EWB-USA’s Global Impact: Community Engagement as Development

The evolution of the work Engineers Without Borders USA does around the world is a true reflection of our commitment to ongoing learning in order to improve. In April 2017 we conducted our third impact study in Nicaragua. Impact studies provide a unique opportunity to see the long-term results of EWB-USA programs. We explore the reasons behind the changes that we find, including those that were unanticipated. This April’s trip brought us new lessons about how our teams are improving lives in Nicaragua.

The Impact We Didn’t Predict

As anticipated and hoped for, we found implemented water and sanitation systems in working order. What we didn’t expect to find was that our project development process had impacted the social fabric of communities.

When we met with members of the community of San Claudio, school leaders shared that they previously struggled to get community members to help with site improvement projects. But after the successful implementation of a functioning latrine and handwashing station in partnership with EWB-USA, people were volunteering their time to help clean the grounds. We also learned that when neighboring community members came to see the projects, San Claudio residents experienced an increased sense of pride in the facilities they were offering students at their school.

Similarly, in La Pintada, community leaders shared that they had seen effects from the deep process of engagement utilized by EWB-USA to implement a water system. Community members now participate in other community meetings and contribute frequently to discussions about improvement projects in the town.

At EWB-USA, we work hard to design projects side-by-side with our partners that will work for them from implementation to far into the future. However, we did not anticipate the commitment to community development generated by the process of truly engaging our partners. These improved intra-community dynamics will have long-term impacts on their lives as they use this interest to initiate and build other community-driven projects.

Using Findings to Improve

We won’t always be able to predict what we’ll find on our impact review trips — that’s half the excitement of impact studies! But as our monitoring and evaluation data grows we see patterns and trends, and those advise us on the right changes to make to our work. EWB-USA reviews our project process with these findings in mind and examines ways to enhance our project delivery approach.

The impact review team produced the following recommendations for EWB-USA to better serve our partner communities:

  1. Expand the number of countries with EWB-USA staff, similar to the Nicaragua and Guatemala field operations. This will facilitate a closer connection with community partners and offer more in-depth reviews of our program impact, positioning us to learn even more.
  2. Provide clear guidance to EWB-USA volunteers about how to accommodate shifts in the communities’ focus over the five-year span of our partnerships. As community needs evolve, our process should remain fluid enough to align with their updated program goals.
  3. Emphasize the importance of direct communication with the community through the three-way communication plan between EWB-USA, the community and the local partner. Programs were most successful when all three members of this partnership were in communication with each other directly.
  4. Consider training on external factors that have a direct influence on the sustainability of implemented programs. Sharing knowledge about climate change, local political structures, and global development goals will better equip EWB-USA to implement projects that will create a positive long term change in the lives of our partners.

Read the Report

Don’t settle for just a snapshot — there are many more great details to share about the findings from our most recent impact study! Check out the full 2017 Nicaragua Impact Review report on EWB-USA’s Impact page.