study areas to measure the individual’s level of empathy. Surprisingly, or not so, engineering students tended to be less empathetic than their counterparts. The entire paper is accessible only with a full subscription to the website, but the abstract is sufficiently informative:

What does this mean for the workplace? Does the lack of empathy in engineers limit their full potential? Have you encountered any situations at work or at school where empathy was an important factor? Is there a difference between men and women engineers with respect to level of empathy?

Root Causes of Poverty

One of EWB’s approach to accelerating the rural African development is addressing root causes for impact. A tangible product of this pursuit is a presentation/workshop developed by EWBers to help others identify root causes of poverty in rural Africa. One part of this presentation/workshop is a case study about sustenance farmer in northern Ghana. The case study can be found here. Have a read of the case study. After you have done so, list out the causes and effects of poverty. Share your results, there are no wrong answers! We’ll hold a workshop on the root causes of poverty in the near future and tackle this case study, so consider this an opportunity to start thinking about root causes.

Soul of the Community

At National Conference we had a breakout session facilitated by a Calgary city councillor on components that foster a healthy community. We discovered that values bind residents together. When neighbours come together over values, they can work together to achieve great things in their communities. The Gallup Poll conducted a study of 26 US cities. They discovered social offerings, openness, and aesthetics were some of the factors that built community. You can read more about their study at this website:

What are things that attaches you to Vancouver (or the community you live in)?

Off the Shelf of l’EWBibliothèque

As you’re writing your story about your vision of 2036 and your experience at the upcoming National Conference, you might want to read on to get some tips on crafting a riveting narrative!

Storytelling is an important skill for sharing the vision of EWB. It might be the best way to talk about EWB to your friends and family. People love to hear a good tale and they generally gravitate to a character facing conflict of some sort and coming up with some resolution.

EWBibliothèque has a great resource on storytelling:

I can’t wait to hear your story at conference!