Archive | February 2013

Systems Thinking at Work!

System Map of Project rotated

I went to a seminar yesterday on why projects fail. This is the systems map that I drew. It was pretty cool that a map of a typical engineering project could be produced. Sure, there were a lot of things that could contribute to project failure, but it was neat to visually see what pitfalls to avoid. There are two reinforcing loops in the system: both lead to bad things like fire fighting and burnout. We didn’t get into leverage points in the seminar, but I think I have an idea on how to increase chances of project success. I can’t wait to deploy more systems mapping in my everyday work!


Breaking New Ground

There was some soul searching within the EWB community after this year’s National Conference sponsored by Statoil among other companies. EWBers expressed their opinions on the sensitive topic of EWB accepting sponsorship from an oil sands corporation. The thread was composed of impassioned multi-paragraph entreaties of EWB to be accountable to our own values and no let “our ideals be coopted in the name of holding traction,” admonitions of Statoil for trying to disseminate propaganda, elucidations of EWB’s fundamental need of corporate sponsors lest no conferences could be held, and pleas for us as EWB to address the issue of climate change as oil sands companies are contributing to human-made global warming. (The original myEWB discussion could be found here.) In typical EWB fashion, a single discussion thread opened up a multitude of thought provoking realities. The richness of debate within our organization is one of our strengths. Hopefully “impassioned discussions that ultimately lead nowhere but the forgotten corners of myEWB” is a myth because this blog hopes to bring to light the dialogues that are shaping EWB’s fabric and encourage readers to act and not be mere bystanders. And in particular this myEWB post contained some action items related to Invested Partnerships and climate change. Again, the myEWB post is found here:

What I found encouraging was the response post from National Office– Although EWB is an organization, like most others, that has finite resources and therefore can focus on only so many issues at a time, we are willing to explore various areas, including climate change (ie. how our development work in Africa is sustainable in the the view of climate change). This is a bold step in systemic thinking as climate change could affect and/or be affected by EWB’s work in Africa.

This is an opportunity for the Advocacy Team to shift gears and dynamically adapt to the movement within EWB. EWB prides itself in asking tough questions. Perhaps we need to spend time and effort on researching climate change so that we can effectively have a credible stance on the issue. Right now we’re spending resources on exploring our involvement in the mining sector in Africa through the Extractive Industries Social Change Entrepreneurship–maybe something similar could be done for climate change?

This is a discussion that should be followed. If you have thoughts on either of these posts, I encourage you to respond. It’ll be interesting to see the direction the Advocacy Team will take. But it pays to voice your opinion because the masses might be listening!

Off the Shelf of l’EWBibliothèque

There is an informative read from EWBibliothèque on value chains in agriculture. This would be a great backgrounder for the upcoming market facilitation workshop. Here’s the link:

You should also check out this post on market facilitation:

Meet the Global Engineer

A few VCN EWBers attended the training session last week for the new Global Engineering presentation. The presentation was the fruit of the tireless efforts of Ryan Kilpatrick and the GE team. It will be a pioneering attempt to bring the concept of the global engineer to he workplace. Global Engineering is one of the ventures that is further along in the EWB incubator. EWB has been taking a lead on global engineering for a number of years now and it has primarily been promoted in the realm of engineering education. However there is now a mechanism to advance global engineering in offices and inspire practicing engineers to integrate global engineering principles.

Conveying the concept of global engineering to those outside of EWB can be a challenge. While a two-letter acronym sparks instant recognition to EWB veterans, working engineerings might scratch their heads when they hear it. Although there is no one authorative definition of a global engineer, here are some of the characteristics:

    • superior communication skills and understanding across different cultures and languages;
    • a faculty for multidisciplinary and interdisciplinary teamwork;
    • a well-developed sense of social responsibility and ethics, with due considereation in his/her personal and professional activities;
    • being entrepreneurial; and
    • an ability to deal with complexity and systems thinking.

–Taken from Chan, Adrian and Jonathan Fishbein. “A global engineer for the global community.” Journal of Policy Engagement 1 (May 2009): 4-9.

Another characteristic I would add is a having a continuous desire to learn. New information is constantly displacing outdated ideas in this ever-changing world where engineering projects take place across borders and engage practitioners from other disciplines. Engineers need to keep abreast with fields outside their own such as politics and economics to effectively realize the impact their work has on the rest of society.

How would you define a global engineer? What has been your experience from sharing global engineering with your peers?

Here are some resources on global engineering:

Philosophy According to Michael Kennedy

Our ChAPSter Buddy Michael Kennedy took some time out to ponder the deeper things of life in his latest blog posts. His recent protein purchase made him think about the little we know before we sign up for overseas work. Also, Michael tells us a Malawian love tale.

All the intrigue can be found at his blog:

Michael returns to Canada later this year. It will be a great chance to pick his brain on how he formulated his philosophy.

Human Development

So what is the essence of the work that Engineers Without Borders is engaged in? We talk about development, but what does it involve? To borrow a concept from the business world, what is the bottom line of the work we do? Human development is about offering people more choices and enabling people to do what they want and giving people freedoms to pursue their own lives. It’s not simply about financial benefits from increased economic activity.

Human development, as an approach, is concerned with what I take to be the basic development idea: namely, advancing the richness of human life, rather than the richness of the economy in which human beings live, which is only a part of it

–Prof. Amartya Sen, Professor of Economics, Harvard University, Nobel Laureate in Economics, 1998

The United Nations adopted a set of Millennium Development Goals back in the year 2000. These goals include eradication of extreme poverty and hunger, promotion of gender equality, and ensuring environmental sustainability. (For the list of the UN Millennium Development Goals, go to this link.)The UN member countries agreed to achieve these development goals by the year 2015.

Clearly not all the MDG’s have been met. There is much work ahead. But how to best proceed? Sustainable development takes in the needs of the present without compromising future generations’ ability to meet their own needs. Sustainable development is rooted in systems thinking and considers the complexity of global problems.

EWB is constantly asking the “why” in human development. How do you see EWB advancing human development?