Humanitarian Engineering International Placements (HEIP) partners with professional organisations around the globe to collaborate on real-world humanitarian engineering projects, providing engineering students and professionals the opportunity to use their skills and knowledge to make a real difference.
Our goal is to assist and empower vulnerable communities and to develop the humanitarian engineers of the future. The success of our program hinges on the following key aspects:
HEIP currently partners with Ingeniería Sin Fronteras Argentina (Engineering Without Borders Argentina), Ingenieros Sin Fronteras Chile (Engineers Without Borders Chile) and Engenheiros Sem Fronteiras Brazil (Engineers Without Borders Brasil). You can find out more about each of our partners and the work they do on the Our Partners page. We are also actively forging relationships with other humanitarian engineering organisations around the world; creating a network of dedicated, like minded professionals.
The growth of voluntourism has been complemented by a relatively uncritical approach towards the sector, too often valuing enthusiasm and goodwill above professional standards and tangible, long-term improvement within the target communities. While the volunteers may go home happy thinking they have helped make a difference, they frequently leave behind projects that are poorly executed and out of touch.
All of our partners employ rigorous, evidence-based processes of project selection, planning, implementation and monitoring to ensure the long term success of their projects. This includes:
Engaging the Community
Multiple community engagement sessions before the project even begins are essential to develop a true, unbiased understanding of the people, the culture, the realities they face. The project must serve the self-identified needs of the community (rather than what we think they need), and be carefully designed to be compatible with their culture and resources.
It is essential that the design process is done with full participation of the community - it must be their solution, one that they will embrace and feel a sense of ownership of. The process of proposing a solution, consulting the community, and integrating the feedback into the design is cyclical, and typically takes several iterations before all parties are satisfied.
The local community is also fully integrated into the implementation stage. This ensures they have a greater understanding of how the solution works and how to maintain it. And perhaps most important of all, it fosters a sense of ownership. They helped design it, and they’ve worked to make it a reality. It is theirs, and they are so much more likely to use and maintain the solution because of that.
The projects are designed and implemented by professional, multidisciplinary teams. Qualified engineers work with architects, anthropologists, tradespeople and a host of other professions to ensure that the projects are not only technically sound, but are functional, sustainable and appropriate. Volunteers receive the necessary training to work effectively and to a high standard.
Sadly, the ongoing monitoring and impact assessment of humanitarian projects is typically poor, with the ongoing positive impact of projects is often simply assumed. All of our partners carry out long-term, critical evaluations of their projects. This includes the collection of baseline data pertinent to the project prior to commencement, which is then compared to ongoing data collected after the solution has been implemented. Changes directly attributed to the project can be quantified, and unexpected outcomes detected. Analysing the impact, processes and efficiency of projects is invaluable for learning, improvement and accountability.
While many voluntourism organisations state (if only implicitly) that “the only thing you need is the desire to help others”, unskilled volunteers can be little more than a hindrance in the field. Without language and cultural training, well-meaning foreigners require almost constant babysitting once in country. Unless they have the technical skills pertinent to the tasks they need to perform, the resulting work will be of poor quality.
At HEIP, we invest in our volunteers. In the months prior to departure, participants complete a series of courses to ensure that they function effectively both on and off the worksite. This training also includes courses designed to prepare participants for their future careers and are supported by live online workshops with HEIP engineers. Training topics include:
HEIP’s Fundamentals of Humanitarian Engineering course is completed by all participants in the months before departure. With feedback given by experienced professionals, participants learn about and are challenged to think critically on subjects such as:
The somewhat chequered history humanitarian aid efforts.
Common causes of failure in humanitarian engineering projects, drawn from real-life case studies.
Evidence-based approaches to understanding and engaging the community in development projects.
Appropriate, sustainable, culturally sensitive design solutions.
Performance evaluation and impact assessment in humanitarian engineering.
Not only does this give participants a greater appreciation and understanding of the work they will be undertaking in-country, it provides an essential knowledge base for those who wish to continue to contribute effectively to humanitarian efforts in their future careers.
While there are variations depending on the specific project, participants typically work 5-day weeks in small teams of 6 to 9 people, for a period of four weeks. Daily responsibilities include site preparation and layout, implementation of technical drawings, quality assurance and control, and the physical construction of the project.
A stringent safety culture is adopted on site at all times. This includes comprehensive risk management strategies such as site risk assessments, emergency action plans and appropriate personal protective equipment. Proper training (both theoretical and practical) for all construction tasks is provided, and participants are supervised by professionals from HEIP and the partner organisation.
While the situation off-site is heavily dependent on the location of the projects, participants typically stay in apartments of 3 or 4 team members. Outside of work hours participants are expected to be independent, cooking and cleaning for themselves. Professional conduct is expected at all times during the Program duration, and excessive drinking, the consumption of illicit substances, antisocial behaviour and the like are not tolerated.