Engineering for Better Development

    The development discussion is moving away from funding and toward the sort of ideas that can spark great change. You can see it in the rise of Acumen Fund, Ashoka and the Skoll Foundation, and the hundreds of innovators these outfits nurture. You can see it in the current issue of Foreign Policy magazine, which said that one of the "next big things" is development led by human engineering.

    "The next Bangalores," author Juan Enriquez wrote, "will likely be powered by the life sciences."

    You can also see this shift in the explosive growth of Engineers Without Borders, a nonprofit that works with developing world communities to devise and install small-scale water, energy, sanitation, housing, telecom and other sustainable projects. Time Magazine has called EWB the "blueprint brigade" because it is changing both the way engineering instruction is delivered within academia and the way development is practiced on the ground.

    For all of you engineering students worrying you might have missed the development boat, take heart: EWB is everywhere. The organization now has hundreds of chapters across the country and beyond, and a roster of some 12,000 engineering students and professionals. Columbia and New York universities have a chapter, as do George Washington and Johns Hopkins universities in the D.C. area. EWB is in fact a part of nearly every major college community in the U.S., and, in recent years, has spread across the world – from Germany and France to Egypt, India, Rwanda and Sudan.

    Joining, or starting up, a local EWB chapter is a fantastic way to get real, live field experience – like the engineering students from the Walla Walla University chapter, who are building a $120,000 school for a hurricane-damaged Honduran village.

    It's also a good way to familiarize yourself with an informed, more progressive style of development that focuses on assistance, not imposition.

    "What's nice is that we don't impose a project that we come up with," said Maggie Murphy, the project leader of a Rice University chapter assessing needs in Nicaragua. "We have them develop the projects and we make sure that what we're going to implement is something the locals want and need and that they recognize will solve their problems."

    After all, in the very near future it will be ideas – not money – that'll make the world go round.

    About the author

    • David Lepeska

      David has served as U.N. correspondent for the newswire UPI and reported for several major newspapers, including the New York Daily News and Newsday. He was chief correspondent for the Kashmir Observer in Srinagar, India, and regularly contributes to the Economist, among other publications. Since 2007, David has reported for Devex News from Washington, New York, as well as South Asia.