By Julianne Yip
Last week, several hundred engineers descended upon Calgary, hungry for a challenge, bristling to combat global poverty and armed with African drums.
The charitable organization Engineers Without Borders Canada launched its sixth annual national conference in Calgary Jan. 25-29. Over 400 engineering students and young professionals came from across Canada to attend the conference, which consisted of various seminars, debates, panel discussions and an address from Governor General MichaÃ«lle Jean on the challenges facing international development.
Since its inception in 2000, EWB has had a strong presence in Canada and is most often recognized for its work overseas in Haiti, the Philippines and especially Africa.
Some of EWB’s international work includes developing strategies to grow more food, create access to clean water and mechanize food production.
EWB aims to motivate young people to become leaders through activities like this year’s conference, themed “Leaders for Change.” Conference activities focused on three aspects of leadership: innovation, in terms of solutions to economic or technological problems; influence, as in impact on government policy; and insight, or evaluating the successes and failures of a project.
“A large part of EWB builds and attracts incredible people,” said University of Calgary’s EWB chapter vice-president Daniel Baker. “Throughout, an incredibly high level of thought and humility is encouraged.”
This year’s conference was also marked by efforts to include the corporate sector in discussions on international development. According to communications coordinator Binnu Jeyakumar, EWB does not believe it can operate completely independent of the private sector.
“The impact we can have by influencing these companies to think about corporate social responsibility in terms of international development is huge,” said Jeyakumar. “That’s one thing that’s really unique about this year’s conference.”
Despite continuing work in Africa and other parts of the world, both Baker and Jeyakumar believe change must first take place within Canada with changes in government policy.
“There’s a lot of change you can make in your government in Canada, in how you practice your profession as engineers, the decisions we make [that] affect people overseas and to make people realize that fact,” said Baker.