Thoughts on 2010 Board Retreat

Posted on: August 9, 2010

Most mornings, since I’ve gotten my strange new job, before dawn, I get up and do a private worship service. I sit on my back porch, turn on our little fountain so I can hear the water, the Living Water splash over my life; and I light a fire in our chimnea; even in the heat of this week. I sing. I read a chapter in the Bible. I pray. And God comes to me.

This morning, we were talking about the EIA Board retreat, when one of the little burning logs in the chimnea rolled away from the others, and stopped burning. “This is what happens when you go it alone, Dave. You may be the brightest burning log, but without others, your flame will die out.”

What an inspiration you were to me last Saturday. 15 very busy people, from 3 states; and several more from 3 more states who would have been there except for very significant scheduling problems; came together and spent a whole day, learning, planning dreaming of EIA. There have been so many times that I felt alone, battling all by myself to keep EIA going. But EIA is maturing. Your vision out strips mine:

 A concensus that EIA is here to stay, long after I’m gone; and our need to start an Endowment.

Adding engineers and interns.

Adding projects.

And increasingly you have taken the load off me. 5 committees met at once, and I didn’t attend any of them! I spent that hour walking around, eating, and resting. Aaron insisting that all committee reports go to Rebecca and SHE will compile them and send them to me. Rebecca insisting on taking the newsprint so SHE can type it up to send out. The Finance, Operations, Publicity, Board Development, and “Whatever” committees all developing amazing ideas and visions for EIA.

I’m . . . . . . ummmm overwhelmed and thankful.

In the next week or two, Rebecca will compile all of this and we will send it out to you; and put it on the website for everyone to see. But today, I just want to say thank you. . . . .  .  You keep my fire burning!!!!

David Stephenson, Executive Director, Engineers In Action

The Biggest Challenge: Sustainability

Posted on: June 18, 2010

When I first thought of EIA, I thought the most important thing we’d be doing is providing logistics for teams coming to Bolivia. I was wrong. Our greatest gift is sustainability. We make sure the damn things work over the long haul.

Without a doubt the biggest challenge facing development in the Developing World is sustainability. Bolivia and the rest of the Developing World are littered with well-meaning, well-designed, and well-constructed projects that don’t work and are abandoned as quickly as a year after they’ve been built. We come across someall the time in the campo of Bolivia. EVERYONE says that they have solved the Sustainability Problem. Most organizations train a local guy or a few local folks in how to do basic maintenance of the infrastructure.

But here’s the problem: Who do they train? Inevitably they pick someone who is young, aggressive, and intelligent. The problem with that is, what happens to a young, aggressive, intelligent person in these remote villages? They don’t stay! They move to the city to find work and a better life for them and their family. And they take the knowledge and sustainability with them.

EIA’s solution has been to work with Community Water or Sanitation Committees. But we’ve encountered the same problem. The best committee people often leave for work in the city.

EIA is only 3 years old and we are still learning, sometimes from our mistakes. Increasingly the only solution we can see, at least initially, is to go back time and time again to check on the project, fix what needs to be fixed, teach – yet again- the local folks on how to properly use the infrastructure, and teach yet another group of folks on basic maintenance and upkeep. We believe that if we can do that regularly, over a 3-5 year period, then eventually the community will “get it” and it will move into self-sustainability. But even then the community will need back-up for major repairs.

We are developing a Sustainability Plan for each project. It includes: How we approach new communities regarding projects, Expectations of our EWB, Rotary, and other partners; the engineering design; the ‘buy-in’ by the community; Ceremonial transfer of ownership; Immediate and frequent follow-up and community training by EIA the first year; Gradually decreasing frequency of follow-up and training over the next 2-4 years. And perpetual back-up for communities over the coming decades.

I’d be interested in any comments you have about Sustainability and EIA’s role in that. Just fill out the stuff below and send them to me. We are still learning.

Your Sustaining Partner

David Stephenson, Executive Director, EIA