by James Harper
This past weekend, I had the pleasure of attending the 2016 EWB-USA West Coast Regional Conference in Las Vegas. One of many productive and interesting conferences put on by EWB-USA, a few presentations stood out as being particularly helpful and applicable to our work here at the San Diego Professional Chapter of EWB-USA. Here are a few highlights:
Sarah Moore of the University of Arizona presented on community participation in a sanitation project that provided latrines and showers in a mountain town of Bolivia. She noted that community members sharing showers did not seem to affect their sustainability, but sharing latrines did; people seemed more willing to repair and clean showers for each other than latrines. Additionally, issues such as heated water, especially in the cold Andes Mountains, was shown to be a critical component of a successful shower project; community members reported that they thought that sickness was likely caused by showering in cold water. However, the main takeaway from Sarah's presentation was how critical it is to identify red flags (i.e., likely insurmountable problems that will affect project success) in a project before going ahead with implementation. Some of the red flags that she encountered on this project included the community scheduling a festival during their implementation trip; a lack of leadership in the community due to rotating leaders too frequently and only among men; poor communication between the NGO and the community; and the community trying to get out of their 5% cash contribution before implementation began. Identifying these red flags before implementation begins is critical to prevent project failure.
Another interesting presentation was made by Tammy Stone of Clara Vista, which is working to inspire developing communities from within to be their own agents of change. She and her company have been working in Venado, Costa Rica to empower local community members to address their own self-identified needs. Instilling confidence in community members has been shown by Clara Vista to effectively improve their community's outlook and cooperation to solve such problems as poor educational opportunities and water connections to their homes. Clara Vista's participatory approach helps to educate and involve community members in improving their own lives, and Clara Vista focuses on making their approach fun to encourage community participation. They've seen good progress in Venado over the past 5 years and look forward to more progress in the near future.
Presenting about systems dynamics analysis, Kimmy Pugel of CalPoly SLO taught her packed room about how systems interact to create an environment of either support or hindrance for development projects. In identifying how, for example, government policies; weather; community education and vocation skills; and land availability interact, one can begin to explain how a given project may function or explain why it functioned in a certain way in a given community. This type of analysis is currently being researched by Jeff Walters, a graduate of CU Boulder, for its applicability in different situations.
Lastly, I was very interested to learn that EWB-USA periodically reviews past projects to see how they are doing years after they have been officially closed. This is a great example of how EWB-USA works to measure the success and failure of its projects and attempts to make changes to its work structure to improve the sustainability of its future projects around the world. Upon finding any project that isn't functioning as it was designed, EWB-USA looks into how the project could be set back on track, perhaps by opening up a new project in that community or by considering helping the community via its Engineering Service Corps.
As always, EWB-USA puts on a great conference. I look forward to learning more at the next EWB-USA conference and will continue to apply what I've learned to our projects here in the San Diego Professional Chapter.