Engineers can help make the world a better place. We can provide better access to water, health, food, shelter, education and warmth, and we have the potential to help make structural changes that will change people's lives. For better or for worse. This book series is intended to support those engineers who are interested in the former, and whose praxis contributes to redefining what "better" means. We explore the notion of social justice and how it relates to engineering, particularly how engineers can work to promote sustainable, and mutually negotiated programs of work.
This book complements its partner in the series, "Engineering and Sustainable Community Development," by Lucena et al, which gives an overview of the critical issues involved in engineering development work, by presenting the story of Waste for Life. WFL is a not-for-profit organization that works to promote poverty-reducing solutions to environmental problems, and its educational branch is an international consortium of Universities in six countries, involving students in support of community development projects. WFL currently works in Lesotho and Argentina.
We present the story of the development of WFL in each country as a case-based guide to engineers, professors and students interested in community development work, particularly in contexts very different from their own. We focus mainly on the set-up stages, framing the projects and ensuring that community needs are adequately articulated and acted upon. It is rarely the case that a perfect project is handed to us, with complete trust having been established with local partners so we can be sure that our contribution achieves the best possible balance between facilitation and intervention. Even NGOs and Government bodies can mis-represent the needs of the local communities we might work with so the ground work that needs to be done before any project can take place is very important. We consider the needs assessment, what is it that needs to be done -- for whom and why? How feasible is this, technically, economically, and to ensure sustainability?
Before we can decide any of this we need to understand and map the territory: who are the key players, who have the most influence, and who will be most impacted by what we are doing? What is the role of the local government? If the groups are working as cooperatives, what does this mean and what are these groups looking for? What is the technical solution going to look like? If it is a product, how will it be marketed? What other social, environmental and economic impacts will it have and on whom? Once these have all been negotiated and it is clear that all parties are working towards a mutually acceptable goal, how do we move forward so that any dependence on external partners is removed? When do we bring students into the work? What role can they play? Should they stay at home and support the project from there or is it better to do work in the field?
This guide will be useful for the student engineer or the experienced engineer or professor who is interested in moving towards socially just engineering development work but has no idea where to begin. The real difficulties and on the ground issues encountered by the Waste for Life team are presented honestly and with the knowledge that we must learn from our mistakes. Only then can we hope to gain a better understanding of our potential role in supporting community development and move towards a better future.
Contents: Introduction / Assessing the need: Lesotho / Feasibility of WFL Lesotho / Mapping the Territory: Buenos Aires / Stakeholder Focus: The Role of the Local Government / Stakeholder Focus: Cooperatives / Sustainability: Economic, Environmental and Social / Students Working on Development Projects / Summary Thoughts / Bibliography and Further Reading