Humanitarian Engineering with Engineers Without Borders NZ

29 July 2019

Kia Ora Koutou!

Y’all don’t know me, but my name is Alejandro R. Ruck Vega. I’m an intern here at NZGBC, having come from the US to work for the better part of the winter months. This past weekend I was fortunate enough to o attend the annual Engineers Without Borders NZ Humanitarian Engineering Conference 2019 at the University of Auckland, and given that I loved everything about it I wanted to give you guys a quick run-down of what happened! Ok, let’s get started.

What is Engineers Without Borders NZ?

I found out that it is not a service club that encourages you to take vacations to other countries, making you look good to your employer/ uni while doing it. Instead it is a humanitarian engineering effort that brings the world’s challenges to the table, allowing more fortunate people like us to serve those in need both at home and around the world. Many countries have their own versions of the organization. In New Zealand, main areas of focus seem to be in professional networking and domestic community engagement. An annual student-member design competition takes place as well, giving teams a chance to tackle modern engineering problems facing the developing world today. Furthermore, members do actually go to countries around the South Pacific and build-up infrastructure for small communities, so it’s more of a working-holiday than a vacation. No piña coladas this time. Aotearoa has both Student and Working Professional chapters.

What happened at the conference?

People from around the world came both to present at and to attend this annual event. Throughout the day, attendees hopped between auditoriums and listened to keynote speakers talk about issues that ranged from detailing new developments for the Orangutan habitat at the Auckland Zoo to building water systems for villages in Ethiopia. Unsurprisingly, sustainable design was a constant theme for every presentation, given that these systems had to be self-supportive and last long after organizations like EWB and UNICEF were gone. Climate change made its fair share of appearances as a global issue as well, which IS surprising because Donald Trump says it’s a hoax and he’s never lied to anyone before, right? Cheeky comment aside, the conference started off discussing some successes in making New Zealand’s built environment more eco-friendly, and ended with a nod towards Auckland’s Climate Action Framework and City Centre Masterplan, with plenty of references in between.

What was the NZGBC doing there?

Not presenting this time, instead we were part of the organizations (such as VSA, Beca, Tonkin and Taylor, etc) that had stalls set up during the networking sessions. Specifically, we were there representing Future Thinkers. It was awesome to see so many new people express interest in joining the conversation on climate change, from wanting to network with professionals in the industry to setting up new green teams within their organizations. We will have to come back next year with a bigger sign-up sheet!

And that’s all, folks! Overall, it was a great time at the conference, and was a real eye-opener for anyone seeking an alternate career path or looking to make new industry friends. I highly encourage people to attend events like this in the future. With all the world’s problems bombarding us constantly over all forms of media, it would do us some good to know about the things we are doing to solve them. Who knows, maybe you’ll be inspired to be part of the solution as well.