Rebecca and Andrew founders of the Global Humanitarian Engineering Awards

Rebecca Dracup is from Subiaco in WA and is an environmental engineering and economics student at the University of Western Australia. She is the president of the university chapter of Engineers Without Borders (EWB), an Australian non-governmental organization, and has recently returned from EWB’s Dialogues on Development Tour in India. Rebecca would like probono engineering in Australia to become as mainstream as the weekly grocery shop. You can contact her @rebeccadrakes and [email protected].

Andrew Perren is also from Western Australia and is in his fifth year studying civil engineering and commerce student at the University of Western Australia. Aside from studying, he manages one of EWB’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander partnerships with the Badjaling Wanders Aboriginal Community. You can contact him at [email protected]

An increasing number of engineering related organisations understand the benefits of developing corporate social responsibility programs, and facilitating their employees to engage in probono programs.

Tell us a little bit about your idea and what made you decide to take the plunge and make it happen? 

In mid-2012, five years into our degrees, we realised it was very difficult to find stories of success about engineering and engineers in the humanitarian and development sectors. The Millennium Development Goals’ target end date of 2015 is nearly here, and engineers have made great progress towards achieving these goals, but there is little global recognition of their efforts. We wanted to provide an opportunity to recognise these engineers and technologists on a global stage, and share their stories with the wider engineering community.

We feel it is important to have role models in humanitarian engineering to inspire and give young engineers something to aim for. Role models will allow us to learn more about the improvements that people with technical backgrounds have made in this sector, and how they ended up doing that work. It is common to hear about the difference an engineer has made in ensuring a sustainable supply of water for a community, or creating an innovative toilet design. We really wanted a platform to display all these stories alongside each other for future generations of engineers, operators, and technologists. Our aim is to develop a hub that attracts the best, and inspires others to improve their contributions to the field of humanitarian engineering.

We hope to hear from people, projects, and programmes from every corner of the globe. As part of the Mickey Sampson Leadership Program, Rebecca was required to choose a project to work on throughout the year. This was the motivating force behind starting the Global Humanitarian Engineering Awards. She then started to ask around about whether the Awards were a concept that others in the international humanitarian engineering community wanted. The response was highly positive and since she had nothing to lose, she asked Andrew to help her create the Awards in 2013. Deciding to start the Awards required support from the humanitarian engineering sector at home, some good mentors and a couple of people with enough time to make it happen.

How do you make money? 

The Global Humanitarian Engineering Awards is reliant on donations and is currently searching for funding from multinational corporations to provide prizes for the award winners.

As a not-for-profit group, we rely on groups and individuals to help through unpaid promotion. A major part of our marketing strategy is to utilise social media and word-of-mouth marketing.

What are you working on right now and what are you most excited about in the next three months? 

Currently, we are busy spreading the word about GHEA and the sponsorship opportunities available. We are encouraging all inspirational people and projects we come across to nominate for the Awards and approaching organisations that would be a good fit to help sponsor the prizes and promote the opening of nominations.

How do you make ideas happen?

We set a sound vision and mission, which can spark a fire of imagination in those around us. Then put in LOTS of hard work.

What does your typical day look like? 

Our typical day consists of university lectures and labs, with hours snatched throughout the day to work on the Global Humanitarian Engineering Awards, even a few midnight Skype’s to the Global Humanitarian Technology Conference organisers based in the US. We tend to spend 9am – 5pm in the Engineers Without Borders office at the University of Western Australia every day.

Bec and Andrew’s workspace

What challenges have you faced when starting or growing a business/organisation in Australia?

We have yet to find a sponsor for the Awards; this is a huge challenge to the sustainability of GHEA continuing next year. We would like to recognise the award winning people and projects, but if we cannot attract prizes for the winners, we are worried that nomination numbers will drop in future Awards.

What is one idea you are willing to give away for free?

As our Awards are international (and Perth is the most isolated city in the world), we have to do most correspondence by email. A golden rule is to keep emails to five sentences. Less than five sentences can seem rude and too brief, whereas more than five sentences can bore the reader. 

What people/companies/organisations do you think are doing really cool stuff in your industry, in Australia at the moment? 

Engineers Without Borders Australia is celebrating their 10th Anniversary this year and has grown so quickly. They are at the forefront of empowering others through the sharing of engineering knowledge. They are expanding the EWB Challenge, which is a semester-long project for first year engineering students in which the students design an engineering solution for a problem faced by a developing community. The projects are derived from EWB partnerships with local NGOs in other countries.

The Centre for Appropriate Technology is another amazing organization. They work in remote communities in central and Northern Australia and have a program named Bushlight, which provides renewable energy services to remote indigenous communities.

What about internationally?

WaterAid, an international NGO, has been doing amazing work in the field of water, sanitation and hygiene. Their approach of working in partnership with local organisations allows them to implement successful progressive and sustainable projects.

While talking about WaterAid, another interesting organization is Who Gives a Crap. They are a toilet paper manufacturer who make their paper out of recycled fibres and 50% of their profits go to WaterAid.

What role do you think business can play in affecting social change?

A huge one! Business can come in all different shapes and sizes. They have the power to produce products that improve the lives of thousands of people around the world. Not only through their products and services, but also through jobs that actively improve people’s living standards.

As engineers, we love the change that is currently happening in the engineering industry. An increasing number of engineering related organisations understand the benefits of developing corporate social responsibility (CSR) programs, and facilitating their employees to engage in probono programs. We look forward to seeing organizations play a larger beneficial role socially.

Name 3 websites you would recommend to our readers?

Practical Action – reports and opportunities in low-cost, appropriate, small-scale appropriate development solutions to help people help themselves.

Engineers Without Borders Australia – A movement to connect, educate and empower people through humanitarian engineering.

The Conversation – independent research, news and views, sourced from the academic and research community and delivered direct to the public.

Name 3 Australians we should follow on Twitter? 

Matt Heffernan  – witty commentary on indigenous issues. The best twitterer Rebecca has ever met.

Alice Leung – innovative science teacher.

Nick Byrne – social entrepreneur, frequently recommends good web reads.

Are there opportunities for people to get involved with your idea (e.g. are you looking for funding, interns, marketing help)?

Yes! All of the above! We would love help with finding a funding source and development of a marketing and promotions plan. Don’t get us wrong, it’s a lot of fun to do, but we are always looking to other people for ideas and knowledge.

Our readers are smart, creative, talented and good looking. Here’s your chance to ask them anything.

Water and sanitation related issues are one of the leading causes of illness and death around the world. What would your solution to global sanitation (toilets) and water supply look like?

What’s your favourite bar/café/restaurant?

Andrew and Rebecca had their first GHEA coffee at The Little Pantry @TheLittlePantry. So that definitely rates high. However Source Foods in Northbridge @SourceFoods deserves 5 stars for their obsession with doing-good. They serve delectable goodies that are local, organic, or free-range.

What is your favourite song by an Australian artist at the moment?

The Cat Empire’s Steal the Light is a good listen.

We thought it would be cool to crowdsource an annual prize to award to the interviewee’s choice (each person interviewed gets one vote) winner for the year’s best interview. Are you willing to kick in a prize?

We would love to offer a meal with us at tasty Perth restaurant, which can be redeemed whenever the winner is in Perth.

Make sure you sign-up to join our amazing community for Australians making ideas happen.

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