Engineers Without Borders at Boston University

Young engineers making their contribution to change



The EWB Process: From Conception to Culmination

By ewbexec

To our great delight, we have a long list of devoted students who are continuously involved in our chapter at Boston University. At the beginning of every year, students express much interest in participating in our mission to raise awareness for global development. Furthermore, they are always excited to join our technical groups by helping prototype projects that will help move towards our implementation goals in Zambia. Interestingly, the holistic EWB process is sometimes overlooked when students join our group in the middle of a program, as the one in Naluja.

For our members and partners, we believe that it helps to have an understanding of each step of the process in order to move towards our yearly goals. The article below will outline the major steps involved from the conception (start) to culmination (closure) of a program and describe our current place in the process. We hope that such an overview of the program cycle will help give you a better understanding of the steps that were needed to achieve our present state and our vision as we move towards our goals.

Phase One: Starting a Program

EWB emphasizes a community-driven approach to development, in which the community-in-need must be well structured and have a thorough understanding of their needs. EWB’s review committee grants program approval to a community only after a thorough analysis of its drive for improvement, local partnerships, and community agreement if accepted. After an EWB-chapter applies to adopt a community program, the two partners start a close relationship that will strive for many years after the program’s inauguration. At this point, the EWB-USA chapter has engaged in a commitment that will last a minimum of five years, giving much time for setting and accomplishing precise goals for community development and increased health.

As you may know, our chapter started a partnership with the community in Naluja, Zambia just a few years ago.

Phase Two: Assessment and Prototyping

This phase of the process usually occurs between three months and one year from the time when a partnership has been established and approved between the EWB-chapter and community. This phase includes thorough research of the many different factors related to our community. There is first an investigation of the community’s geological landscape, available resources, cultural adherences, and the people’s most dire community needs. Through much cooperation and communication with community authority and surrounding NGO partners, we establish goals to assess the community’s needs. A comprehensive community assessment is made by a first assessment trip. This is an exciting time to meet, in person, our partners in their local village, while gathering much needed information on which projects we will be researching and propose engineering solutions that will address the community’s problems. It is also for strengthening collaborative ties and partnerships with our partners. During the summer of 2012, our EWB chapter at BU sent three students and a mentor on its first assessment trip, gathering much information to work towards implementing the cell signal amplification project. The assessment phase of a program is also a time during which projects are researched and prototyped until the most sustainable, economically manageable, and efficient project is proposed to the community to resolve one or more of their community issues. Our chapter is currently in this phase of the process for two additional projects in the program in Zambia – water sanitation and power generation.

Phase Three: Implementation

The crossover to this phase of the process is achieved when a final design is proposed and approved for implementation in the community. This can only be done after a thorough analysis of the project’s sustainability, a certitude that the project will be accepted and wanted by the community, and that detailed plans are made for on-site implementation. There is much preparation involved in making sure that any foreseeable obstacles will be addressed and that all measures are taken when the project is installed, in order to ensure its successful use by community members. There are multiple aims to an implementation trip, which our chapter will be conducting this coming August. The first is to successfully implement a project and ensure that it functions properly, fulfilling the community’s need. Another important goal is the dissipation of information by giving community members tutorials on how to build, fix, and monitor devices that are implemented. This also involves the preparation of a project manual and education material that will emphasize the importance of acquiring knowledge about the problems the people face and projects that are implemented. It gives an opportunity for community members to realize the importance of implementing change to improve overall health and teaches them the skills necessary to build more such models of the project for personal use. In conjunction to the implementation trip, our chapter will also gather information as part of an assessment trip for the water and power projects, as mentioned above.

Phase Four: Monitoring and Contemplation

After a project has been successfully implemented in a community, there is a monitoring period of several years during which a close collaboration is maintained with the community in order to ensure that all projects are functioning properly and optimally. Once a project has reached this phase, it can also be a time to implement more projects to improve other aspects of the community’s health. In all cases, the EWB-chapter still continues to monitor all of the projects’ progress. Our chapter is moving fast and on track to reaching this phase for at least one project in the near future. This will certainly be a moment of reflection as we will look back at our hard work and hopefully celebrate improved health with many of our friends in Naluja. We will be able to learn from our experiences, improve our tactics, and look forward to more ways of helping our partners by engaging in the efforts for global development.

This is an overview of the EWB cycle, without getting too entwined with the plethora of paperwork needed at each stage of the process. It brings much joy and hope for global health when our year’s goals are successfully reached in our partner community in Zambia. However, taking a step back enables a more holistic vision of all the accomplishments that have been reached so far and the steps that lie ahead of us in the process.


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