Archive | Foundational RSS for this section

Traits of an Intrapreneur

The EWB National Conference is happening in only several days. One emphasis of National Conference 2014 will be intrapreneurship. What is intrapreneurship or an intrapreneur? you ask. Loosely defined, an intrapreneur is an employee who takes risks to innovate an idea and thus transforms the company or organization. They are employees who are comfortable with thinking outside the box or challenging the status quo.

Chances are as change agents, we probably will run into naysayers and inertia, especially in a large establishment. How does an intrapreneur move beyond resistance to new ideas to create change?

A blog in the Harvard Business Review offered a list of traits of a successful intrapreneur. Have a read of the blog here.

I resonated with not making money as the motivator. If I really care about transforming my workplace or profession enough, financial compensation would not be my object. Heck, I might be so eager to see this change that I would work extra hard to achieve it.

What about you? Which are some traits you identify with? What would make it easier for you to be a successful intrapreneur?


Off the Shelf of l’EWBibliothèque

Venture map2

This is a must read for all EWBers! As EWB has shifted its focus away from programs and more to ventures, the traditional structure of our organization has evolved.  Ventures would follow a trajectory, an incubated systemic innovation (or ISI in EWB-speak) path, which results in exiting the EWB incubator. For a visual of the incubator, click here. At National Conference 2013, a good number of ventures were pitched and their respective leaders/champions sought the EWB network for feedback. Since Conference, the Strategy & Investment team evaluated in which ventures EWB would invest money and staffing. This post goes through the selection process, criteria and rationale, and of course the chosen ventures!

The diagram above taken from the EWBibliothèque post shows the areas the ventures operate and where they overlap with each other. It’s a powerful reminder how systems do not operate in vacuums!

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?

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!

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.