By working with people living with disability in rural Cambodia, Engineers Without Borders (EWB) helps disadvantaged communities access profitable livelihoods.
About 80 per cent of Cambodia’s 16.5 million people live in rural areas, with many relying on farming to make a living. However, young people are increasingly opting out of farm work in favour of factory jobs in larger townships.
At the same time, roughly 1.5 million Cambodians live with disabilities, many as a result of landmine injuries. As younger populations leave their rural towns, many people living with disabilities, particularly older Cambodians, are left to take on labour-intensive farming work or rent their land to other families for a small amount.
Recognising this growing problem, EWB Australia partnered with Light for the World Cambodia to help find a solution.
The result is AgriLab, an innovation platform that allows farmers with disabilities, engineers and community-based rehabilitation practitioners to work together to identify challenges and ideate and prototype solutions. The aim is to provide assistive technologies that help people with disability pursue the type of farming they choose.
Solutions developed so far include rice seeders, water pump carts and motorised cassava harvesting carts for mobility-impaired farmers.
A key part of AgriLab’s success is EWB’s Technology Development Approach (TDA), which guides the development and implementation of equitable, sustainable and scalable solutions.
EWB Research, Learning and Influence Specialist George Goddard said the TDA was a distillation of EWB’s 20 years of experience working with communities across the Asia-Pacific region.
“At its heart is a series of principles and tools that enable truly place-based, community-driven solutions development,” he said. “It brings together engineering expertise and local knowledge and wisdom to develop solutions that are appropriate and sustainable in the context in which they are delivered.”
The TDA principles “encouraging collaboration and mutual learning”, “prioritising community-identified needs” and “inclusion of all” help guide EWB’s sustainable engineering projects.
“Core to the TDA is understanding engineering not just as a technical profession, but as a socio-technical one,” Goddard said.
“One with an obligation to ensure whatever technologies it creates and delivers will benefit all people and the planet. This approach can support sustainable outcomes in every context and project. After all, every engineering project has the potential to contribute to, or detract from, sustainable development.”
Celebrating World Engineering Day
EWB’s TDA is key to helping it “build back wiser”, said EWB Australia CEO Eleanor Loudon. The theme for this year’s World Engineering Day for Sustainable Development (WED), build back wiser is a call to action for all engineers to bring greater foresight to their work.
The competencies needed for engineers to tackle sustainability challenges were refreshed last year. EWB and Engineers Australia supported the World Federation of Engineering Organisations and the International Engineering Alliance to articulate these new competencies, which place sustainable engineering front and centre for today’s engineers.
“These changes mark a transformation of engineering competencies towards greater beneficial impact for people and the planet,” Loudon said.
“They represent the most significant reform since the 1990s, and constitute a radical overhaul of what it means to be an engineer, and the responsibility of the profession itself.
“The changes are a meaningful validation of EWB Australia’s pioneering role over almost two decades – of practising a human-centred approach, grounded in our observation that the future-fit engineers we need to solve complex global problems must have equal social and technical expertise.”
To celebrate WED, EWB is asking members of the engineering community to sign up today for updates and insights on how EWB applies sustainable engineering.