Convergence of Needs and Capacities

How does it sound to learn about professionals from different walks working together in a community to make it sustainable and self reliant? All doubts about this conception are grounded by EWB – India (Engineers Without Borders – India), which is an evolving network of professionals striving to create a movement for ‘constructive change’. This is probably the microcosm of what we all envisage in the name of good governance.

“EWB India was established in 2005 by Prof. Ali Uddin Ansari of Muffakham Jah College of Engineering and Technology (MJCET) and friends in Hyderabad,” says Dr Ashok Agarwal, Chairman, EWB-India who is also its Co-founder. EWB – India’s work intends to encourage students and professionals to take up socially relevant projects that impact those at the bottom rung of the ladder, all during their academic duration itself. Interestingly, different chapters are formed, not by the parent body, but by the students or professionals who intend to bring about a change in the present situation.

“We try to create an interface for technology, need, professional capabilities and aspirations to learn to complement each other, in the process of bringing about sustainable rural development,” he elaborates. The heterogeneity of individuals who come forward to join this effort is also reflected in the Board of Directors and Advisory Board, which are comprised of individuals from the fields of Environmental Sciences, Human Resources, Telecommunication Engineering, Information Technology, Civil Engineering, Mining Engineering, Economics and others.

Here is how it works – a student or a professional who is socially concerned and wishes to contribute towards the development of rural and backward urban communities registers with EWB-India. Upon registration, the individual is connected to the already existing chapter or a new chapter is established depending on the interests expressed. Thereafter, the team is encouraged to conceive, prepare and implement projects for the communities. All along, they will be guided by information and networking support from EWB-India, in addition to the workshops and conferences organized by the national and international offices and panel of experts provided to mentor the students.

Initially, it sounded a bit complicated. Ashok clears the air, convincing that the best solution to existing problems can come only from the concerned communities. That the involvement of youth from the very community makes the execution of the identified solution easy and effective is a given. “EWB only facilitates the process of bringing these youth on a common platform. The members are given the liberty to identify and propose projects that meet the needs of food, clean water, shelter, sanitation, education, health and livelihood,” he adds.

Youngsters today are urged to do different things at the same time – volunteer, undertake vocational training courses, etc. So, how easily do they identify themselves with EWB – India’s mission might be a concern to any stranger. “EWB works with a long term perspective in mind. The idea is to create a network of mutual help and capacity building, with a responsible attitude towards nature’s resources. The same problem might require different approaches in different communities.Capacity building and mutual help comes in very handy to help the communities identify and execute the solution”.

Some of the recent projects being implemented include solar power plant at an orphanage in Hyderabad, converting agricultural waste into Fuel Briquettes in Madhya Pradesh, solar lighting at Sirohi village, Haryana by providing individual lighting to about 500 families, creating a self sustainable village economy with economic analysis and background research in West Bengal ulminating in the development of a sustainable action plan, vocational training for women in Faridabad to support family incomes, etc. “We confront the real issues troubling and people’s development with small, yet effective attempts,” remarks Dr Ashok.

Over the years, it can be seen that it has evolved into a global network of students and professionals engaged in a large number of projects that promise a better tomorrow. Environment sustainability rural development, and upliftment of backward communities are terms that may not augur well together in the vocabulary of industrial growth, given the scenario in our country.Nevertheless, ‘putting the last first’ seems to have been the guiding principle for EWB – India’s work, where no member in a community must go without food, water, shelter and other basic needs.

For Ashok, working with the communities is met with mixed responses. “Quite often the community takes it as a charity without really owing the initiative and supporting it from their side.The critical issue here is effective participation of the community, which includes financial participation by the community to some extent to ensure the sustainability of the project over the next few years. As you know, it is very challenging,” he admits. So what keeps them going? “When we look at the smile on the faces of young children in the orphanage and the children in the Government ZPS High school for the infrastructure we had set up; the tribal community that never had any power earlier and now has the power on the streets and in homes, we are moved. There is fresh energy to work for many more such communities and concerns”.

Beginning with the formation of a chapter in a locality or the collaboration with an NGO to work in a time bound manner to receiving consent from the community to go ahead with the projects, every step is a challenge that members of EWB-India are facing. Undeterred, they are determined to get this network growing, fostering the convergence of needs and capacities in every community, for development that is sustainable and responsive to nature.

— Shanmuga Priya. T