Tuesday, February 19, 2013

A Take Away From Engineers Without Borders 2013 National Conference

Dayna blogged about her experience at the conference she attended as part of the CU-WISE initiative Blog To Attend A Conference Fund. Check out our Opportunities page for more details.

As I find myself with mere months away from graduating from Civil Engineering, I find my place in Engineers Without Borders Carleton ending, but my need to maintain the social values and desire for change greater. In these last months of university I grapple with questions such as: How can I incorporate social change and interest in International Development in the workplace? What can I do when I graduate that contributes to the upward climb of diminishing poverty? How can I maintain my social values in a corporate workplace that doesn't generally think about social or responsibilities at the top of its priorities? These questions are kept at the forefront of my mind as I enter the Engineers Without Borders National Conference. This blog post is the result of my experience.

Engineers Without Borders is a non-profit organization that looks at systemic solutions to decrease and ultimately diminish poverty. EWB doesn't build schools or bore-holes for wells, and we don’t give away free shoes or T-Shirts to the poor children in Africa. Why? Because it simply doesn't work. Building things for people or giving them free things doesn't diminish poverty! When a village doesn't have access to clean water, what solution do you think will last? Building them a well or nurturing someone from the area to create their own water maintenance business that builds wells, maintains them, and trains a workforce in that can carry on the business after the owner moves on? (if you haven’t guessed, it’s the second option). Engineers Without Borders tries to look at the root causes of poverty rather than the symptoms to determine the best venture that works WITH the people in these communities rather than FOR them.

Going into the conference, being in my last year with the Carleton Chapter, I wanted to know what can I do after I graduate that will still contribute to the goals that I've learned from EWB. Many engineering companies will demolish wetlands and other ecosystems to create buildings, or have mines in impoverished countries that have no sense of social practice and exploit the locals in their labor and resources. How can I get job in civil engineering that not only doesn't go against my morals, but also makes social change a priority? Of all the sessions I went to and keynote speakers I heard, one in particular sticks out: Pamela Rogalski and her talk about the Engineering Leadership Council.

Pamela Rogalski talked about making a change in the engineering profession from the inside. She talked about nurturing today’s leaders to go into the workforce and demand change. During my time with Engineers Without Borders I learned about being a Global Engineer, but going into the workforce there are going to be rules about scope, schedules and costs. How do I work around or with these concepts to bring Global Engineering into the workforce? The Engineering Leadership Council, , is a learning community of industry leaders sharing, and discussing how to live that dream. During Pamela Rogalski’s workshop, she discussed how our employers are actually interested in hearing what we have to say and expressing ideas of how we can make the most of a social license to operate. This was the first time I’ve heard of this concept: Social License to Operate.

A Social License to Operate is when a project maintains approval from a local community. The main objective is to positively cater to the local communities in which a project develops these licenses are most commonly seen in counties outside of where the company was founded. A company must look at beliefs, perceptions and opinions held by the local community and the license is granted by the community. What’s great is that the social license is not permanent. The License must be maintained because the beliefs of the community can change as new information is attained.

Although issues may arise when regulators of civil law oversee the “license” since they view the concept as a formal permissions which they hold the right to granting the “license” over the community as a whole. The concept of the social license is greatly beneficial in working in places such as Africa and Central America. Too often in the past, Canadian mining companies have gone into developing countries, have made agreements with the government, and displeased the locals in their presence. There must be social, economical and environmental positive impacts for companies to be present in new communities and this standard should be held everywhere. In both the developing counties and our own we should be hiring local, sourcing local, boosting the economies in where a project is performed and be continually working to minimize the effects of the project on the environment. This holds us accountable to more than just our employers and public safety. A Social License to Operate holds us accountable to our local impacts beyond safety and into a positive social change and expectation. So using our power as the driving force in these companies to embrace and expand ideas such as the social license and engaging with the Engineering Leadership Council is key to seeing the social change that we want to see both in Canada and abroad.

- Dayna Peloquin