2020: New Year, New Challenges, New Opportunities

 Cathy Leslie, EWB-USA’s chief executive officer kicks off 2020 with a look at where we’ve been and where we are going. Even with a new array of projects, offerings, and support for teams, EWB-USA’s staying true to our deep-rooted commitment to providing essentials across the globe.

Wherever you are in the world and wherever you may be reading this from, welcome to 2020. 

This year promises to be a challenging one. That’s why, more than ever, I’m looking forward to working with you to meet our growing global challenges and that means prioritizing our work addressing climate change

As I write this, there are a number of pressing events on my mind. From devastating brush fires ravishing Australia to Puerto Rico experiencing the worst earthquake in a century. And today a large portion of the Caribbean stands on high alert for a tsunami following a 7.7 magnitude earthquake in Jamaica. We are facing extreme weather events and increasingly destructive natural disasters.  

And, while it would be easy to fall into despair, I remain optimistic. I remain optimistic because I know that we are part of the solution. Time and time again, we’ve proven how indispensable engineering skills are during the most dire situations, and time and time again we’ve worked to make the world a better place. With the energy, drive, and  commitment of our exceptional volunteers, we worked on 452 projects impacting over 1 million people in 2019.  

As we prepare for another year of providing essential engineering services to the world’s most vulnerable people, I wanted to take stock of where we’ve been and where we’re going.

For me, 2019 was about planning, working together, and working hard. And, about EWB-USA being in the right place with the right people.  We further developed our relationships with the hard-working communities we are proud to call partners. Together, we are identifying and implementing engineering solutions and ensuring that community projects are functional for years to come.  

We forged a new, forward-looking partnership addressing climate adaptation and preparedness. Through our partnership, we are hardening infrastructure are ensuring that health clinics across the Caribbean are able to withstand future storms and that women and girls have uninterrupted access to critical health services. We are also demonstrating what disaster preparedness looks like.

Adaptation, done right, leads to better growth and development. It also saves lives, protects nature, reduces inequalities, and creates opportunities. That’s why moving into 2020, we are focusing on delivering the essentials and we will be incorporating resilient design into all our work. Eighty two percent of EWB-USA’s projects are in countries with high vulnerability but low readiness for climate change. Through our projects we are developing best practices that can serve as models for the rest of the globe. 

As we step up our role and leadership position on the global stage, we continue our work seeking a solution to off-grid refrigeration. 

More than 2 billion people worldwide do not have access to reliable refrigeration. These individuals are missing the substantial benefits refrigeration brings, including increased health outcomes, reduced food waste and increased economic opportunities for farmers and businesses able to keep produce cold. Our Chill Challenge competition calls for the development of a low-cost refrigerator or community ice maker for off-grid populations. 

Launched last year, the competition is well underway  We are currently reviewing the 43 submissions we received from teams in Cameroon, Ethiopia, France, Germany, Nigeria, South Korea, Switzerland, Uganda, the United Kingdom and the United States. We are pleased to be at the forefront of finding an innovative solution to off-grid refrigeration.

We are also increasing our WASH in Healthcare Facility efforts. Responding to a global call to action supporting a key World Health Assembly resolution, in 2019 we formally committed to including healthcare facilities in our community WASH projects. We are ensuring that our country offices have a strategy to address WASH and technically supporting healthcare facility owners and operators in their efforts to improve WASH in their facilities. Through these three activities, EWB-USA is improving the lives of millions of people around the globe and ensuring children have healthy birth stories.

Make no mistake, these are significant undertakings but we, as an organization, are uniquely positioned to meet them. The need is great and we are preparing to increase our impact in 2020. 

That’s why I’m dedicated to providing our volunteers with more resources and opportunities.  To this end we are committed to:

  • Incorporating the National Academy of Engineering’s Engineering Grand Challenges Scholars Program (GSCP) into EWB-USA.
  • Replicating EWB-UK’s successful university-focused Engineering for People Design Challenge. This prestigious competition encourages engineering undergraduates to hone their problem-solving skills by tackling a real-world issue.
  • Providing, on average, 30% of the funding for our community projects.  
  • Providing more educational resources so that you can learn about issues you may face prior to the project, rather than through the project.

I am also issuing a challenge to you to:

  • Adopt a local project through Our Community Engineering Corps (CECorps). In 2019, our CECorps launched an outreach campaign, “What’s In My Backyard?”.  This call to action is a collaborative, grassroots effort to address acute infrastructure challenges in underserved communities across the country by connecting them with engineers.  Made possible by a grant from the United Engineering Foundation (UEF), our goal is have each of our chapters share their expertise with communities in need in the U.S.
  • Take a least one educational course to improve your knowledge of how to work in and with developing communities. We remain committed to providing you with the best tools available to be effective. This means developing new video courses and strengthening our peer to peer networks.

It’s an exciting time for us as we continue to grow and adapt.  There are massive challenges ahead but we are uniquely positioned to meet them. I remain humbled and inspired by your dedication to improving the lives of people across the globe, and thank you for the passion and dedication you bring to EWB-USA.  

I look forward to seeing you at events throughout the year, and can’t wait to see what we’re capable of accomplishing in 2020. Together, let’s make it our best, most productive year yet.

In partnership,

Cathy Leslie


About the Author
Engineers Without Borders USA builds a better world through engineering projects that empower communities to meet their basic human needs and equip leaders to solve the world’s most pressing challenges.