inciting change

 My March column from Mechanical Engineering magazine:

The recent revolt by the Egyptian people against their government had been in the making for decades, but many believe the tipping point can be traced to the government’s temporary block on Internet usage leading to the removal of social media outlets, and to the government shutdown of cell phone networks.

The ability to obtain information and to communicate it is not a privilege but a right for citizens of free democracies. A taste of it makes doing without it intolerable. Crowdsourcing examples throughout the world have been shown to move people to action and to lead social change, as the free flow of ideas enriches people intellectually and expands their prospects for bettering themselves.

Engineering for Change (E4C), itself an important movement that ASME recently unveiled and the basis of our cover story this month, is the backbone of an initiative aimed at enabling social change in the developing world—from the ground up. The notion behind E4C is that enhancing local living conditions—through such steps as improving the infrastructure, accessing clean water, bettering sanitary conditions, and moving to eliminate “energy poverty”—empowers residents of the developing world to wield more control over their lives.

E4C provides the virtual infrastructure, at http://engineeringforchange.org, for engineers and other technology savvy users of the Web site to contribute possible solutions, comments, advice, and expertise to meet particular challenges addressed in specific locales around the world.

The significant support for E4C from ASME’s partners, Engineers Without Borders and IEEE, is indicative of the very nature of the initiative. That is, without collaboration, it can’t reach the heights of success that it promises. E4C is a platform connecting problems on the ground in local communities across the globe with engineers, social scientists, and others who can help work out the solutions.

The E4C ecosystem includes non-governmental organizations and local community advocates on the ground that can define the problems and implement the solutions. Its strength is working with those who need and want change locally. E4C also works in concert with other organizations that are already helping people as part of what is described as the humanitarian space.

Engineering for Change represents the central component of a broader ASME initiative, Engineering for Global Development, which incorporates elements of the Society’s strategic priorities in the areas of energy, engineering workforce development, and global impact and outreach.

Transformative events, whether they are organizational or social in nature, stem from individuals who care enough to be heard. Your involvement is critical to Engineering for Change, since without your input E4C becomes a beautiful kitchen without a cook. More importantly, your involvement is critical to those who need your help in order to be able to help themselves.

See post above for my two-part audio interview with Noha El-Ghobashy, the chief architect and president of Engineering for Change.

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The Editor

John G. Falcioni is Editor-in-Chief of Mechanical Engineering magazine, the flagship publication of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

February 2011

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