Innovation through community engagement, design and infrastructure
In Australia, we have exceptional skills in science, technology, engineering and design to solve major humanitarian issues. People in these professions ensure we have access to clean water systems, the latest housing solutions, electronic gadgets or energy efficient light bulbs, or even appropriate equipment for use by people with disabilities.
However, there is a global gap in access to appropriate, sustainable engineering services and infrastructure. Globally, 1.2 billion people still live in extreme poverty. In Australia, only 55% of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders over the age of 15 participated in the labour force (ii). As a result, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders are underrepresented in the technical sectors, significantly impacting on their ability to engage in issues on land and infrastructure.
Engineers, designers and contractors have long identified that as a profession we have an ethical responsibility to those in our communities. “As engineering practitioners, we use our knowledge and skills for the benefit of the community to create engineering solutions for a sustainable future. In doing so, we strive to serve the community ahead of other personal or sectional interests” (Engineers Australia Code of Ethics).
The provision of pro bono (significantly reduced, or no fee) services provides an important mechanism to address this gap in access to services – domestically and internationally. The Shipton’s Flat Basic Infrastructure Project, in Far North Queensland, is an example of how communities, engineering industry and local authorities can work together for mutually beneficial outcomes.
The Project involved the construction of the Bana Yarralji Bubu Indigenous Ranger Base and accompanying necessary services on Kuku Nyungkal Country. It brought together Bana Yarralji Bubu Inc, Centre for Appropriate Technology (CAT), Aurecon and Engineers Without Borders Australia (EWB) to deliver the Project.
Following a detailed planning and approval process, a team of collaborators – including volunteer engineers from Arup, architects from Jacobs and volunteer trades people from Indigenous Community Volunteers – united at Shipton’s Flat and worked alongside a local Aboriginal ranger team to build an ablution block, ranger office and establish water and power supply. This Project was the first crucial step in achieving the vision for the development of a cultural healing place for the Kuku Nyunkgal people.
The legal industry has demonstrated that a widespread, organised, and well-supported pro bono industry scheme can translate ad-hoc activities into an institutionalised culture that adds value to both community and business
In 2015, EWB will launch EWB Connect, a program designed to facilitate the provision of pro bono engineering, design and construction services to community organisations, and support the growth of a culture of pro bono work within the Australian engineering, design and construction industry. To celebrate this milestone, EWB is undertaking the #probonopledge campaign that will engage the profession to embed a culture of pro bono activities in the engineering, design and construction sectors.
For more information about EWB Connect, please contact Sunny Oliver-Bennetts at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Story supplied and written by James Fitzgerald, EWB Director Supporters