How This Civil Engineer from London Turned on the Taps in the Philippines
“Technology can overcome any obstacle when it is used to serve people and not profits.” – Muhammad Yunus, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate
The term ‘technological innovation’ probably makes you think about exciting emerging technologies like Artificial Intelligence or Augmented Reality, but new technologies aren’t the only route to innovation. In fact, existing technologies, when applied in new ways, have the potential to solve some of our most pressing global challenges.
One such challenge is ensuring universal access to safe and clean water. According to the World Health Organization, 1 in 3 people globally don’t have access to safe drinking water. Organizations like Siemens Stiftung are working to change that by asking: how can we apply the technologies we already have to close this gap and make the world a more equitable place?
Through its international empowering people. Network (epN), Siemens Stiftung brings innovators and social entrepreneurs together to encourage technical and entrepreneurial approaches to be combined for social impact. Many grassroots technological solutions don’t reach their full potential due to knowledge and workforce gaps, which is where technical experts like Stephen come in.
A Civil Engineer based in London, Stephen made the decision to step away from his full-time role to contribute to finding a solution for Philippine’s water crisis as an epExpert. Continue reading to hear directly from Stephen about his experience leveraging technology for social good!
Many people living in the most rural parts of the Philippines struggle to have enough water to bathe, and often have to trek for miles through dense jungle just for fresh water. In fact, Water.org estimates that nearly 7 million Filipinos rely on unimproved, unsafe and unsustainable water sources and more than 24 million lack access to improved sanitation. Those ‘lucky’ enough to be able to buy water by the bottle often have to do so at hiked up rates due to how scarce the resource is.
Based out of Bacolod City and in operation since 1992, AIDFI is a social enterprise that tackles the problem of rural poverty by designing, fabricating, and promoting environment-friendly technology which is accessible and affordable for those experiencing poverty. So far, AIDFI has helped over 265,000 beneficiaries in around 530 villages in the Philippines access clean water using hydraulic pumps. AIDFI handles every step of the project, from conducting an in-depth Technical Study to Community Development, Manufacture, Installation and eventual Handover.
Its flagship product, called the AIDFI Ram Pump, continuously pumps water into a reservoir located in the heart of the community and requires no electricity whatsoever. While testing the design, the pumps were being built in workshops based on learned experience. Over the years the team has proven their efficacy in rural communities, which has attracted an increasing amount of interest from potential corporate partners who want to help the solution scale. To make that possible, the team needed support developing the professional technical drawings necessary to make the manufacturing process consistent and repeatable on a larger scale.
I had multiple objectives that I was expected to complete during my time there. The first and most important was to teach 2D and 3D drafting techniques to AIDFI’s local team, most of whom were grassroots staff with little to no prior experience with computer use. The second objective was the development of a Ram Pump manufacturing manual, which would be used to teach new staff joining the AIDFI as it grew. The final objective was utilising my drone expertise to carry out aerial surveys of many of the sites. With such difficult and varied objectives, to say I was feeling a little apprehensive would be an understatement.
I taught two two-hour lessons per week, and juggled site visits in between, which kept me extremely busy. However, my absolute priority was ensuring a lesson was always ready on time for my students. The first few lessons were challenging, but I made sure no student was left behind. AutoCAD is very technical, so I was determined to make sure everyone could prove they understood the previous topics with practical exercises before we moved to the next topic.
Starting off with simple lines, then moving on to drawing shapes, I was taken aback as to how quickly the staff were grasping AutoCAD. There was an evident hunger for learning more, with some of the students even staying behind after work hours just to practice. As a teacher, this was extremely gratifying to see.
AIDFI had already installed the new pump, and the purpose of our visit was to turnover the controls to the pumps that would bring fresh water directly to their village.
The Impact of Experteering
It was experiences like these throughout my experteering project that made me realise just how important the work of NGOs such as AIDFI is. Without them, communities like Upper Atok would continue to struggle with a basic necessity that we so easily take for granted. It made every AutoCAD lesson that I taught that much more meaningful, as I knew that the staff could now use that knowledge to create professional drawings and designs even faster. Ultimately, this would improve the speed and efficiency with which AIDFI could help communities like Upper Atok, and knowing that I had a direct impact on that was tremendously fulfilling.
The students were very fast in absorbing the AutoCAD knowledge I shared with them, and towards the end of our lessons were able to draw various ram pump components completely independently. Seeing them use AutoCAD in their day-to-day work filled me with immense pride for my students. Having come from barely even turning on a computer to now being able to create professional-looking drawings is an incredible achievement for which they should all be proud.
I therefore urge anyone even remotely interested in helping to look into it. There are many platforms such as MovingWorlds, Engineers Without Borders, Doctors Without Borders and hundreds more that can help with this sort of opportunity. And it doesn’t have to be a six-month stint, it could be for a few weeks or months, but should be enough to make a lasting difference. You never know how many lives you might impact for generations to come, and I promise you will return with more than you have given in terms of purpose and perspective.
We’re grateful to Stephen for sharing his story with us, and to our partners at Siemens Stiftung whose sponsorship made this match with AIDFI possible. If you’re a technology professional inspired by Stephen’s story and ready to leverage your skills to improve access to basic needs, you can learn more about experteering with the empowering.people Network here. And if you’re an epN award winning organization interested in receiving similar support, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Disclaimer: Stephen’s story was originally posted on MovingWorlds. We received consent and approval from both parties before posting.