As a professional engineer, why serve on the boards of non-profits?
Active involvement in professional organizations has brought me, my company and our clients many benefits. I’ve written in the past on this subject, mainly referring to professional engineering organizations like the American Council of Engineering Companies (ACEC) and the Society of American Military Engineers (SAME). Almost three years later, my opinion on active involvement in professional organizations hasn’t changed, but I’d like to talk about the benefits of non-profit volunteerism specifically.
What added benefit does serving on the board of a non-profit bring?
Non-profit organizations have unique challenges that most engineering and construction firms and government agencies don’t. For instance, although non-profits have some paid staff, they rely heavily on volunteers to advance their objectives and goals. 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. In addition, most volunteers are busy professionals with other jobs and interests. Working toward an agreement on a common vision, and then advancing that vision while executing day-to-day tasks does wonders to expand one’s leadership abilities.
I’ve experienced this firsthand. For the past three years, I have served on the board of directors of Engineers in Action (EIA), a U.S. based non-profit that works with local professionals in Bolivia, Ecuador and Eswatini. This past year, I have been the board president. EIA works to provide sustainable infrastructure—WASH (water, sanitation, and hygiene) and bridge projects—that will improve the quality of life for generations to come. The organization also develops relationships with the local communities and increases global awareness among program participants.
Over the past three years, EIA has experienced a lot of changes. The organization has:
- Established programs in Ecuador and Eswatini
- Incorporated Bridges to Prosperity University Student Posts
- Expanded our partnership with Engineers Without Borders
- Established a university student program focused on WASH projects
EIA is currently poised for significant growth in all three countries we work in. As I’ve been actively engaged in many of the critical strategic decisions, traveled to South America and participated in strategic planning sessions, I have grown my own idea of what it means to be a professional engineer. I’ve learned a lot about how to lead and motivate my diverse team of 45 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 means bettering your local community, working with young professionals and thinking globally as well. Volunteering on the board of non-profits like Engineers in Action allows us to widen our view as engineers so that we can use our abilities to better our world.
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