Rebuilding Foundations

An exploration of international development work in Africa

EWB’s 5 Year Direction, rewritten

Last year the Engineers Without Borders (EWB) National Office (NO) wrote a new 5 Year Direction plan.  I’ve been involved with EWB for years, but I still only vaguely understand what statements such as “Our collective challenge is to unlock innovation” mean.  Give these documents to a First Year (or even Fourth Year) university student and the response is usually along the lines of “…Uh…what?”

I personally don’t like EWB’s jargon, but I understand their counterargument: they don’t want to be caged into someone else’s definitions, so they’re trying to invent their own vocabulary to describe their organization.  Still, though, no one else knows what they’re saying!  What’s the point of a written document if it doesn’t actually communicate your ideas?

I’m not trying to rag on EWB.  Their 5 Year Direction is super impressive.  However, I’ve taken the liberty to rewrite it into words that I understand.  That being said, I could have totally missed their meanings.  Please feel free to revise my modifications.

Our Vision

EWB: We seek to change the systems that enable extreme poverty and inequitable development to disproportionately affect much of the African continent. To create the change, we spark and accelerate systemic innovations.

Me: We are creatively working to end extreme poverty in Africa by looking at its root causes.

Our Direction

EWB: Over the next 5 years we’ll advance our Vision by leveraging our talents as a community to create change along 3 Pathways in 5 Portfolios.

Me: Over the next 5 years we’ll work together towards our goal in 5 different focus areas and through 3 different methods.

5 Year Direction

EWB: Over 5 years, we will invest in each other to grow our COMMUNITY.  We will broaden the structures of engagement in this community, actively foster a community of Systems Change Leaders in Africa and the linkages between Canadian and African leaders.

We will work together on common systems in different geographies to maximize our impact.

Me: Over 5 years, we will invest in our community in both in Canada and in Africa.  We will listen to our members, encourage leadership in Africa, and foster links between Canada and Africa.  We will invest in programs that we believe have the highest potential for reducing extreme poverty.

3 Pathways

EWB: We are a community of convenors, entrepreneurs and advocates. We will channel these talents along 3 PATHWAYS to create change:

Me: We are a diverse group of people who will use our skills to create change through 3 different methods:

Convening Collisions

EWB: We bring diverse groups together to make sense of the systems we want to change, highlight bright ideas, create coalitions and test innovations

Me: We bring together different groups to talk about issues, form partnerships, and test ideas.

Accelerating Ventures

EWB: We invest in ventures that will drive radical system innovations to change the status quo, while at the same time being resilient, moving beyond EWB’s support within 3 to 5 years.

Me: We create separate organizations to focus on changing different aspects of poverty.  These organizations should become independent of EWB within 3 to 5 years.

Influencing Policy

EWB: We transform the policies, practices, and behaviours of powerful institutions – be they government, corporate, or other – through influence from within and from without.

Me: We have spies everywhere.  Kidding!  I mean something more like: We change the actions and policies of big organizations, such as governments and corporations, both by working within them and using outside pressure.

5 Portfolios

EWB: We will work in 5 PORTFOLIOS that represent systems that entrench injustice, that are ripe for change, and that will engage and energize a vibrant EWB community:

1) Small and growing businesses that drive social good
2) Adaptive public services that are responsive to citizens’ needs
3) Foods systems that are resilient and support livelihoods
4) Engineering leaders who contribute to solving societal challenges in the 21st Century
5) Canadian companies that are global leaders in socially responsible mining in Africa

Me: We will work in 5 focus areas of poverty that can realistically be changed and will inspire our EWB members:

1) Small businesses that generate more good than bad
2) Flexible public services that can change as their citizens’ needs change
3) Durable food systems from which farmers can make a living wage
4) Engineers who understand that today’s complex problems go beyond technology and science
5) Canadian mining companies that aren’t fucking over Africa too much


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2 thoughts on “EWB’s 5 Year Direction, rewritten

  1. mandyrox2 on said:

    Reblogged this on The World… Thoughts, Books and Adventures and commented:
    This blog was written by another fellow who is currently working in Ghana (though based out of a different city – Tamale – and working with a different venture – Amplify Governance). It gives a more detailed description of the work that EWB does, and where the goals and priorities lie within the organization. I thought it would be a good follow-up to my blog about work yesterday, and clarify any of the questions you’re still wondering about. I think it helps to make a lot more sense out of things… thanks Beth! 🙂

  2. Beth, you’re the best. Pretty sure the EWB spy agency was supposed to be classified though.

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