Engineering seeks to provide technical solutions to the problems of society. But this knowledge does not always serve the purpose of building a fairer world. On the occasion of National Engineers’ Day, Engineering Without Borders Argentina invites us to rethink the social role of this discipline.
Engineering has the power of turning materials into structures. But if we combine technical knowledge with a social and comprehensive look and interdisciplinary work, the resulting change can be much deeper. This has been the inspiring and driving thought of EWB-Ar for almost ten years: promoting sustainable, human-development-oriented engineering, as well as the fulfilment of Human Rights, the protection of
nature, and the strengthening of deprived and vulnerable communities.
Undoubtedly, engineering can transform all the situations in which it is applied. In this sense, it is neither neutral nor free from human variables: it has its own stance and way of looking at the world. “Every decision we make on whether or not to execute a project, and on how to do so, has immense and direct consequences on the development of communities,” explains Adán Levy, electro-mechanical engineer and executive director of EWB-Ar. “Thus, for example, choosing the course of a road raises questions about the resulting connectivity, or whether it privileges the growth of certain communities over others,” adds Adán.
For that reason, when thinking about engineering work, understanding the social role engineering has is a key factor. “We need to have a sensitive perspective on target people. If we want a project to be sustainable, we must listen to the community. We cannot bring standard solutions,” says Esteban de Olmos, civil engineer and member of EWB-Ar general coordination, from Córdoba city. “A social perspective on engineering allows to be aware of potential and possible positive changes, as well as to notice difficulties and blind spots of projects,” says Diego Gil, architect y infrastructure project manager in Buenos Aires.
In projects carried out by EWB-Ar such as bridges, community centers, energy and water systems, considering people as people with rights is crucial. “Building houses, schools, community centers, is what makes this field extremely powerful. Everyone deserves to fully enjoy their rights,” says Estela Cammarota, industrial engineer and EWB-Ar president. In this sense, engineering can become a way of making fundamental
human rights to be fulfilled. “I would celebrate with my colleagues if we could realize that our profession is much more than an implemented vocation: it is a social transformation tool.”
Now, in that search for transformation, a question arises: What engineering do we want? Do we want one that provides standardized answers or one that searches solutions adapted to the different realities of our country? An engineering with an interest in narrowing the gap or entrench it even more?
“Engineering was born as a tool for transformation of daily reality, and that is the engineering we need to recover; the one that makes a contribution to society, the one that looks for answers to everyday problems and guarantees the fulfillment of human rights”, says Sofía Sánchez, a civil engineer that forms part of Córdoba node.
We believe that building a more just, inclusive, and generous society is a collectiveresponsibility. In order to achieve so, we have a huge and necessary challenge ahead: to think development policies that may be materialized in engineering works that leave no one behind.