You can imagine that no one sets out to create an organization like this. Much like our approach to development, EWB has evolved over the years as we’ve learned, analyzed and identified necessary innovations.
That evolution officially began in 2000—the same year the Millennium Development Goals were signed—when Engineers Without Borders Canada was formed. Co-founders Parker Mitchell and George Roter were interested in tapping into the Canadian engineering profession—a group they believed to be passionate about improving the state of the world—to contribute to the Millennium Development Goals’ pledge to halve world poverty by 2015.
Engineering students, professionals and firms quickly became involved, and what started as a “pie in the sky idea, with no money, no people, no resources” (The Globe and Mail, 2002) has now become one of Canada’s most respected development organizations. Jeffery Sachs, leading world economist and Director of the Earth Institute, said in a speech at the 2008 State of the Planet conference: “We all need to support the kind of work that Engineers Without Borders is doing…that’s just a wonderful, fabulous organization.”
For the first few years EWB volunteers, the architects of the organization, worked tirelessly to build EWB’s organizational capacity so that we would have meaningful and lasting impact in developing communities. In 2001 we sent the first EWB volunteer overseas and held the first National Conference. But it was only in 2003 that EWB hired its first employee, George Roter.
That same year EWB adopted a new approach. Having spent three years focused on getting volunteers overseas, we stepped back and questioned our goals, methods and role within development. From this process emerged EWB’s approach to development, which focuses on the impact of our actions in Canada on people overseas and on building capacity in the technical sectors of developing communities.
With this focus we are building a world class development organization that includes 25 full time staff members, 45,000 members, over 3,000 volunteers in Canada, more than 300 volunteers who have worked overseas, an Advisory Board of leading experts in their fields, a dedicated Board of Directors, and numerous partnerships with organizations overseas. In the coming years we will continue to strive to make Canada a model global citizen and to increase access to appropriate technologies in developing communities.