Frequently Asked Questions

Below you will find a list of frequently asked questions, some of which we have received over the years by people new to EWB and others from those that have been involved with the organization for a few years. There are a lot of misunderstandings around the work that EWB does and people are quick to jump to assumptions about EWB’s approach to development. Already from the name of the organization some people assume that we go overseas to build bridges and wells in a variety of foreign countries!


What is Engineers Without Borders?
Engineers Without Borders is a registered Canadian charity dedicated to human development. Based on what what we believe is needed for positive change and the assets that EWB has, we work towards tangible goals in four Outcome Areas.

We work with these partners to build capacity in the rural technical sector in areas such as water and sanitation, food production and processing, and energy. Partnering with existing projects allows our volunteers to maximize both their impact and their learning in the time they spend overseas. As of summer 2007, we have sent over 250 members overseas to contribute to human development.

We also work in Canada to help our country become a role model among ‘developed’ nations in development – reducing the barriers facing developing countries that exist from our own policies and actions. We accomplish this by focusing simultaneously on building awareness and encouraging change in:

  • individual actions through public outreach and advocacy and school outreach
  • corporate practices through corporate engagement and engineering curriculum enhancement
  • government policies and actions through public outreach/awareness, petitions and advocacy, and direct engagement on development topic
Why is EWB needed and how did we choose our areas of work?
One of the most pressing challenges facing humanity today is how to improve people’s quality of life around the world, especially the billions living in extreme poverty. This challenge is best expressed through the Millennium Development Goals. These goals include, among others, halving the number (currently 3 billion) of people who live on less than 2$ per day, halving the 800 million who are hungry, and halving the 1 billion who don’t have access to safe water. Human development is not solely about increasing people’s economic well-being, it is about reducing people’s vulnerability to shocks such as drought and increasing opportunities for people to create change in their own lives.

For more information on why EWB is needed and how we choose our areas of work read EWB’s Outcome Areas.

'Humanitarian assistance' versus 'Development': where does EWB work?
The images of people suffering from disasters, protracted hardship or victims of conflicts are heart-wrenching. Our immediate reaction is to help in any way we can. And there is no doubt that engineering skills are useful in such situations – finding access to water for new refugee camps, setting up temporary housing, arranging logistics and other tasks. There is also a strong argument that the involvement of Westerners in disaster relief is more clear-cut than in development, as there is a tremendous time factor – if there is no provision made for water and sanitation in a refugee camp, disease will soon break out.

All that would lead to the idea that EWB would naturally get involved in humanitarian assistance. Moreover, our name further suggests that, like Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders, we will work in this area.

However, EWB does not get involved in emergency relief operations and instead focuses on the challenges of long-term development. We believe that this development is a necessary part of reducing people’s vulnerability to shocks such as natural disasters. If the principle of disaster relief is speed – to rapidly react to emergencies as they arise, then the principle of development is patient capacity building. To involve local partners and communities fully, to act as a catalyst, sharing knowledge and helping them gain access to the resources they need.

Engineers (and non-engineers) interested in international work should think about the distinction between the two types of work. While both are driven by good intentions, and both take place in developing countries, they require very different skills. For disaster relief: decisiveness, resourcefulness, and calmness under pressure. For development: humility, patience, soft skills, and a long-term commitment to the community in which you work.

Where does EWB work overseas?

EWB has worked in 28 countries overseas. However, over time we realized that we would have more success through focusing on a few geographic areas. We are now doing all of our work in five countries in Africa: Burkina Faso, Ghana, Zambia, Malawi and Uganda.

Determining where to work is a great challenge as there are thousands of communities internationally living in extreme poverty. We are currently focusing our attention in these four countries so as to increase our expertise in a region where the need is particularly great and our value add substantial. It is worth noting that these countries are stable and safe.

EWB Ottawa City Chapter

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