As spring approaches, I’m called to consider how I can give back to help make this a better world. I’ve written about the benefits of serving on a non-profit board, citing my experiences as an Engineers in Action (EIA) board member. Today I’ll reiterate those benefits and discuss additional ways to support non-profits and the benefits of doing this for professionals and architecture-engineering-construction (AEC) companies.
How can a non-profit Board of Directors use my skills? How can it benefit my company and me?
Non-profit organizations have unique challenges that most engineering/construction firms and government agencies don’t have. For instance, although non-profits have some paid staff, they rely heavily on volunteers to advance their goals and objectives. Because of this, their boards may be composed of a wide variety of professionals who are passionate about the non-profit’s mission but have very different ideas about how to achieve it. Most volunteers are also busy professionals with other jobs and interests. Working toward an agreement on a shared vision and then advancing that vision while executing day-to-day tasks work wonders to expand one’s leadership abilities.
I’ve experienced this firsthand. I have served on the EIA Board of Directors for seven years. This U.S.-based non-profit works with local professionals in Bolivia, Ecuador, and Eswatini. EIA works to provide sustainable infrastructure—water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) and bridge projects—that will improve the quality of life for generations to come. The organization also develops relationships with the local communities and creates global awareness among program participants.
EIA is currently poised for significant growth and needs additional board members and associate members (non-board members who support the organization with critical skills). Over the years, as I’ve participated in strategic planning sessions, been actively engaged in many critical strategic decisions, and traveled to South America, I have grown my idea of what it means to be a professional engineer. I’ve learned a lot about leading and motivating my diverse team of 50 water professionals—especially young professionals focused on sustainability and giving back to their communities.
I feel lucky to have had the opportunity to serve on the board of EIA and drive change during this transformative period. Being a professional engineer encompasses much more than working on studies, designs, or construction projects—it also means bettering your local community, working with young professionals, and thinking globally. Volunteering on the board of non-profits like EIA allows us to widen our view as engineers and use our abilities to better our world.
Other Non-Profit Opportunities for Individuals and Professionals
You and your company can directly support projects by providing design services and on-site construction support. Several individuals from Mead & Hunt have gone on bridge and water project builds in Bolivia and Eswatini. Additionally, in 2020, due to COVID travel restrictions that prevented international travel, EIA established a U.S. bridge program and constructed five bridges in West Virginia. Mead & Hunt supported the “Vance” Bridge with funding. Two Mead & Hunt engineers served as Bridge Corps Mentors for the project and worked with the chapters from the University of Illinois and Rutgers through the planning process and ultimately, the build.
EIA offers a comprehensive platform to help companies promote their values, foster a positive culture, recruit top talent, and impact the world for the better. They welcome corporate partners from all industry sectors. EIA will work closely with corporate partners to design and deliver experiences that are customized (to a certain degree) based on the partner’s business objectives. Several companies have sent corporate teams to South America for bridge or water project builds. EIA can offer off-site build sponsorships for companies that don’t want to send staff to build sites, where the partner chooses a project and “adopts” it with funding. In return, EIA will create a 9- to 12-month package of progress reports and engagement activities that the company’s employees could do in their workplace.
Much-Needed Work that Creates a Better World
Many non-profit organizations work with volunteers to build needed infrastructure in African and Central/South American communities. EIA is unique because it works with local professionals in Bolivia, Ecuador, and Eswatini, building local capacity while providing needed water, hygiene, and bridge projects.
The needs are real and require support from individual volunteers and companies. As spring approaches, please consider volunteering. In supporting a non-profit such as EIA—as a board member, board supporter, or in-country volunteer—you will stretch and improve your professional, leadership, and interpersonal skills while helping create a better world.