Last week I attended the Humanitarian Engineering Summit in Brisbane, Australia.
You can read about it and watch a TV news report here at the Engineers Australia web site.
This was an interesting event. First, the attendees were an almost even spread across all age ranges, perhaps with a bias to the younger end. All of these people were exploring what it means to be a humanitarian engineer, and what they and the engineering profession as a whole can do to address many of the challenges in the world.
It was extremely encouraging to see the passion and dedication of many of the younger delegates -- including many current Engineering students -- because one day soon they will be the generation of engineers ultimately defining by example what it means to be an engineer.
Perhaps one of the greatest themes of the day was that in trying to help communities in need, it is not sufficient or indeed appropriate to simply turn up with a "first world solution" set it going, and then leave. The almost inevitable result is that the intervention fails, essentially because of lack of ownership and appropriateness -- both of which stem from the fundamental need for better consultation and inclusion of the community the intervention is serving. I think that they are spot on.
For Serval, this means that we need to continue to engage with the potential target audiences of our technology, which we are already committed to doing. Otherwise, we stand the risk of becoming irrelevant and useless for the very people we want to help, in which case we may as well pack up and go back to our old jobs.