Grand Designs for Social Change
3 February 2014 at 10:29 am
Dedicated to creating social change around the world, engineer Lizzie Brown has gone from a Not for Profit volunteer to a Not for Profit Chief Executive Officer. Brown is this week’s Changemaker.
Lizzie Brown is the CEO of Engineers Without Borders Australia (EWB), a Not for Profit organisation with 10 years’ experience creating systemic change through humanitarian engineering.
When visiting India in 2005, Lizzie saw the need for communities to access engineering and technology.
She decided to return to Australia and work with the sector she knew, the engineering sector, mobilising them to take action against poverty. She joined EWB as a volunteer and became the CEO in 2010.
In 2013, Lizzie was named one of Australia’s 100 most influential engineers.
What are you currently working on in the organisation?
EWB celebrated its 10th opportunities in the coming year.
Establishment of the EWB Incubator
The EWB Incubator will identify and support big new ideas in humanitarian engineering by providing individuals and their projects with access to training, mentors and seed funding.
The projects may be technical, improve engineering practice or involve the establishment of a new program such as the Global Humanitarian Engineering Awards.
Technical Career Pathways for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People
EWB works with Aboriginal communities and has identified a gap in support for Aboriginal people who would like to be employed in the technical and engineering sector. EWB and Engineers Australia will work with government, community, education and industry partners to identify and address gaps in access to technical pathways, increasing the employment and retention of Aboriginal people within engineering.
The EWB Challenge goes Global
The EWB Challenge is a first-year design program for engineering university students through which students work on a real, community based project. The EWB Challenge has recently been adopted in the UK and we are looking to support universities in other parts of the world to adopt the program too.
Pro Bono Engineering
EWB works in partnerships with engineering companies to engage their employees in pro bono partnerships and projects in Australia with community organisations. EWB is looking for new opportunities to share best practice in pro bono engineering between companies.
What do you like best about working in your current organisation?
I like the fact that EWB provides opportunities for engineers and engineering companies to contribute to social change.
Engineering and technology are fundamental to a life of opportunity. Many engineers understand this but don’t know how to go about leaving a social legacy – EWB provides pathways for individuals and companies to find that opportunity.
For example each year professional and student volunteers from EWB contribute their expertise and time to building the capacity of our community partners in Australia and Asia.
The scope of work our volunteers do varies from training street kids in Nepal to be solar engineers to developing innovative floating toilets for communities that are regularly flooded in Cambodia.
I consider my greatest achievement to be…
Shifting the culture of the engineering sector. From very early on EWB has worked with engineering companies and created opportunities for people to get involved in humanitarian engineering.
This has started to shift the culture within engineering companies to one of giving back and creating anniversary in 2013.
EWB will be working on a number of new and exciting social change through incorporating pro bono work into core business.
Each year approximately 50 employees from Australian engineering companies participate on our Dialogues on Development programs to learn about the impact of humanitarian engineering in communities in India, Cambodia and along the Murray Darling Basin in Australia. Those participants are then encouraged to create change within their organisations.
What are you reading/watching/listening to at the moment?
I just watched a TED talk on GoldieBlox by Debbie Sterling. She encourages parents to consider toys for female children that help them to develop the special awareness skills that are a prerequisite to being a good designer.
I think diversity is very important for the engineering profession in the future.
My greatest challenge is…
My greatest challenge is selecting which opportunity to focus on next. I spend a big part of my day getting excited about what we could be doing, like partnering with new organisations internationally, working with government more and so on.
What inspires you?
So many different things!
I’m inspired every day by our volunteers, who give their time and expertise to our work. I’m particularly inspired when I see an individual who has an idea and with just a little support and encouragement will do something that they previously thought impossible or too hard.
For example a student who approaches companies for corporate support and runs an amazing careers night or a young professional who mobilises a other volunteers to assist community organisations with technical projects.
School taught me…
I think school taught me that there’s no limit to what you can achieve if you put your mind to it and show commitment and resourcefulness.