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Engineers Without Borders are Chaning the World

The Borderless Worldview

Most people, it seems, have heard of Doctors without Borders. Actually, most people outside the U.S. know it as "Médecins sans Frontiéres", or just MSF. This secular, nongovernmental international humanitarian aid organization provides medical help in over 70 countries, mostly in the developing world, while raising awareness of the plight of the people they help. MSF was founded in 1971 by French doctors and earned the Nobel Peace Prize in 1999.

Fewer people are acquainted with Engineers Without Borders. EWB is a younger group, unrelated to, but inspired by, MSF. Like MSF, EWB is a secular, nongovernmental international humanitarian aid organization that mobilizes volunteer professionals to solve critical problems in the developing world.

Unlike MSF, EWB is an organization for which you probably meet the membership requirements. (That should be a safe bet, given that you are reading Dr. Dobb's Journal. But if you are one of those orthodontists who subscribed back in the late '80s based on the name and tagline and never cancelled and still pick it up in the waiting room when business is slow, all bets are off.) Not only do you probably fit the EWB profile, we're going to suggest that you might well consider getting involved.

Software Marketing Executive Philippe Wagner did. "Great people!" he says, "[A] wonderful organization doing a lot of good to change lives in developing countries around the world. They really care about what they do. Their dedication is only matched by their passion."

Figure 2: EWB-USA Villanova Chapter: Baan Bo Mai, Thailand Project

Wagner decided last year to put together a developer contest and partnered with CMP Technology (Dr. Dobb's parent company at the time) to do it. EWB emerged as "a great fit for the contest," he says. The plan was to have contest participants work on different modules, such as project queries, a GIS query, and reporting, with the goal of addressing as many needs identified by EWB as possible. The contest, for whatever reason, did not come together, but in the process of planning it, Wagner learned a lot about the organization, "and the more I learned the more my enthusiasm...grew."

The concept of a world without national borders is one that you, as a software developer, are already familiar with. You doubtless collaborate with programmers or customers in other countries, you interact online with professionals sometimes without knowing what country they're posting from, your business probably has more than a nodding acquaintance with software markets in other countries, even back in school you probably worked on projects in multinational teams. At least within this professional context, you live in the whole world. But we all do: It's just that your work makes you aware of it. EWB recognizes this borderless-world truth and considers the moral and ethical implications.

Typically, EWB projects originate in the chapters as proposals. An application review committee vets these proposals, and either approves or declines them. Projects can also be proposed by organizations without any chapter affiliation; if such a proposal is approved, it gets posted to the ESB-USA for adoption by a chapter. Because "potential projects go through a rigorous evaluation process," Wagner points out, "EWB invests time, resources, and money on projects that are not only meaningful but life-changing for the communities/villages that will benefit from their help."

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